Image: Rajasekharan Parameswaran/ Wikimedia Commons
Image: Rajasekharan Parameswaran/ Wikimedia Commons

‘A triumphant milestone for black culture and diversity’: the durag and Vogue 2020

For the May edition of British Vogue, singer and icon Rihanna appears on the cover wearing a durag. This cover is a triumphant milestone for black culture and diversity within magazine culture as it marks the first time the durag has ever appeared on the cover of the coveted magazine. With the durag growing in popularity as a fashion item over the past few years, why has it taken so long for high fashion to pay it its dues?

The durag is a piece of headwear that helps to maintain waves, braids and dreadlocks. Its history hasn’t been particularly smooth, and many people of colour still face stigma for wearing them in 2020.

Last year, students at John Muir High School in Pasadena, California staged a walkout after school administrators banned durags with the principal stating the use of durags went against how he believed the school should be presenting itself. Despite the principal’s argument, there was a widespread belief that the ban was to do with an unfair association of the durag with gang culture. This is just one of many incidents that highlight how the durag’s appearance at the forefront of one of the most influential magazines in the world could mark a change for the better.

Rihanna’s Vogue cover is a reclamation of the headgear as a sign of style, beauty and power

The durag began its life during the transatlantic slave period as a method of suppressing black women’s beauty but Rihanna’s Vogue cover is a reclamation of the headgear as a sign of style, beauty and power.

Within contemporary society and media, the durag has been associated with hip-hop culture and, with this, mistakenly also gang culture. Rihanna’s cover helps to dismantle the latter association and any other misconceptions held by society as a whole. The durag should not be limited to being merely a fashion statement. Its existence and its function help to promote and celebrate hairstyles and hair textures of black people that are, more often than not, unexplored and underappreciated by mainstream media.

It helps to educate society on why the durag should be accepted and celebrated

Edward Enninful, the current editor of British Vogue and the magazine’s first black editor, asked himself on Instagram, “Did I ever imagine that I would see a durag on the cover of Vogue?”

Enninful sees Rihanna’s modelling of a “potent symbol of black life” as exciting because of how high fashion has rarely given it a moment to shine. His own disbelief shows how monumental, long-awaited and ground-breaking this cover is for magazine culture and how it helps to educate society on why the durag should be accepted and celebrated.

Since he was appointed editor, Enninful has worked hard to promote diversity within British Vogue. The May 2018 cover was graced by nine women of colour and featured a hijab-wearing model for the first time in the magazine’s history. Rihanna’s durag cover marks British Vogue taking a further step towards making high fashion magazine culture a more racially and culturally diversified media arena.

The company has seen immense popularity for catering to a variety of skin tones

This is not Rihanna’s first triumph in celebrating black beauty and introducing it into usually white-dominated areas of society like magazine modelling. Over the past couple of years, Rihanna has pioneered Fenty Beauty, her cosmetics brand. The company has seen immense popularity for catering to a variety of skin tones instead of pandering to European beauty standards.

Rihanna has used the platform she has built over the past 15 years to tackle the lack of inclusivity within the beauty industry and, in doing so, brought much-needed attention to women of all different looks, styles and backgrounds. Her British Vogue cover marks a new achievement for the singer as she briefly pauses her inclusive beauty campaign to concentrate on cultural acceptance and how cultural identity and history can be fashionable.

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