Fashion Masochist: The Designer Turban

They’re showing up everywhere, but is Sikh really the new chic? Rachel Baker tackles the trend head-on.

My proposal to test-drive the turban initially meets much dissent in our politically sensitive office, even as I produce countless examples from big-name labels like Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs. “What’s next? Blackface?” one colleague scoffs. My editor green-lights the experiment but asks, “Are you sure they’re actually calling them turbans?” Yes, sir.

Designers who incorporated the unlikely headwear into their spring collections credit the 1920s as their inspiration, saying it’s a nod to A Passage to India–style glamour. But even the biggest E. M. Forster fan has to admit that in today’s global climate, the turban as fashion accessory has implications that go beyond personal taste. Is it an ideological statement? Or an attempt to prove we’ll fall for anything billed as “high fashion,” no matter how ridiculous?

Whatever the case, Boston women are lining up: Marc Jacobs sold out of the first shipment of its $125 turban within weeks and has since reordered twice. H&M shoppers snapped up the Madonna-designed knockoffs. And as for Ralph Lauren’s much advertised $600 gemstone-encrusted model, one of the reported six in existence was bagged at the Newbury Street location.

THE EXPERIENCE: I get my hands on a showroom sample of Prada’s silk turban. On the runway, the label paired the piece with both shorts and eveningwear. Personally, I enjoy the regal pizzazz it lends an everyday black dress and trench. As fashion supercedes most social rules—and a $695 Prada accessory is no grimy Red Sox cap—the head covering is meant to be worn all day long, indoors and out.

Slipping it on, I’m confronted with a conundrum: what to do with my hair. Under? Out? I alternate, although the up-sweep leaves me feeling a bit insecure—without hair framing it, my face seems extra round and my nose queasily prominent.

On Newbury Street, I’m trailed by a pack of college boys, who debate—not quietly—why any girl would wear such a “thing on her head.” Cancer patient? (The peeking-out ponytail ruins that theory.) Foreigner? They reach a consensus: I must have very dirty hair. Unfazed, I prance into Louis Boston, hungry for some trustworthy feedback, and get it I do: “I like your hat,” gushes a sales gal. Later, at a neighboring home store, a stylish, middle-aged chatterbox blurts out, “I love your turban! Is it Prada?”

My final heady adventure: Logan. In the security line, I inspire a fair share of sympathetic, “fight the good fight” looks from fellow travelers. Then, for the first time in five years—I swear—I’m not stopped for additional screening.

THE VERDICT: I love the turban’s glamour, but wearing it can be exhausting. It’s not just an accessory; it’s an accessory that constantly invites discussion. So unless I need a conversation starter, I’ll stick with a more reserved turban-inspired headband.