The Head Scarf

Photo by Juhi Baig

I wear a lot of headscarves. It’s a go-to in my closet for work, travel, errands, anything. It all started when my mother and I began collecting Hermès scarves and I couldn’t find a place for them on my body that didn’t make me feel like one of those basics who follow the Parisian fashion blogs, layering it with their pearls or blue blazer (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”). But wrapping them around my head made me feel worldly and enigmatic. I became a woman with a fascinating story, who has a lot of lovers and secrets and who maybe lives some exotic “life apart.”

Photo by Thomas Julian

Then the fixation grew for reasons of convenience/laziness. I have hair that I loathe-unfashionably frizzy and unruly in most weather-that I can simply renounce with the twist of a scarf.

And then I started traveling to countries where I’m expected to cover my head out of deference to the local culture. I grew up punk and feminist and the Riot Grrrl in me asked herself if this was a conflict-but I secretly liked covering my head in Egypt…and my ankles in Morocco and my knees in Thailand. I think my self-satisfaction over dutifully abiding by another country’s cultural/religious values in the end supersedes my rebellion against those of my own country. Like, I will question my own culture but not someone else’s.

So I began to associate the scarf with far-flung parts of the world that I wanted to be lost in. A relic of ancient civilizations and spiritual traditions I wanted to be a part of. I wore it and was transported to another place or time where I’m anonymous and left to my own devices (I don’t know if you call this fetishizing…Sorry if it is)

Photo by Thomas Julian

Then I started to like the act of shrouding myself. There’s something about covering your head that makes you feel safe. Archetypally, to wear a scarf or veil is to cloister yourself from worldly life. I had a scarf on at the bank the other day when the clerk asked if I had the day off-as if to assume that I had to just duck out of the house for a moment and my scarf signaled that I didn’t want to be too engaged in the world (I did not have the day off-I wear my scarves to work-maybe because I don’t want to be there?).

Photo by Bruno Davey

These days, I’ve assigned another meaning to the headscarf. It also signifies aging gracefully (the Riot Grrrl in me definitely does not like this expression). At 36, I think about how I will adjust to changes in my appearance and what pieces might not work anymore. But my scarf is ever more a staple. In it, I feel wise and Empress-like. In my knowing. I have a station in life. And if I am ever unsure or feel too exposed to the elements, at least my headscarf has got me covered.


The Whirling Dervish


16th century --- 16th-Century Miniature Painting Depicting Dancing Dervishes --- Image by © Archivo Iconografico, S.A./CORBIS

Sufism is the mystical form of Islam. It’s peace-loving and pluralistic and predicates that love is the path to the divine. Communication with God is a personal experience so you may dance, sing, or bang on a drum and that’s a way of speaking with God. For this reason, it’s been banned in many societies by orthodox Muslims and puritan powers-that-be, who consider ritualistic song and dance outside of Quranic Law. So Sufism is kind of the wild child of Islam.

The whirling dervishes of the Mevlevi Order of Sufism are probably the West’s first association with Sufism. We know the dance, or at least the expression – “like a whirling dervish” – to characterize a frenetic or spastic person…a funny thing to say if you know the dervishes are actually in a state of Zen.

Because these whirlers are not dancing but praying. They pray to one of the great truths-that everything in the world is whirling, from the smallest cell to the galaxies of the universe. Everything is turning. Everything is in a state of flux/vibration/change. So to whirl is to join in this universal prayer.


Their equally-recognizable clerical uniform also performs the role of conveying a spiritual message and prayer. If, for example, a member is on a higher plane, a sash is wrapped around the hat, signifying the gravestone that will one day stand at the head of their graves.


The long tunic denotes a dervish’s worldly life, and when he casts it off during the whirling ceremony, he is turning his back on the world in order to get closer to God.


The rida is a woolen, waist-length jacket that is worn by the sheikh of the dervish lodge. Made up of two equal pieces of cloth, the left side represents shari’a, or Islamic law, while the right side stands for education and truth.


A sash, or kemer, is used as closure and is wound around the man’s waist three times to represent the knowledge of God, the seeing of God and the stage of true existence.


After the republic of Turkey was established in 1923, a series of laws were promulgated to eliminate any reminders of the Ottoman Empire. The Dervishes were outlawed and went underground. Clandestine ceremonies are still performed. But you can no longer see the clerical garb in public save for tourist attractions. 

But we have runways to thank for recreating the past through appropriation. Traditions are kept alive through designers’ reinterpreted creations. Carolina Herrera, Tia Cibani, Damir Doma, and Josie Natori:



The dervishes serve as a reminder that anything can happen. Today does not define tomorrow. Everything in the world is vibrating, including you and I. Our current situation is just that – our current situation. It does not dictate tomorrow. Let’s celebrate the mutable nature of the universe and the fact that we are constantly operating in the field of potentiality. And remember that anything can change/turn/go in reverse at any moment.




I’ve been meditating for about 2 years now. I knew I’d gotten to my next level in meditation when I saw what I later learned is called, “the Blue Pearl.” A luminous, spiraling ball of blue fire that centers itself in your crown chakra and overwhelms you with a feeling of peace and chill. I’ve only experienced the Blue Pearl twice since then. Once in another mediation and later, encountered it in Morocco.

It’s been a lifelong dream to see Tangiers. All my favorites found inspiration here – Yves Saint Laurent, Paul Bowles, the Rolling Stones. It’s known for being a bit of a salty city, and I love dark corners.



The souks are choc-o-bloc with everything I’ve ever wanted. If I had to pick a favorite design aesthetic, Moroccan is it. The latticework, complex geometry and talismanic motifs – it’s like they contain some sort of esoteric algorithm behind the meaning of the human experience. What are you really seeing in a mandala? It’s a plan that represents the cosmos and hidden workings of the universe. It’s man expressing his existence in print and pattern.



I trawl the souks and feel dizzy. I actually love the crap for tourists but it’s the older, artisan-made pieces that really grab me – those exude magic powers.


The Evil Eye is one of my auspicious omens. I carry one with me at all times, and look for it when I need a sign from the universe that it’s all good. This metal, hand-stamped purse makes a good wall hanging.


The Hand of Fatima wards off the evil eye and it’s another one of my omens. I don’t have to look far for it when in Morocco, home to the nomadic Berber people who know its powers.


Deepak Chopra talks a lot about the Law of Least Effort. Try too hard for something or be too attached to it and you will jeopardize your chances of getting it. Release that sicky, yearning, have-to-have-it feeling and let it come to you.

There was a single shop in the city that I had been trying to find in the winding, Kafkaesque passages of the casbah that I had spent hours looking for when I finally gave up. The next day, I wandered aimlessly into a space with the most beautiful collection of objects I had ever seen and realized – this is the place I had been looking for! I spent the afternoon talking to the proprietor, a man who had been collecting treasures around the world for decades until he turned his collection into a shop and showroom. I asked him what his favorite piece was when he showed me a colossal amber necklace made of beads the size of golf balls (not for sale). He served tea and told me a story about how it took him 10 years and one sacrificial goat to convince the owner – an African tribesgirl who needed money for a dowry – to sell the necklace bead-by-bead. I was forbidden to photograph but I surreptitiously got in a shot of some wall hangings.


Another serendipitous occurrence: The single restaurant on my to-do list was a little seafood place I’d heard about. It had like 10 colloquial names (the Saveur de Poisson, or Restaurant Populare, or Popeye’s, to name a few) and was run by this eccentric Moroccan man in a Fez who haphazardly circles the floor repeating the words, “waka waka waka.”

My first day in Tangiers and I was exhausted from the flight and struck by a sudden need to eat. I ducked into the first restaurant I could find and sat down. And what do you think I heard but, “waka waka waka”! I looked over and saw the lovely man in a Fez and knew this was meal was meant to be.

The food was amazing but the best part was at the end of my feast, “Popeye” approached my table and wordlessly beckoned me to the back of the restaurant (maybe he’s been saying “walk-a walk-a walk-a” this whole time?). I followed him to a storage room, where he thrust over my head a vintage 60s caftan, exclaiming “antique!” Tiny – just my size – with these swirling arabesques and a satin-ey finish. It had an unusual, otherworldly scent – something like a combination of flavored tobacco and clay (and it filled my suitcase and then my apartment for weeks after my return). And I walked out of the restaurant in it, joining all the other caftan-clad ladies of the casbah. I’ll never know the meaning of this gesture. Maybe he’d been saving that dress for just the right petite-sized magpie to pass through his door? Or maybe he was concerned I wasn’t dressed modestly enough (I wasn’t). In any case, it was the perfect memento of my magical time in Morocco.


I make a shopping pilgrimage to Chefchaouen, a town in the Rif Mountains (read: “Reefer;” it’s the epicenter of Morocco’s weed industry). I hear there’s good deals on Berber relics and I’m on a mission for an authentic Berber headpiece. Chefchaouen is a strange, Seussian world of ramshackle, blue-tinted buildings that give it a sort of supernatural energy (or maybe it’s all the pot).


Weeks after this trip, I look into what the blue was all about. I learn that the original Jewish residents established this tradition of painting the town top-to-bottom sky blue to mirror the heavens and remind them of God. And low and behold, I learn the nickname for this paranormal place – The Blue Pearl.



The Magic Dress

There was once this dress that I wanted. I found it in a secondhand shop in a size too large. But I coveted it. Like, this was my spirit dress. An ombre pleated shirt dress in all colors of the rainbow. It radiated magic. It spoke to me.

I hunted all over the internet to no avail. I was crestfallen.

I also had this boyfriend. Who I loved but on a daily basis I wanted to strangle. He’s an artist, with the classic handicap of an artist’s ego. I was always competing with his art for attention. In the end, I think it was a losing battle. You can never win in a battle against art for the attention of a lover because art will always win. I know that now, though. Because at this stage in who I am, anyone who would fight against my life’s purpose for my attention would lose. I didn’t understand that at the time I was with Christopher because I struggled with my creative self. And that was the crux of our problems. I wasn’t developed enough as a complete creative person so we fought (Also, he was just a dick-Christopher, I love you but you are also a total dick).

Back to the dress. I would will it. It was difficult to imagine how-it was out of production, from another season and a relatively small clothing label at the time. But the thing is, we can’t get caught up in HOW our wishes will be served. Manifestation/magical thinking isn’t logical. It’s not your business how the universe will arrange itself according to your desires. Your job is just to desire, set your intentions and believe. So I wrote a letter to anyone that would listen, putting in a cosmic order form, so-to-speak, for my dress. I lit a candle and said some witchy words.

I was in grad school at the time when one evening I was chatting with a classmate who had lost her glasses at school. I told her what I thought she might do to get them back-just believe. Like I believed about my dress. I told her-believe you will find them, see in your mind’s eye the security guard greeting you one day with glasses in hand, saying “Aren’t these yours?” Don’t worry about what the odds are or how this will happen. The odds are so often not good. Imagine all the times you’ve said, “It was just the right place at the right time.” Just walk this earth plane and engage and sooner or later you’ll find you’re walking the cosmic plane when you find yourself in right place at the right time.

And as I’m telling her this, I’m on my computer, mindlessly browsing the website of a store I actually loathe (but I like their candles) when I come across my dress! It’s been manufactured under a collaboration with said-dumb store (I just can’t tell you, it’s too embarrassing). But there it is. What are the odds?? It was like the universe had conspired to give me my dress in the form of a completely unlikely collaboration between a small-time fashion label and giant clothing retailer.

I don’t need to tell you that I bought it, immediately. I had it hanging on my wall for months when it wasn’t on my body. I liked to just look at my magic rainbow dress.

I have a Part Two to this story. Getting back to the fact that I wasn’t yet a fully formed, self-actualized person who was creating to her highest potential. So I was in the middle of finals when Christopher decided it would be fun if we put on an art show. The timing was terrible, as I was in my last weeks of graduate school, but I complied just to get him to stop bullying me. I hate to put it in such responsibility-evading terms but you have to understand Christopher is very tenacious when it comes to the needs of his ego and sometimes it’s easier to agree to do things with him/for him just to get him to back off. So I shouldn’t have but I agreed.

Here’s what I didn’t agree to: He wanted to use my dress in one of the pieces. He wanted to drape it over a framed painting and mount the whole situation on the wall of the gallery. No fucking way! My dress could snag, it could tear, I wasn’t willing to tolerate even a wrinkle for the cause. I said no.

A week before the show and in the midst of finals, Christopher asked (ordered?) that I buy some supplies for the show. We needed more pink and blue tape we were using in the design, and could I pick some up. Actually, I couldn’t, as I was studying for the most important exams of my life. We fought. He really needed that tape and wasn’t going to hear it. He announced with his usual authoritative tone, “I’ll be back in a few hours and I’m expecting to have that tape” (he literally talks like that). And shut the door behind him. 

I stood in the middle of my studio, with a rage coming up from inside me that I thought might send my fist through the window. But instead I grabbed: the tape. I approached my front door. And began taping it shut. I taped all the cracks between the door and the frame, the door knob, the lock, I taped up the whole thing so well that no one from the other side stood a chance of getting in. Which was the idea. I wanted him the fuck out of my apartment, out of my finals week, out of my life.

Then I took my dress. I lay it against the door and mounted it with the pink and blue tape. It lay flattened against the door, like a kite caught in a tree, and I would’ve felt more remorse if it hadn’t felt so good to have put it up there. Like, “You want my fucking dress? You want some art? You want my soul? Here it is! Just don’t come back into my life. I have finals.”

A feeling of quietude washed over me. I sat down in a chair before the door and admired my creation. I was pretty pleased with myself. It looked good, but mostly it felt good. That was the first work of art I had made in ages. And it had come from such a deep place in myself that I guess it took the person I loved and hated the most in the world to inspire it. In a weird way I was thankful to him.

A few hours later, I heard him open the door to my building. I was still in the chair. I heard him come up. Use the keys in the lock. Try, try again, to open the door. My heart started pounding and I felt a lump in my throat. “Julia…?” He said. “I can’t get in, the door must be locked.” I started crying. I don’t know why. It felt good. I wasn’t mad at him anymore but still needed a few minutes of having that door between us. I just wanted to savor my newfound sense of self for a bit longer.

Christopher and I ended up having the show. With my dress in it. We also broke up. I treasure it all. Two years later and I can see now what that dress meant. I laid eyes on it and saw that it captured my soul/future self. And I also needed to be driven to madness and self destruction and also the destruction of my dress in order to build myself up again and be a creator of my own life.

Photo by Juhi Baig