Times Is Behind the Times With Keffiyeh Trend


Apparantly the keffiyeh‘s very “in” these days. In the Times‘ Sunday Style section, Kibum Kim notes Urban Outfitters’ decision to sell the military scarf popularized by Yasser Arafat. A call later regretted since the scarf was pulled ” ‘[d]ue to the sensitive nature of this item’.” Kim diggs into the past of this
controversial accessory:

For those with a long memory, the current kaffiyeh craze may seem familiar. The scarves became a fashion statement in the United States at the start of the first intifada in 1987. In 1988, CBS News and Time magazine chronicled the trend. In a 1992 Michigan Quarterly Review article about the kaffiyeh’s modern history, Dr. Swedenburg wrote about how a “sign of Palestinian struggle suddenly appeared in the ensembles of ‘downtown’ U.S.A., together with black turtlenecks, ripped Levi’s, high-top sneakers and eight-zippered black leather jackets.”

In its 2007 revival, the kaffiyeh has similar sidekicks. “It’s hipster 101: I need my skinny jeans, some sort of scarf and a beat up T-shirt,” Ms. Hukahori said. “O.K., I’m a hipster now.”

Sound familiar? Those with a memory might recall Nina Lalli’s article documenting the trend—in 2005. In “Checkered Past,” Lalli reports:

Whatever your views of Yasser Arafat’s complex political career, that man wore a scarf like no other. To attempt an exact reproduction of his distinctive folding and bunching (intended to mimic the shape of Palestine) would certainly be a loaded fashion statement, but as an accessory, the keffiyeh, a black-and-white or red-and-white checkered cotton scarf, is all the rage.

This observation is nothing new for Westerners: In the ’80s, bohemian girls with dangly earrings and long, side-parted hair wore keffiyehs wrapped around their necks (rather than fixed on the head with a band called an agal), hanging in front—white fringe brushing shredded 501s. The scarves seemed to be for sale on almost every city street. These days, it takes a little more effort—a stroll down Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue—to find them (about $5).

True, two years has exploded the trend to McHipster levels. And, as Kim cites, the keffiyeh is now mass marketed. We noticed it at the recent UFPJ march in DC being the quintessental protester accoutrement. Perhaps Urban Outfitters should’ve resold its keffiyeh stock here.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 13, 2007

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