It is believed that some cultures used head wraps before the days of slavery so that men could show off their wealth and the level of their social status and so that women could prove that they were prosperous and spiritual.
The gele, being an head wrap, is a large rectangular cloth tied on a woman’s head in a variety of fashions. The material used to make it is usually of a stiff, but flexible, nature, for example, ofi or aso-oke , and damask.
The gele should cover the hair completely and must be tied at the back of the neck. A lot of modern-day ladies wear their geles with some of their hair showing, as covering the hair makes the outfit feel and look more traditional. It is said that the gele is used to showcase the facial beauty of the African woman and to take attention away from the body.
Unlike a hat or fascinator, the gele often needs a lot of pulling and patience to get the desired style. Because of the amount of effort that goes into donning a gele, removing it intact and simply placing it on one’s head when needed, has become a common practice. Besides the difficulty of wearing one, it can also cause a headache because it is often tied too tightly. And yet, the women continue to wear it with pride.
It is a symbol of elegance, of maturity and of wealth. Gone are the days when young girls don’t wear a gele with their outfit, so it is as much a symbol of the coming of age of a woman but now it is an elaborate fashion statement that even parents love to style on their kids.
Though it is traditionally part of the Yoruba attire, you can now find other tribes wearing the gele as well, so that it has become a symbol of Nigeria, far more than a symbol of the Yorubas. Scroll down to see gele styles…