Cool Beans

Oh my! Here we go again… guess what kiddies? Keffiyehs, the chequered patterned, traditional Arab headdress is cool! Again. The International Herald Tribune just ran not one, but two articles wherein the keffiyeh features prominently in the collections of two über-cool designers. The first article, titled A Neo-Rebel Cool, discusses the resurrection of vintage Black Panthers iconography for use on oh so hip t-shirts and other apparel. Also discussed was Nom de Guerre, an upscale New York retail store with its own clothing line, featuring “hoodies covered with Nom de Guerre written in Arabic script and wool scarves with the distinctive keffiyeh honeycomb pattern, the brand’s rough and tumble basics are just the thing for chic urban rebels.” Yeah, like the skate punks pictured below right. The fact that they know nothing about the intricacies of Middle-Eastern politics, and likely don’t give a rat’s ass about the plight of the Palestinians, does not in any way diminish the chic-ness of the scarf.

And so even without one’s own clearly defined cause, it’s still possible to look and feel like a rebel. And in this nostalgic time, when vintage has revolutionized the way we look at fashion, even an old cause can make a modern statement.

And what might that statement be? I can hardly guess.

On the left we see an image from Reykjavik streetwear label Dead, the subject of the second International Herald Tribune article. Designer Jon Audarson says that wearing the Keffiyeh makes a statement – but when asked what that statement was he responded “I’m an artist … It’s much better for people to reveal that on their own.”

“I think a lot of people really picked up on that look. It really developed into a style,” says Josh Hickey, an American jeweler living in Paris and a fond wearer of the keffiyeh as a neckerchief. “I have two. One amazing multicolored one from Jordan and another red and white one that I’ve dyed hot pink.”

Hot pink huh? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I would counsel Josh against wearing that in say… Gaza. Not such a good idea. Nope.

“I tend to think that all those different people wear it for different reasons,” says Markus Strasser, owner of the hip Vienna boutique, Park, who also wears the keffi. “In Western society it stands for, among other things, revolution; for being against the system. And that appeals to fashion people because fashion often likes to work with that mood.”

Well, I know those hot, sweaty, olive-skinned men shouting in the streets with their AK-47s are certainly, um… compelling. But perhaps it might behoove fashionistas to look at the sentiment and ideology behind the mood before trying to make a statement. Unless of course what you’re trying to do is make an ironic statement – witness the lovely Kathleen up top looking fierce in her Keffiyeh and “I Love Israel” t-shirt in both English and Arabic. Also quite ironically, it turns out that the scarf , traditionally worn by desert dwellers is awesome protection against the cold, as I have always known when trudging through Montreal in the winter.

So bottom line? Wear a keffiyeh or don’t wear a keffiyeh, it’s your choice. As the keffiyeh becomes more and more popular, its underlying significance will become more and more watered down. Unless you are in Iran of course, where the wearing of keffiyehs is seen as a symbol of Arab nationalism, and such symbolism is viewed as a threat by the Persians in power. How much of a threat? Oh, they’ll arrest and maybe even shoot you for it:

Security chiefs have previously indicated that the wearing of the keffiyeh – a traditional Arab headdress – was forbidden. In November’s Eid-al-Fitr demonstrations in Ahwaz, Governor General Heyat Mojadam ordered all those wearing keffiyeh be arrested. An Ahwazi Arab youth freed from prison following his arrest during the Eid-al-Fitr protests spoke of how the prosecutor, Mr Farhadi-Rad, argued that the wearing of the red keffiyeh was a “political statement” that indicated support for secessionism.

So no hot pink keffiyehs in Gaza (for obvious reasons), no keffiyehs in Iran, but otherwise, feel free to wear one in London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, Iceland and, ironically enough, Israel.

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About the author

ck

Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.

54 Comments

  • What, is American Apparel going to hijax this?

    In my strange dream last nite, I was for some reason travelleing to Paris on Iran Air on my way to Israel, and had to shread every evidence of Judaism… maybe this apparel item would have helped… so there is some use for this dopey rag after all…LOL

  • There’s a supercute picture of me and my first friend playing “Israeli and Arab” when we were like 2. I’ll see if I can track it down when I come back…later dudes!

  • wow wearing these should be good practice for europeans, when they are forced to wear them when the muslims in europe declare sharia law!!!

  • Those eyes.

    Must resist those eyes.

    Can’t… stop… staring… pools… of emerald green…

  • I see Nom de Guerre is about to open their second store. In Williamsburg. Maybe they’ll discover new radical chic underneath those fur hats … it,s so hard to tell these days.

  • I got a kefiyah when I lived in Argentina where everyone wore them around their necks in Buenos Aires. I offended a friend from Jordan, because the one I bought was black and white checked and I never even knew the proper term for it.

    Now that I’ve converted, I’ve packed it away. To be honest, I totally miss it. It is windproof and warm, but compact. Perfect for Chicago winters. Sigh.

    Lucky for me, my mom started knitting and I have a nice apolitical red scarf now.

  • I got a kefiyah when I lived in Argentina where everyone wore them around their necks in Buenos Aires. I offended a friend from Jordan, because the one I bought was black and white checked and I never even knew the proper term for it.

    Now that I’ve converted, I’ve packed it away. To be honest, I totally miss it. It is windproof and warm, but compact. Perfect for Chicago winters. Sigh.

    Lucky for me, my mom started knitting and I have a nice apolitical red scarf now.

  • Leah’s right. When I studied in Italy, 2 years ago, everyone sported them. I think everyone still does. It’s simultaneously a fashion and political statement. Shame we don’t have anything like that here in the States.

  • Thank goodness Israel is virtually a fashion free zone. Sure you could surround yourself with fashion conscious people bringing trends from overseas, but frankly, the incredible part is that most other people have no clue what is hip, don’t care what is hip, and you ever have to throw anything out for falling out of fashion. Maybe the tourism ministry could use the slogan,” Make aliyah, wear your clothes until they have holes”.

  • josh, when you generalize you run the risk of coming off like a fool. someone could just as easily say that Israel is very fashion conscious. sure you could surround yourself with fashionably challenged people who wear their clothes until they have holes in them, blah blah. Just as in the states, you have some fashion conscious people in Israel who will buy every single line Castro comes out with, and you have some who don’t give a shit.

  • I am the only one who spotted the kaffiyeh wearing blond girl in your pic is that same “i love hashem” t-shirt wearing girl on your homepage. why do you keep using this katherine as your model? its passe’ , so generic.
    i say she needs to be replaced.
    why dont you have a contest and let readers submit and vote on the next jewlicious girl. hey didnt trump pull miss america out of atlantic city?

  • I vote for Rachel Weisz for Jewlicious Girl. Jewish and delicious.

    This is enouraging, actually. I thought the fashionists wore these things because they actually, you know, Believed in The Cause.

    It’s good to know it’s just an accessory worn by vapid, privileged, superficial Westerners who only believe in Almighty Fashion. It’ll be replaced after a while by some other Flavor/Victim/Cause of the Weak.

  • All I can say is that in Berkeley, CA, about 3 years ago, it was all the RAGE to wear keffiyehs. Why those hip liberal hippie chics preferred Fatah over PLFP never ceases to amaze me. 😉

    Then again, there are weirdo Berkeleyans (hippie students who graduated years ago and never leave) who wear them, too. I even saw a purple one. I reported this new splinter faction to the SF Israeli Consulate. 😉

    And my happiest moment was when I saw a Fatah one collecting dust in the “free pile” of a student co-op. A fashion flash-in-the-pan, just like pro-Pali solidarity.

    Oh, and I’m happy to be out of Berkeley. Though I miss it…

  • let the voting begin! i actually did not mean celebrities, but of course they would be welcome to submit their picture. i can’t imagine a site like jewlicious, renown around the world, nominated for so many categories for whatever weblog awards, can’t get a celebrity or 2 to pose in a t-shirt. do a little PR work.
    anyway, i think the neighbourhood girls will do just fine.

  • btw laya or ck or whomever admins this site, you never confimred the model/girl in the pictures is the same.
    also laya, if you want a replacement for your pre-jewish headwear, you should try those large scarves/bandanas sold at army surplus stores, great for cold winters in the windy city.

  • Yeah, Laya, I know. Not. Gonna. Happen. But a man can dream, can’t he?

    Wait. I guess this means that this post should now go to the Semen Demon thread, right?

  • So how bout my idea of getting Esther to Israel? just a visit, relax babe.

    She said on her blog site i dont know her finanaces. CK that means she doesn’t have the money at this time? I would like to organize a mission t get her the funds, what saeth thee? Laya, we all contribute as able. Ask Mr D. also.

  • i finally gave a closer look at the t-shirt katherine is wearing with arabic words on it. i didnt realize the english said “i love israel”. pardon my ignorance, but i am just trying to figure out why you posed the jewlicious homegirl (roman catholic that she is) wearing a kafiya and a tight t-shirt with the slogan “i love israel” written in english and arabic.
    also, although i dont mean to nitpick, but why did you photograph her in front a graffiti covered red brick wall. is that supposed to look like the demolished ruins in ramallah or jenin?
    talk about a staged picture.

  • LMS: Kathleen is posed the way she is as, what? An ironic statement? If you’ve ever been to Ramallah or Jenin you’d know that there are no red brick anythings there. The very staged scene is meant to evoke an Urban hipsteresque city scape. The irony lies in the notion that most hipsters tend to be anti-Israel. Here we depict a hipster scene, complete with the fashionista scarf of choice, but instead of being anti-Israel, we’re MEGA PRO ISRAEL. Get it?

    Also Kathleen is like, post religious. She was never baptized and worships at no Church. Her step father is Jewish and she has a strong interest in Judaism. We met her on the street reading an esoteric rabbinic text – that had nothing to do with kabbalah! Hope that answers your questions.

  • LMS: And, of course, you can have your own Arabic “I love Israel” shirt and stage your own hipster scene by going here.

    CK: I must say I’m a little disappointed you didn’t include a plug to shmatas. There’s always meaning in a plug. 🙂

  • This is all horshesh!t. Keffiyahs are the most clear and obvious symbol of international terrorism in the non-Arab world. I love running into the nincompoops (non-Arabs, of course) who wear them and ridiculing their “choice.”

  • The keff. has nothing to do with terrorism, and everything to do with resistance and desperation against living in apartheid. I would wear one with pride.

    Oh, and I hate Che Guevera shirts….

  • So Urban Outfitters apologized for selling the “AntiWar” Kefiyah scarf and pulled it from their catalog and shelves and now a few weeks later they have restocked the shelves not only with the original black and white but they also have fashion colors like neon yellow and royal blue! Basically all they care about is money and their apologies are insincere.

  • I live in the desert, and the keffiyeh is a terrific way to protect yourself from the sun. I was inspired when I first saw Lawrence of Arabia, and I thought to myself If T.E. Lawrence can wear one and he’s british, than so can an american. I honestly don’t give a damn if it has palestinian militant meaning, or terrorist ties, If it protects me from the harsh conditions of the desert southwest, im wearing a keffiyeh 😉

  • Im jewish , and pro israel all the way and i have to admit that it took me a while to get over the idea that everyone wearing one of these scarves ISNT a PLO terrorist – especially after having spent time in Israel

    But lets face it these scarves are a fashion statement mostly – ive seen kids in the synagogue wearing them with no inclanation at all as to their meaning and im guessing that most of their counterparts wear one with similar cluelessness as to their meaning.

    Israelis and jews share more in commen then we would like to admit with our Arab neighbours, and I personally have no problem wearing arab style clothing – especially things like jilbabs or headscarves which -lets face it are a heck of a lot more practical in desert heat then some of the orthodox garb – which is – lets face it even less jewish historically than my jilbab.

    If we – as jews – really want to make a statement we can start reclaiming our middle eastern traditions and the keffiyah is not a bad place start. Lets all put one on- lets turn it into a jewish thing to do , or even better – lets just wear it for the sake of mindless fashion and take away all of its PLO associations and arab pride and nationalism and terrorist murder… and lets turn it into a symbol of all thats good and accpeting about judaism – that will say more to the terrorists then any demonstrations or israeli defence tactics ..

  • Id like to add ,
    That i think sometimes if judaism was more practical in its approach to certain things then we might see a bigger return of secular jews to become religious jews.

    I know of several people – my self included – who would have become religious but just couldnt live with the impracticalities of the lifestyle..

    once upon a time we were all walking around in hijabs and jilbabs and veils and turbans , only a move to Europe changed that ..

    im not advocating a move towards dressing like muslims or terrorists but only that we should take a good look at the way we used to practise and dress before we dismiss something ..

    for me , hijabs and keffiyahs and jilbabs and henna are all as jewish practises as anything that the ultra frum in jerusalem do

  • Yeah Channah. I think that was the point of the post. But a sincere thanks for reiterating and even expanding on it!

  • I have an Idea! Let’s start wearing talit in public! Boys, girls who cares….wear em around your neck with your big goofy sunglasses, wear em with your converse and ballerina slippers… Looks great with jeans….I think I might go dig up up the talit I got for free on my Birthright trip and start wearing it for fashion. I mean it’s so authentic cuz I got itin Jerusalem when I finally had my bat mitzvah at 25 ( i was like i’m a girl why am i even wearing this….but they said to put it on for the picture…) I mean the “red string” thing is just soooo 2005….and like Free Tibet is “mainstream”…

  • “Well, I know those hot, sweaty, olive-skinned men shouting in the streets with their AK-47s are certainly, um… compelling.”

    I nearly laughed! Hot? As in good looking? Well, some people are wierd, I won’t be surprised….

    I think people need to let go of this issue and let it run its course, so what the keffiyeh in style instead of the yamaka, not a big deal.

    Next year we’ll all dress like Rabbi Abraham, and act gangster.

  • I’ve been wearing keffiyehs for as long as I can remember and I’m not anti-semitic OR pro-palestinian. Everyone on my family’s farm in Turkey wore them through out the year and it seemed like a logical choice to keep wearing them here in the US during the summer and winter. It’s a little ridiculous when some people immediately take a negative connotation to something. I even got slapped by a complete stranger a couple days ago for wearing it.

  • Hello people. Where do I get a Keffiyeh Israelit? I think we need to hit back, why should the Palestinians get all the attention? God Bless

  • I’m Jewish. I live in Alabama. I wear a kippah. Sometimes I wear a keffiyeh. I don’t see it as making any sort of political statement. Its a scarf…get over yourselves.

  • BTW…they are not symbols of terrorism. They are not symbols of resistance. You are making all of that up in your own heads. Keffiyehs are simply a traditional middle eastern article of clothing. Its like saying wearing blue jeans is a symbol of being a liberal democratic capitalist. Ridiculous. Like I said before…its a scarf. Get over it.

    • Actually, Joe, to many people they are a symbol of resistance and that resistance was often defined by terrorism. Just because you don’t like that FACT, it doesn’t make it any less true. Of course, this isn’t true all the time, but it’s true enough that we can come to these conclusions with confidence.

  • Gangs in LA wear ball caps over sized for their heads, not on straight so according to the “logic” above they are terrorists and anyone wearing a hat like that supports terror.

    Unibomber wore a hoodie so anyone wearing a hoodie is a suspected bomber. I’m sure some jew somewhere wore his little beanie cap to commit murder or terrorize some old palestinian woman so all jew beanie wearers are terrorists. jeez!

  • Second last paragraph didn’t make sense. Iranians wear Kaffiyehs (or Chaffiyehs as we call them). The Basij, Ahmadinejad and Khamenei (which might I add are to say the least, tyrants) all wear one. However theres two different reasons for wearing one. 1. In support of Palestine. 2. In remembrance of Iranian troops during Iran-Iraq war when the soldiers would wear them for a range of different reasons.

    The arrests and execution your referring to would have happened during the riots recently where youth fought for revolution. They also wore the Kaffiyeh but as a symbol for revolution. Thats why they were shot. Arab nationalism has nothing to do with the garment. Theres actually an article about the Kaffiyeh becoming popular in Iran.

    Thats my little rant. There rest of the article was great. Loved it.

  • I just remembered, if your referring to the whole Ahvaz thing, that was because they were rioting over persecution (like above, the youth riots). Ahvazi’s have always had a sense of ‘Arabism’ inside. Even before the riots. Matter of a fact if you visit the cities in South of Iran you’ll see that the garments are quiet common. Not to mention the people look like Arabs ( you begin to distinguish them if you hang around both for awhile.)

  • Not only do fashionistas wear them in all manner of colors, but some American military veterans have picked up the habit of wearing them as well, after serving in Iraq. GIs prefer subdued colors to the bright shiny ones of course. But this is, in the end, another form of “fashion” I suppose. It’s just that, rather than “Hipster,” the look is “Tacti-cool.” Keffiyehs really do make sense in the desert, whether Middle East or Southwest. Especially in sand storms.

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