I recently learned something that I had been totally ignorant about: black and Creole women pre-Emancipation were required by law in many places to wear a headwrap in public. Obviously I’m familiar with the image of Aunt Jemima in her checkered kerchief. And my family has some etchings in S.C. of women hawking food on the street in Savannah, calling “swimpee, swimpee, nice and fresh” and the like. (The Gullah word starts with the voiceless alveolar /s/ and then has the rest said like we all say shrimp—according to the dictionary, but the mangled spelling of the etchings is actually a good approximation of how it sounds.) All the women depicted are wearing headscarves—and the women who sell sweetgrass baskets on the street in Charleston, wear them today. (People actually did hawk food on the street when my dad was a kid, which is kind of funny to think about.) Women in Louisiana were subject to the “tignon” law, which mandated a headwrap, starting in 1785. You will not be surprised to learn that the one-drop rule applied to the tignon law, so the many beautiful only-one-black-great-grandparent-having ladies in New Orleans also had to have them on. However, as this great, lavishly illustrated writeup details, it didn’t work out quite as planned,
In an effort to maintain class distinctions in his Spanish colony at the beginning of his term, Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miró (1785 – 1791) decreed that women of color, slave or free, should cover their heads with a knotted headdress and refrain from “excessive attention to dress.” In 1786, while Louisiana was a Spanish colony, the governor forbade: “females of color … to wear plumes or jewelry”; this law specifically required “their hair bound in a kerchief.” But the women, who were targets of this decree, were inventive & imaginative with years of practice. They decorated their mandated tignons, made of the finest textiles, with jewels, ribbons, & feathers to once again outshine their white counterparts.
Nice try, dicks. Free blacks were almost 20% of the New Orleans at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, but both enslaved and free black women had to wear the tignon. And, thinking about it, lots of women in the Caribbean wore/wear this style. You should definitely go read this post which is very detailed and has some superlative turban/hat combos to admire.