Turbans are once again turning heads

IN the current fashion realm, a type of woman's millinery is competing with Reynolds aluminum foil as ``the best wrap around.'' To be au courant this fall, stylish women will wrap around their heads everything from lengths of exotic silks and satins to fur and prettily patterned scarves. These wraps (more traditionally called turbans) keep the head warm on a chilly day -- but they're also a chic and convenient way to hide untidy hair. And twisted and knotted attractively -- sometimes caught with a gold pin or other ornament -- this head gear fashionably accents eyes lavishly made up with lush, deep colors to complement the purples, paisleys, and metallic golds that will be widely seen this fall. Quick concoction becomes a sensation

Wraps or turbans became high fashion during Edwardian years, thanks to Lily Langtry, the statuesque English beauty who set styles and prompted fads around the world.

But before her emergence as the ``star'' of London's lofty social circles, she lacked funds for the fashionable clothes her socializing demanded. On one occasion, in an effort to enhance her lovely face and to add a dash of drama to her otherwise plain attire, she wrapped a handy length of black velvet around her lustrous red locks and spiritedly tucked a white feather in the velvet.

Her quickly devised concoction became a sensation when she appeared in it. The next day, there were signs in London shop windows advertising copies of Lily's millinery bonbon.

Yet decades before Lily was artfully capturing the hearts of men the world over with her beauty and charm as an actress, Dolley Madison -- another fashion innovator -- was devoted to the wearing of turbans. Dolley Madison's romantic wrap

As First Lady, she reigned in Washington, D.C., during the early 1800s -- a period when the ``romantic'' style was favored for clothing. (Eager to evoke romantic images, stylists of those years who promoted the wearing of turbans probably looked to India's Muslims.)

Mrs. Madison wore her turbans everywhere. At her husband's inaugural ball -- the first ever held in Washington, D.C. -- she wore a gown of buff velvet, pearls, and a turban of buff velvet and white satin with two bird-of-paradise plumes.

At a White House New Year's Day reception, this vivacious First Lady was described by a guest as ``truly regal -- dressed in a robe of pink satin trimmed elaborately with ermine, a white-velvet-and-satin turban, with nodding ostrich plumes and a crescent in front.'' The guest continued, ``The turban's towering feathers distinctly pointed out her station wherever she moved.''

Dolley Madison was not pleased when Gilbert Stuart painted her portrait without a turban. And at her last reception as the President's wife, she again wore a turban -- this time another white-velvet one, but trimmed with ostrich tips and further enhanced with a gold-embroidered crown. Yet she also wore turbans of many materials, including white lace.

Paris fashion decreed in 1812 that young married ladies wear ``turbans richly embroidered and fastened with gold brooches.'' When Princess Mary (daughter of King George II) posed for a portrait in 1810, she wore a muslin turban to set off her front hair, which was adventurously arranged in a bow-knot instead of typical soft curls.

Queen Victoria was enchanted by the wearer of a turban -- her Indian servant Munshi -- who customarily attended to his palace duties while wearing his turban. Amid much controversy, the Queen raised her favorite turban-wearer to the position of ``Indian secretary,'' and allowed him to give her Hindustani lessons. Chorus girls to Carmen Miranda

Turbans, as popular headgear for day and evening, have popped in and out of fashion periodically throughout the centuries. Movie stars Mary Pickford and Marian Davies revived the style during the 1920s.

In the early movies, chorus girls in musical extravaganzas often wore turban-styled headgear festooned with feathers as they navigated down a series of high-rising stairs. And in the late 1930s, when the New York World's Fair was the ``talk of the town,'' female fairgoers often donned turban-styled hats to view the Trylon and Perisphere -- the fair's theme figures.

But of all turbans worn throughout the years, probably none surpasses the towering turbans crowned with bows and mounds of fruit that Carmen Miranda dazzled moviegoers with in the 1940s.

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