But Lady Gaga isn’t the only pop-cultural darling to have walked this razor’s edge of taste. Lena Dunham was met with swift and scathing criticism after posting a picture of herself in a black headwrap with the accompanying caption: “I had a real goth/fundamentalist attitude when I woke up from my nap.” A decided sensitivity fail as Dunham seems to compare goth culture with Islam, and to suggest that only fundamentalist Muslims (interpretive subtext: terrorists) wear headscarves.
Most articles on the Lady Gaga’s outfit, however, have interrogative headlines. “Did Lady Gaga go too far?” It seems the world is as yet undecided.
Why wasn’t Lady Gaga’s LFW livery so roundly criticized? Perhaps because she’s a known fashion megalomaniac and its not worth the effort. More importantly, however, Lady Gaga made no reference, tacit or otherwise, to Islam while wearing the ensemble in question. Insinuating as much was Dunham’s fatal error, it seems.
So the question must be asked: Under what circumstances can a non-Muslim woman acceptably wear a headscarf?
Answer: If you’re a pop star at London Fashion Week who has previously donned a dress made entirely of raw meat.
But is that it?
When it rains and I find myself umbrella-less, I often drape a shawl over my head. I am frequently met with confused stares. “Are you a Muslim or are you just trying to be provocative?” Neither, I’m simply not partial to the wet-rat coif.
Through the fifties, Western women frequently tied scarves around their heads to protect primped hair. Indeed Queen Elizabeth can still frequently be seen trodding across her countryside estates with a kerchief knotted beneath her chin. When does a scarf on your head become a headscarf? When does a shapeless wrap become a burqa? Is it a matter of how the scarf is tied or the fabric draped? That argument descends rather quickly into the absurd, it seems.
Trying on another geopolitical valence for size, would/should a Christian French girl be able to wear a scarf over her hair in public school if the style suddenly became en vogue? Muslim students are barred for wearing veils in France’s strictly secular school system.
Lena Dunham crossed the line by making an allusion to Islam whilst wearing a headcovering, instantly transforming the millinery from a piece of fabric to an offensive symbol. When no such reference is made, however, where should the line of good taste be drawn?
I am personally of the belief that non-Muslims can swathe their heads for fashion’s sake any time they want. Doing so, however, is sure to court controversy, and may very well be senseless provocation. Whether that controversy is warranted is another question entirely.
*I am intentionally omitting any mention of the pop star’s wonderfully vulgar clutch