Most Nobel Peace Prize winners don’t wear dresses, because most Nobel Peace Prize winners are men. But this year, three women — Tawakkol Karman, of Yemen, and Leymah Gbowee and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, of Liberia — split the prize, bringing the total number of women honored for their humanitarian work to 15 in the 110 years that the prize has been awarded.
These women stand tall for their accomplishments, but one thing makes their stature even grander: their headdresses. In the case of Gbowee and Johnson-Sirleaf, they actually add inches to their height, as fashion critic Robin Givhan noted in a 2006 Washington Post story about Johnson-Sirleaf’s visit to Washington that year:
“Her attire expertly suggests both the importance of her position and the dire circumstances of her country. In Providence, her austere ivory headwrap eloquently conveyed modesty and simplicity. It acknowledged her position without bombast. As she stood before Congress in glorious shades of red and gold, she looked regal. She wore her head scarf like a crown, and indeed, the coils of fabric demanded that she stand tall. The head wrap requires an almost formal posture, something that fashion designers have long noted.”
The headdresses are called many names throughout West Africa. Tying them and molding them into petal-like shapes is an art. Ever wonder how they hold their form? Here’s a tutorial for a type of African headdress:
Karman, too, has distinguished herself through her headgear. At the Council on Foreign Relations, Stewart Patrick writes: “A member of Yemen’s leading opposition party, Islah, she has demonstrated a flair for the dramatic—and brave independence of mind. Karman recently donned a floral pink head scarf and shed the traditional abaya because it wasn’t ‘suitable for a woman who wants to work in activism and the public domain [since] people need to see you, to associate and relate to you.’” The floral headscarf has been called her signature look by reporters.