The Ultimate South Asian Style Guide: Men's Headpieces
Topi refers to pretty much any cap and the word is used by the Muslim community for their characteristic skull cap, which is also called a Taqiyah.
Photo courtesy of Steve Evans
There are many variations on the topi between different South Asian states. The Sindhi topi, for instance, is cylindrical and contains embroidery and mirror work. It is often worn among Sindhi men but it is also popular in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Nepali topi is the one we see in the image above. It is usually made of Dhaka fabric, a course handwoven textile from Nepal, and is worn as part of the traditional male Nepali outfit, the Daura Suruwal. It is worn both for formal occasions and casual wear.
Again there are many different kinds of pagris. Pagri basically means 'turban' and is used to describe any kind of headpiece that is made by wrapping fabric around the wearer's head. They are worn at all times by men in certain parts of South Asia and sometimes glitzier versions are worn for special occasions like weddings.
Photo via Sonam & Nikhil's Wedding
The Sikh turban is called the Dastar and is required for all initiated Sikh men, or Khalsas. The Dastar varies over the region or religious order of the wearer.
It is one of the five outward symbols required by Guru Gobind Singh to profess the faith. In many Panjabi dialects, and sometimes in Hindi, 'pagri' is shortened to 'pagg.'
Photo via Kavita & Tejas' Wedding
The Rajasthani pagri, shown in the illustration, is made of large, multi-colored piece of fabric that is wrapped around the wearers head. The look and color of the Rajasthani pagri varies depending on the weather conditions and the socio-economic class and caste of the wearer.
If it is a hot day it may be worn more loosely. Besides shielding the wearer from the sun and keep his head warm, the pagri can also be used as a pillow, water strainer, rope, and various other tools.
The Maharashtrian pagri, called a pheta, is often worn at weddings, festivals, and by visiting dignitaries. It once used to be required dress in the region but it has over time been phased out with the exception of special occasions.
The pheta is made of a long strip of fabric which is one meter wide and up to six meters long. It is wrapped six or seven times around the wearer's head, with a pleated fan and a bit of the end that is allowed to hang loose, like a tail. This part is called the Shemala. Phetas usually come in either white or saffron.
The Gandhi Cap
The Gandhi cap is a white hat, which is pointed at the front and the back. Gandhi caps are made out of khadi fabric. It was first popularized by Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian Independence Movement. Many other independence activists donned it at the time in a show of support and solidarity. It became a symbol of the struggle.
This handwoven blended fabric was also adopted during the Independence Movement by Gandhi and he used it to demonstrate that Indians could be self-reliant on their own cotton and free from exploitative British prices. Nowadays khadi fabric is made out of hemp, wool, and silk.
The Gandhi cap saw a resurgence in popularity in 2011 when Anna Hazare, a Gandhian from Maharasthra started an anti-corruption movement. Since then many politicians have worn the hat to display sincerity and a harkening back to Gandhian principles.
These hats are only among the most popular and common headpieces worn by South Asian men. They are so much a part of South Asian culture that we often see them on fashion runways.
South Asian headpieces remain very traditional and specific, often only worn by men for special occasions or as part of their faith and cultural identity. They go in and out of fashion but as menswear becomes more common on fashion runways we'll be seeing new experimentation with these classic pieces.