More

11 things you wanted to know about my turban but were too afraid to ask.

'I have more than 20 different turbans, each a different color.'

11 things you wanted to know about my turban but were too afraid to ask.

​This story was originally published on The Mash-Up Americans.

Turbans are a source of mystery — and, all too often, terrible misunderstanding — to those who don’t wear them.

What do they mean? Why do you wear them? Do you have to do everything in a turban? Enter Rupinder Singh, founder of American Turban, social justice fellow at the Sikh Coalition, and owner of more than 20 turbans. If you’ve ever wanted to know how long it takes to tie a turban, he’s got you covered. (Pro tip: The word Sikh means “student” and rhymes with “Sith,” not “seek.” Learning every day.)


Singh sporting one of his many pink turbans. Photo used with Singh's permission.

A typical conversation about my turban goes something like this:

The TSA, as I go through security at the airport: “I need to inspect your, uh, headgear. I mean, your headwear. You know, that wrap on your head."

Me: “You mean ... my turban?”

“Turban” is not a dirty word. And hopefully mine, to the TSA agent awkwardly sniffing it, smells springtime fresh.

As a follower of the Sikh faith, I am, by design, recognized by my turban and my uncut hair. Sikhism is a religion of about 25 million people around the world. It’s the fifth largest world religion by population. Most of the religion’s followers are in India, but there are about 500,000 Sikhs in the United States. That’s a lot of turbans! And this simple item is the subject of a lot of unnecessary misunderstandings.

So here are answers to the 11 questions I just know you want to ask about my turban, but were too afraid to ask:

1. Why do you wear a turban?

While the turban is a common and fashionable item of clothing for many cultures, for Sikhs, it represents our faith. When the Sikh faith was developing from the 15th through 18th centuries in South Asia, the turban was worn only by the higher classes and elites of society. However, a core teaching of the Sikh faith was that all people are equal — there are no high or low among us. As such, it was mandated that all Sikhs initiated into the faith cover our heads with a turban, thereby signifying the equal status among the faith’s followers.

Because it’s considered respectful for Sikhs to keep our heads covered when in public and in our religious spaces, the turban provides that function as well. To me, it is a core piece of my identity.

Another identifying article of faith for Sikhs is maintaining uncut hair, both women and men. Sikhs are not to cut hair from any part of our bodies, which is why as a Sikh man I have a long beard and long hair. This is an expression of our acceptance of God’s will. My turban becomes the covering for my long hair that I keep in a bun at the top of my head. You see, we were way ahead of the hipster man-bun curve.

2. Do women wear turbans too?

Among Sikhs, the turban has traditionally been worn by men, while women cover their heads with a long scarf called a chunni or dupatta. However, many Sikh women have adopted the turban as their head covering as well.

3. But I have a friend who is a Sikh and doesn’t wear a turban. Why not?

Like any group, there is a range of practice. Many followers of the faith don’t wear turbans or keep their hair, but still legitimately follow and identify with the faith.

4. Do the colors of the turban mean anything?

There aren’t any religious meanings associated with a given turban color. A person can wear any color turban they like — and even prints! Some colors like orange, blue, and white are traditionally worn during religious celebrations or occasions. Red is traditionally worn during Sikh weddings.

One of my main decision points during my morning routine is to determine what color turban I’m going to wear and how that will coordinate with my shirt, pants, jacket, and shoes. I have more than 20 different turbans, each a different color. I’m particularly proud of the four shades of pink that are quick to brighten up a gloomy day for my coworkers. My color choice is a complicated algorithm that usually results in the wrong choice, but luckily, others either don’t notice or don’t want to hurt my feelings by pointing it out — bless their hearts.

5. Does it go on like a hat?

The turban isn’t a hat per se, and we don’t wear it like a hat. The Sikh turban is a long piece of cotton, typically up to six yards long and one to two yards wide. Your mileage may vary. Mine sure does.

I tend to wear shorter, narrower lengths of fabric, which I re-tie every day. To put it on, I fold the cloth several times (a process called making the pooni) into a single layer that I then wrap concentrically around my head in four layers (or a larh), but more often Sikhs wrap turbans around five or more times. It takes me a precious five or so minutes to tie my turban — precious because I usually run late to wherever I’m going.

You can watch a similar process (at your own risk) here.

6. How many kinds of turbans are there?

There are several different general styles of turbans that people wear, and within each style, there’s a lot of leeway according to their person’s preferences. A dumalla is a larger, rounder turban. There is a smaller round turban tied by some Sikh men. Sikh women who tie turbans tend to wear round ones as well. A parna is a smaller round turban often tied using a thicker printed/checkered cloth.

I tend to tie what’s most commonly referred to as the paghri or pagh, which is more angular in shape (like this one or this one). Within this style, there are regional differences: British Sikhs and African Sikhs tend to wear smaller, sharper turbans (using starched cloth) compared to North American Sikhs, whose turbans are generally softer. Indian Sikhs will often tie larger turbans. Apparently, size matters.

7. Where do you get your turbans?

I typically get my turbans from South Asian fabric shops, online turban retailers, or at Sikh festivals. The cost can vary, ranging anywhere from $3 to $10 a yard depending on where I buy from, the type of cotton blend, and any print or design. As for care, many people hand wash their turbans, though I put mine in the washing machine set on the delicate cycle and hang to dry.

8. Were you born with a turban on?

No, and my mom couldn’t be happier about that.

When I was a kid and my hair got long enough, my mother would tie on me (until I could) what is known as a patka — basically, a rectangular cloth tied around my head like a bandana that covered my bun of hair. Most boys will wear a patka until they learn how to tie the full turban, and many will instead have a handkerchief just covering their hair bun on the top of their heads. Young boys will wear a patka or a handkerchief since they’re easy to tie and can stand up to some roughhousing. Sikh men will also often wear a patka when playing sports.

There’s actually a ceremony in which we celebrate when a child ties their first full turban. We call the ceremony dastaar bandi (meaning “turban tying,” coincidentally enough). It’s often characterized as a “coming of age” ceremony, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. I had my ceremony when I was maybe 4 years old — I was an overachiever back then — but I didn’t start tying my full turban until I reached high school 12 years later.

9. Do you wear it to sleep or shower?

Nope. Sikhs are supposed to keep their heads covered when in public. Accordingly, I don’t wear mine when I sleep and not in the shower, especially since it’s not waterproof.

Actually, flowing water can be fatal to a tied turban. We can be rather hydrophobic when it rains. I will say, however, that my turban does make for a convenient pillow during air travel.

10. Can I touch your turban?

Well, I’m glad you asked. I don’t know — can you?

Personally, it’s a bit of a sensitive topic. Like many Sikh children, I was bullied quite a bit in school, and my patka was the target of my harassers. Bullies would try to pull it off or just try to mess with it. This was obviously very humiliating to me as a boy, given the sacred nature of our turbans.

As an adult, I still get asked this from time to time. Because the turban is a religious article of faith, it’s held in sacred esteem by Sikhs. It’s offensive if our turbans are touched or handled without our permission while we’re wearing them. But, if the person asking is respectful and genuine, then I’ll let someone touch it so they can get a sense of it. Play your cards right and I can even tie one on you. Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean we have to get engaged or anything.

11. And, oh yeah, the heat thing.

You would think that tying layers of cloth on your head would be uncomfortable on a hot day, but actually, the turban is a common article of clothing in hot climates. It protects the wearer from exposure and the sun’s rays. So, while it can feel hot wearing a turban, it’s because it is hot.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

Keep Reading Show less