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Stylish Traditional Zulu Hats For Women

These red ochre-painted Zulu women's hats (isicholo) feature a flared shape that follows the original design of the hairstyle they are based on. A mother would sew her daughter's hair into this elaborate design as the first step in the series of rites associated with her daughter's marriage. The hats, which date from the late 19th or early 20th century and are based on the cone-shaped haircut that denoted the wearer's maturity and marital status, are a relatively new addition to Zulu traditional clothing.

Marriage is one of five key rites of passage in the life of a Zulu woman, along with birth, naming, death/burial, and ukubuyisa, or "coming home of the soul."

When hats were permitted as a hairstyle option in Zulu culture, a young bride-to-be would begin sewing her hat as soon as she knew who she would marry.

Dyed thread is layered on top of a basketry substrate to make them. Isicholo take part in the ukukhehla rite, which is the second ceremony before the wedding in which the future bride and groom exchange gifts and express their thanks. The hat (or, at first, the bride's hair) would be protected throughout the majority of the ceremony with a white fabric cover. The bridegroom-to-be takes off his wrap and pins a note to his hat at the appropriate point in the wedding music. Once married, a Zulu lady would wear this hat on a daily basis to signify her marital status.

The hat was one of the few ornaments worn by married women, who wore hardly none despite living in a society where beadwork has a significant symbolic meaning.

The isicholo is no longer used on a daily basis, but on important ceremonial occasions, it is usually worn with an imported scarf put over the hat to keep the red ochre pigment from rubbing off on the wearer's garments.

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