The shemagh is basically a large square of cloth, most often made of cotton since it is a breathable, lightweight material. They come in many colors, but gray or white is most popular. It is worn traditionally by Arab men in the Middle East nations for practical reasons, not fashion. The design, which is an open weave, is believed to come from Mesopotamia. The cloth is worn in very hot and arid climates where protection from the elements is a necessity. These days, shemaghs can be purchased online from numerous vendors.
The original purpose of the shemagh is as a men's head covering in Arab nations. It is wrapped around the head and neck, and sometimes over the mouth and nose to protect against blowing sand in the desert. They are functional and also protect the head and face from the hot desert sun. The shemagh is folded into a large triangle, with the folded area placed over the forehead. The excess material can be wrapped around the head like a turban or left to drape down the back and over the shoulders. The top part can be secured in place with a cord or rope.
U.S. Army Style
The U.S. military uses a type of shemagh made of lightweight cotton to prevent soldiers from overheating in desert conditions during wars and fighting in the Middle East. The shemaghs are called black army scarves and are used in the traditional manner or wrapped around the neck to prevent sunburn. During sandstorms, soldiers may use their shemaghs to place over their entire faces to protect them from the blowing sand.
As a fashion accessory, shemaghs come in a variety of colors, textures and sizes. As a neck adornment, a small-sized shemagh, the size of a regular women's head scarf, can be used to wrap around the neck. A normal-sized shemagh can also be used as a woman's shawl or draped over the head and tied under the back of the hair.