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Q: I’ve heard that anyone that wears a red keffiyah — you know, the Arab head scarf for men — is the chief of a tribe. Really? What’s up with that?

A: Not exactly. While the different colors of the different keffiyahs have become associated with various movements or tribes, there is no correlation between red and riches. In fact, the red keffiyah has almost always been associated with the poor or the rural dwellers in Arab culture.

Keffiyahs are worn throughout the Arab world, and also known as a shemagh, a ghutra or a hatta, and is usually made of cotton. And it’s so popular because it’s so useful, both at keeping one protected from the sun and from keeping sand out of one’s face. It can worn a variety of different ways, whether as a headdress, scarf or draped over the back and shoulders. When worn on the head, it’s held in place by a coiled called the agal.

While there are no hard and fast rules, some keffiyahs are more closely associated with certain cultures. In Kuwait, for example, they are predominantly black or white. In many other places, a checkered pattern is more popular.

Perhaps the most famous of all keffiyahs is the black and white pattern worn for years by former Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat. That stretches back to the 1930s when the keffiyah was used as a symbol for Palestinian nationalism.

Of course, another famous wearer of the keffiyah was T.E. Lawrence, the British colonel famous for his World War I exploits in the Arab world. Current U.S. troops in desert regions can use camouflaged versions of the keffiyah with their uniforms. And of course now, they are sometimes worn as fashion accessories by hipsters throughout the world.

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