If anyone gets upset with question, I apologize in advance.

I am in USA and wish to wear headcovering when going outside or around unfamiliar people. Even at office I wish to wear headcovering.

I just have desire to cover my hair. More like a dupatta (below).

It's unfortunate that a person who wears headcovering will be labelled bad things (you can see the news)

How to do this?

I live in metropolitan city with many immigrants and minorities.

Picture of dupatta

enter image description here

  • 1
    Can you be more specific about where in the US you are and why you think you're in danger?
    – Catija
    Feb 10, 2018 at 17:48
  • @Catija I live in metropolitan city with many immigrants and minorities. Reason I think I am in danger is because (1) surrounded with news, so maybe it's subconscious (2) there was lady in subway who was fully covered except eyes (i dunno what it's called). No one wanted to sit next to her Feb 10, 2018 at 17:57
  • 7
    So what are you expecting from us? You either wear the head scarf or you do not... are you asking how to respond to people who treat you differently because of the scarf? You can't really prevent other people from thinking unkind thoughts... so what are you asking of us?
    – Catija
    Feb 10, 2018 at 18:14
  • 3
    The issue is less whether it's off-topic, it's that "in public" covers a lot of different situations. So it's unclear exactly what the question is, and our best guesses lead us to this effectively asking multiple questions at once (which is part of the "too broad" close reason) - how to behave to avoid confrontation, how to respond when people comment on it, how to respond when people seem to be treating you differently but don't comment on it, and so on. So, @user12671, it might help if you could narrow this down to a clearer, more specific question.
    – Cascabel
    Feb 10, 2018 at 19:17
  • 2
    Is this about the etiquette of correctly wearing a dupatta? Or more about how to react when people suddenly see you wearing one? If it's the first, there's no need mention the bad things news... That's just flame bait and a blanket statement then.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Feb 10, 2018 at 20:15

2 Answers 2


I interpret your question to be

how can I deal with possibly being treated differently and/or with some hostility by American people while choosing to cover my head in public?

If that is not an accurate interpretation, please edit your question to clarify.

I am Indian and know (though people who are not very familiar with Asian religions and culture may not be aware) that covering the head in public for religious reasons is practiced by Middle Eastern, Southern Asian, African or American women and men belonging to at least 4 different religions -- let's not go into the details, to avoid potentially argumentative discussion unrelated to your situation, but covering the head is required of believers by multiple orthodox religions for different theological reasons.

However, perceptions of head-covering in the Western world have been shaped by both

  1. the clash of religious ideologies and cultures between East and West, leading to the political 'war of terror' between fundamentalist fanatics and Western world governments; and

  2. modern feminist discourse about the rights of women and their oppression by patriarchy,

for both of which head-covering is seen as a visible marker.

There is a pervasive idea (among men and women whose religions do not require head-covering) that this practice is imposed compulsorily on women by men, but many recent explanations by women who choose to cover their heads for religious reasons emphasise their free personal choice due to individual religious convictions, which they claim as an unalienable part of their right to practice their religion in a free society.

In short it is your fundamental right in a free society to cover your head if you want to, even if not for religious reasons, except where certain governments have legislated against the practice, but you need to be aware that just as you are entitled to your religious rights, so also individual persons and communities are (sad but true) 'entitled' to their religious and cultural prejudices, which it is not possible for anyone to change in a hurry, nor advisable for you to address as a non-native person in a Western country [if that description of your situation is not accurate, please edit your question to clarify.]

By choosing to do something that 'goes against the grain' of the prevailing culture and social expectations, you are choosing not to 'dissolve' into the local culture but to practise your religion conspicuously at risk of being treated differently and/or with hostility by the majority community, or else to give that impression to others, if you are not doing it for religious reasons. Whatever be your motive, it is your right but exposes you to social stress, and you know it. So you must be well prepared psychologically to deal with the backlash:

  1. Always keep a positive (read confident) body language and an open yet neutral expression. This signals to strangers in public that your decision to cover your head is a fully voluntary personal choice and your attitude to people is still open and neutral.

  2. Also be mentally prepared for some degree of unpleasantness and learn not to be badly affected by such incidents.

  3. Do not engage in debate about head covering, although a friendly discussion is probably OK. If a 'friendly discussion' looks likely to become a debate, just stop the discussion yourself to avoid escalation.

  4. Do not pick an argument with anybody who treats you differently or with hostility, because you should expect it. It is not useful for you to question their cultural attitudes in an argumentative manner. However, if anybody infringes any of your legitimate rights you are fully entitled to complain to the appropriate authorities.

  5. If you actually fear that you will be harmed by a random person then you might reconsider your decision to cover your head in public.

  6. Making friends in the neighborhood and at the workplace will help you understand American cultural expectations and simultaneously allow others to get an insight into your religion and culture. Having women friends in particular tends to empower a South Asian immigrant woman by cutting across cultural differences and emphasising the commonality and solidarity of women's experiences all over the world.

In general it is good to be in tune with the social and cultural expectations of the society you are living in, even as a non-native person, but would I give up being a vegetarian from birth for religious reasons, and eat meat simply to blend in? It cuts deep and creates internal conflict, but many immigrants have compromised their religious beliefs and practices to 'purchase peace' in a new place. It avoids a great deal of unpleasantness arising from ideological differences, misunderstanding and prejudice, and allows the person to concentrate on building their life and work. However, the greatness of the USA nation and society lies in allowing every person the fullest cultural freedom provided by the law, and I am sure you will soon learn to exercise your personal or religious rights in harmony with the local community.

  • 1
    OP does not benefit from antagonizing the local community @apaul. Please note that I never advised her not to cover her head in public except if she fears actual harm from a random person, which has actually occurred in certain Western countries. Feb 10, 2018 at 20:13
  • 2
    Indeed we cannot generalize social reactions across the vast, diverse 'American subcontinent' @apaul. There are so many parts of the country that are absolutely tolerant and even welcoming of different religious practices. Media portrayal of Eastern religions in recent years has complicated the matter. OP could help us by specifying her region. My advice to OP is "cover your head in public if you want to, but be prepared for some odd reactions, and don't go out of your way to discuss or debate the issue. If you fear actual harm from a random person, then you need to reconsider your decision." Feb 10, 2018 at 20:25
  • 2
    I get that, probably would have been better to wait for clarification before answering...
    – apaul
    Feb 10, 2018 at 20:26
  • 3
    @EnglishStudent by answering bad questions you are taking away a part of the incentive for improvement, especially if this improvement can't be done by community members without input from the OP
    – Tinkeringbell
    Feb 10, 2018 at 20:51
  • 4
    OP has provided enough information in both question and comments that my answer is not opinion based and she also responded to my answer in a comment without pointing out any contradiction, but that is a debate we don't need to continue here @Tinkeringbell. See my recent meta about opinion based answers. This topic can be further discussed if required, on meta. Feb 10, 2018 at 20:53

You can wear what you like in the U.S. but it will affect people's perception of you and will put demands upon your interpersonal skills as well.

People in general have a deep rooted instinctual distrust of anything that is distinctly different. This used to be a survival trait. Now it's largely baggage. But it's nevertheless very real.

Even people that value diversity will often be uncertain or distrust something that is both alien and new. At least at first until they have a chance to get used to it or think the issue through.

If you choose to wear something unusual, like a head scarf in the U.S. is then you should expect that many people will stereotype you based on your clothing. And be aloof, distrusting or negative when they first interact with you because you are doing something that marks you as clearly different than they are - and a lot of people are uneasy because they aren't sure what that really means.

This occurs for many reasons, it may simply be outside of someone's experience and seem odd to them or they may feel uneasy because they don't know what to expect. Sometimes there is a strong negative association because some people feel that certain ethnic groups are associated with post 9/11 terrorism.

If you want to create a good impression, diffuse tension and have positive social interactions where you like (which is the U.S. at the moment) then you should leverage your interpersonal skills to counteract the negative first impression that the scarf will have on some people around you.

Good deportment and open body language will help overcome any uncertainty that people feel over your scarf. Realize that if you choose to wear an entire ensemble of clothing that is unusual that will have a much higher impact than if you wore just the scarf with otherwise unremarkable (for the U.S.) clothing.

Most of all interact with people in a positive manner as much as you can. Even if it's as fleeting and simple as a smile or saying hello can do a lot to turn something perceived as off-putting into a positive impression because people lose focus on the scarf and instead start to build a positive impression of you as a person.

Realize that if all of your clothing is ethnic or unusual for the U.S. that it will have a much larger impact than if you are just wearing a scarf along with otherwise unremarkable (for the U.S.) clothing. Open, positive, strong body language will help a lot and will an outgoing and friendly personality (or as much as possible if you happen to be shy).

When you choose to do something that is well outside the norm - whether it is an ethnic scarf or someone dressing as a punk rocker that people will often have strong first impressions and often stereotype you because they see someone unusual, probably out of their normal experience and that singles you out as different. And different is often a negative stereotype for people.

But first impressions can be overcome rather fast if you make an effort to smile, be friendly and engage people around you - simply talk to people and be generally positive and most people will quickly judge you on the merits of your personality rather than the scarf that you are wearing.


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