What is a shemagh, keffiyeh, dastmaal yazdi, chafiyeh, ghtrah or rezza? Well, it's a 42"x42" square scarf that is usually made of cotton or wool and is typically worn by the Arab people or by those found in arid regions of the world. There are a lot of misconceptions about these handy scarves and it has been extremely interesting to do research on where they came from and how they became so popular. For simplicity, I will refer to these scarves as a shemagh, the most commonly used name in the United States.
Much like the American's cowboy hat and bandanna combo, the shemagh was used for practical reasons. Initially used in the early 20th century by farmers, the shemagh was worn to protect the nose, mouth and face from the blazing sun, dust and sandstorms that are common to arid climates. Plain and simple, it was a functional approach to a problem and it had no religious or political ties until later down the road.
The shemagh's popularity increased in the 1930's as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism during the Arab Revolt. Then, in the 1960's, it increased in popularity again when the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat began wearing the shemagh which became a symbol of Palestinian solidarity. By the early to mid 2000's Japan, the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia would all find the shemagh as a popular trend in young hipster circles. Today, the shemagh is worn by military, religious sects, hikers, farmers, bikers, trend setters and many others. While the shemagh came from humble beginnings, it has definitely become a well recognized item of clothing due to it's booming popularity.
The British military has used the Shemagh since before world war II and today a tan colored shemagh is standard issue for those headed into desert warfare. Many Middle Eastern units such as the Palestine Police Force and Arab Legion have implemented the use of the shemaghs due to it's previously stated abilities to protect oneself from the elements. Similarly, the U.S. Special forces and parts of the Australian military have used the shemagh during recent wars for it's protective capabilities and have also found it useful for blending into the local communities. Since it's adoption into various military the shemagh has also been referred to as a military or tactical scarf.