The flared shape of the modern Izicolo, dyed with a mixture of fat and red ochre, reflects this original design.
Once Zulu culture absorbed hats as an alternative to this hairstyle, a bride-to-be would grow out her hair, cut it and then begin sewing her hat using that hair as soon as she knew to whom she would be getting married. This hat would be used for the first time in the pre-wedding ceremony (called ukukhehla – a ceremony in which the bride and groom exchange gifts before the actual wedding).
For most of the pomp and circumstance, the hat was covered with white fabric to protect it. While wedding songs were sang, at the right moment, the groom-to-be would remove the fabric, pin a note to the hat and hand it over to his bride-to-be. The bride, and eventually wife, would then wear this Izicolo daily as a show of her maturity and having gotten hitched. Alongside birth, naming, death/burial and ukubuyisa (“bringing home of the spirit”), maturity was and still is one of the five rites of passage in the life of a Zulu woman. A crucial one at that.
Apart from the Izicolo’s conical shape, the red hue makes this hat an outstanding gear to have on anyone’s head. The red is symbolic for femininity and beauty. Izicolos also come in other colors like blue and literally every other color in the rainbow, and are most of the time beaded.
The sizes of this adornment may differ from clan to clan.
Today the Isicholo is barely worn on a daily basis, and if worn it is mostly for aesthetic reasons rather than as a traditional stance.
It is however still used on special ceremonial occasions and continues to serve as a symbol of Zulu women’s cultural identity and a way of them expressing themselves creatively.