To the western world and in military use the British SAS (Special Air Service) discovered the Shemaghs potential when operating in northern Africa's deserts during the WW2. It has been a popular and valuable piece of the SAS soldiers equipment ever since and have spread from there.
The Shemagh (also known as an arab scarf or palestinian shemagh other names also see wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keffiyeh) was originally used for protection against hostile desert conditions, providing protection from the wind, sun, sandstorms and low night time temperatures.
Next to a soldier's rifle, knife and boots, the Shemagh, may probably be one of the most useful pieces of equipment he or she can have.
A Shemagh scarf is a square cotton cloth, a woven scarf of about 110cm x 110cm in size.
Especially since becoming fashionable it is generally available in a massive choice of colour combinations from pink to bright orange as well as the traditional colours; red/white, black/white, black/green, sand/black).
When used as originally intended (as a head wrap) Shemaghs are very comfortable.
What is a shemagh used for? Examples:
as a head wrap - for keeping sun or snow, wind, sand and dust - out of eyes, face and neck
as a face veil - concealing the face
as a scarf worn around the neck - retaining heat in the cold and absorbing sweat/protects the neck in hot / sunny conditions
as a small sunshade cover whilst resting
as an arm sling - giving a wounded arm support
as a foot wrap - replacing a lost sock
as a carrying pouch for equipment
as a towel
as a short rope
How to tie shemagh scarf find instructions on how to wear here: http://www.actiongear.com/agcatalog/shemagh.html
The Shemagh is a traditional head wrap originating from the Middle East/Arabic culture developed from the Arabic turban - and have been used by them for centuries. Now days it's perhaps publicly best know as used by the Palestinians.