Noah Ferguson wore a key pendant around his neck in Israel for a week before finding out it had a deeper meaning in that part of the world.
"I was walking around Galilee with a friend when we found this old man smoking a hookah pipe ... He explained that keys are worn there as a symbol of national pride for Palestinians," said Ferguson, 26, a Victoria cab driver, actor and musician known as the Keytar Warrior. He was in Israel last May as part of the Birthright program for Jewish youth to learn about their history.
"The keys symbolize the homes they lost in the exodus and the Palestinian right to return. It got me thinking about how objects we wear might have a deeper significance than they're given in our culture."
In the past few decades, religious and political symbols have become common fashion statements. Thanks in large part to Madonna, crucifixes became costume jewelry in the 1980s, forehead bindis (once a symbol of marital status and religion in South Asia) became as symbolic as eyeshadow in the '90s and Kabbalah bracelets are available at Wal-Mart.
What's next, Madge? Burberry yarmulkes, or bejewelled hijabs?
There are more examples: Che Guevara T-shirts are ubiquitous among lefty college kids around the world, Buddhist prayer beads are worn as trendy bracelets and the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarf has become an emblem of hipsterdom for today's youth.
Many who wear the checkered cotton fabric around their necks -- not heads -- see it as a fashion, not political, statement.
At least that's what former presidential candidate John McCain hoped was his daughter's intention when she was snapped by paparazzi wearing a keffiyeh, which some Republicans have called "an Islamic terror scarf."
Ferguson said he has noticed a proliferation of keffiyeh scarves among his fashionable peers and wears one himself, but for personal reasons.
"It's especially significant to me because it breaks down a stereotype that Jews don't question the actions of Israel," he said. "But really, the trend started with Jewish students making a statement ... It's kind of strange how it has become distilled into fashion."
Ferguson said he hopes people who wear the keffiyeh -- now available in every colour from purple to neon yellow -- are awakened to its meaning.
Another burgeoning fashion trend in Victoria is a cheekier take on religious symbolism.
Dawn Wright's handmade rosaries started as a means to turn her favourite mini-harmonica into a beautiful necklace. They can now be spotted on a growing clique of stylish 20-somethings all over town.
"I'm not a religious person ... But I guess you could say music is my religion," laughed the 33-year-old, who splits her time between her hometown, Victoria, and Vancouver, where she is a server at the upscale restaurant Bin 942. "Yes, they've kind of become the keys to the club, which is amazing because it's all been by word-of-mouth."
Wright, who has worked as a MAC makeup artist and a deckhand and has travelled all over the world, took a shine to the mini-harmonica on a trip to Costa Rica.
"I'd drive everyone crazy playing Oh! Susanna and old country tunes ... My pops plays, so I've always loved the harmonica," she said. When she bought the instruments in bulk for gifts, the necklace idea and Wrighteous Designs were born.
"Rosaries are beautiful and personal. I've tried to stick to that by custom-making each one," said Wright, pairing one of her rosaries with a black rocker T-shirt. Each necklace is made in the style of a traditional rosary with a tiny Bible locket and Christian icon joining the strand, with the harmonica in place of a crucifix. Wright handmakes each metal link with beads made from semi-precious stones and Swarovski crystals. She has incorporated birthstones and heirloom beads on custom orders. And, she makes a small wooden box for each necklace.
"I love seeing people open them," said Wright, who sells the necklaces in the $240 range through her Wrighteous Designs Facebook and Etsy web pages, and soon in boutiques in Victoria and Vancouver.