Lifestyle

Scrunchies: An ode to the ’80s fashion invention we never forgot

correction

An earlier version of this story stated that off-duty models in 2017 acted as a bellwether for the return of scrunchies. It was actually models on the runway. The story also misspelled the first name of actress Maude Apatow. This version has been corrected.

In her 1993 tome “Mothers and Daughters of Invention,” the scholar Autumn Stanley argued that, when assessing the value of an innovation, historians ought to consider not just the technological and economic impacts but also the human, “the effect on people’s comfort, convenience, and quality of daily life.”

By that measure, Rommy Hunt Revson’s invention — neither a technological marvel nor an economic game changer — is a powerfully influential tool. Revson, a singer, songwriter and voice teacher who died Sept. 7, invented the scrunchie (the hair tie with ruffly, ruched fabric sewn around it that was originally called a “scunci”) in 1986, on the conviction that there simply had to be a better way to hold one’s hair together in a bun or ponytail. Until then, and even through the early years of the 21st century, most hair ties were usually fastened together with metal aglets; those who can remember using them are wincing right now. And for those unfamiliar, just know that putting a rubber-and-metal instrument in long human hair could indeed get as gnarly as you’re imagining.

Scrunchies went in and out of fashion after their initial heyday in the ’80s. In 2003, a “Sex and the City” episode found Carrie Bradshaw chastising her novelist boyfriend for describing a chic downtown Manhattan woman as wearing a scrunchie: “No woman who works at W Magazine and lives on Perry Street would be caught dead at a hip downtown restaurant,” she shrieked, “wearing a scrunchie! Happily, its inventor lived long enough to see it triumphantly bounce and flutter right back into vogue (as well as into Vogue) in the late 2010s; at the time Revson died, the red-hot fashion label Balenciaga was retailing an “XXL” silk scrunchie on its website for $275.

But the scrunchie’s legacy remains bifurcated: At some points in history, it has been a fashion statement, and at others, merely a home comfort item — like a bathrobe or a pair of slippers, to be worn outside the house only as far as the mailbox. Its utility is unflagging, its widespread appeal less consistent.

Our lives are full of innovations that, for some reason, really have it out for our hair — and others we use to defend it. We wear swim caps to protect it from pool chlorine, and slather oil on it to protect it from our blow dryers; a few generations back, glamorous women tied scarves under their chins to protect their coifs while they rode in convertibles. Scrunchies, for many, are just one more way to make the world a little safer for our tresses: Earlier this year, a Vogue editor wrote in a roundup of staffers’ “can’t-live-without hair products” that, when it’s makeup-removal time at the end of the workday, she’s “always reaching for a damage-free silk scrunchie from Intimissimi. Crease and frizz, be gone!”

Kim Kimble, a Los Angeles-based hairstylist and the head of the hair department on HBO’s “Euphoria,” wears her hair in braids. So silk scrunchies are a go-to at home: “They don’t pull or snag” the way other hair elastics would, she says. “For me, it’s a convenience.”

Kimble, however, has been styling hair for more than 30 years, and she sees the scrunchie as a statement piece she’d only ever deploy to directly evoke the late 20th century. She’s aware, certainly, that it’s trendy once again. But on “Euphoria,” a show known for its edgy fashion and its keen awareness of up-to-the-moment beauty trends, she’s only ever put a scrunchie on-screen once: on the actress Maude Apatow, in a flashback to the 1990s.

Ted Gibson, another L.A.-based hairstylist who has massaged the scalps of people like Angelina Jolie, Serena Williams, Priyanka Chopra and Ariana Grande, has been amused (and delighted) to see scrunchies come back as a fashion statement. Gibson’s niece is a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, he says, “and last year, that’s all she talked about. Scrunchies.”

Gibson has put scrunchies in models’ hair for runway shows over the years, at New York Fashion Week and elsewhere. Sometimes it’s to add a spray of color or a coda of pattern to the top of an ensemble, and “sometimes because I want there to be a little bit more volume in a bun.”

A bellwether for the latter-day return of scrunchies came in 2017, so the story goes, when they were bobbing around on the runway at New York Fashion Week, and by 2019, they were the runaway trend of the year. That same year, Jason Momoa even wore a scrunchie on his wrist that coordinated with his pink velvet Fendi Oscars tuxedo. (And the author of this story split a pair of twin leopard-print velveteen scrunchies with her then-7-year-old niece, about which both parties were equally stoked.) The following year, Serena Williams coordinated her on-court outfits at the U.S. Open with the colorful scrunchies in her hair.

Gibson started styling hair 34 years ago, in the late 1980s — and has seen other accoutrements people wore with scrunchies the first time around also come back into style. “Fashion and hair kind of dictate each other, and right now, extreme shoulder pads are in. Double-breasted suits. Wide-leg pants.”

In other words, perhaps the mighty little puff of frothy, tufty joy was just waiting for the right conditions to materialize. And now, once again, it’s everywhere. “What I love about the scrunchie is that it has those moments, not only in editorial, but also in movies and on television. It can cross all of those genres of pop culture,” Gibson says. “I think it’s done a great job.”

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