Singer and musician Rommy Revson was house-sitting for a friend in 1986 when she became fixated on the idea of creating something to keep her hair up. “I don’t know why, but I became somewhat determined to figure out an invention that used fabric instead of plastic or metal,” she shared in a 2016 interview. She was headed to sleep one night and came up with the scrunchie while wearing a pair of elastic pants that, well, scrunched up at the band. She bought some fabric, a needle, and a bobbin and started sewing. She named her creation a “scunchie,” obtained a patent in 1987, sold the licensing rights to beauty brand Scünci International, which then introduced the world to one of the most polarizing accessories in history.
Like most everything else from the ‘80s and early ‘90s, the scrunchie is undergoing a comeback, and people are enthusiastically pairing it with their modernized hoops, tracksuits, and grandpa sneakers. Balenciaga showed off the accessory in its 2018 resort collection and priced it at a cool $200. Mansur Gavriel wrapped models' loose ponytails with them. Beauty brand Slip just introduced silk versions, while Comfort Objects, a Denmark accessories label, repurposes vintage Hermès scarves and turns them into scrunchies—or, as they like to call them, “Hair Clouds.” The founder told WWD, the name is “based on the idea of them looking like silk clouds around the hair, when tied a bit effortless in a bundle.” Call it what you will, the accessory once relegated to soccer practice and teenage sitcom actresses has returned and become high-fashion in the process.
Of course, some would argue the scrunchie never left. American Apparel has pushed them for years, but, then again, the company has always embraced an ‘80s ethos—with its clothing selection largely made up of items like leggings, leotards, and leg warmers. And the scrunchie has experienced other mini-resurgences as well, because, lest we forget, fashion is cyclical.
But there are those who wish the scrunchie never arrived in the first place.
Harper’s Bazaar referred to the accessory as a “dangerously ironic fashion statement that can easily tip the balance into fashion faux pas territory.” Elsewhere, artist and musician David Riley, in a 2011 lecture, gave an analysis on the accessory. He explained:
Here is the scrunchie dilemma: that something so practical, so useful, and in many ways, so adult has come to be associated with immaturity, and lack of sophistication. There is an unfortunate disconnect between what it is and what it represents. An identity crisis.
Pop-culturally speaking, the biggest person in opposition to the accessory is Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. While criticizing her then-boyfriend Jack Berger’s novel, she condemns the idea that New York women would ever find them even remotely stylish. “No woman who works at W magazine and lives on Perry Street would be caught dead at a hip downtown restaurant wearing a scrunchie!” she screeches.
And, for a long time, a lot of people held the same Bradshaw-influenced belief—myself included. Scrunchies are inherently uncool! You can’t make it in New York while wearing one! Especially not while downtown and/or on Perry Street, I naively thought. I’m still not completely sold on them, because I don't love their bulkiness, but I’m starting to understand the basic appeal. From a purely practical standpoint, scrunchies put a lot less pressure on your hair compared to regular elastics. Plus, you can avoid the dreaded hair crease. As Caroline Dusel, brand manager for Scünci, explains: “If you're not the person who wants to be seen on the street wearing it, at night you might wear it because it's so great to sleep in because it doesn't damage your hair and you can protect your blowout.” A lot of women also wear a scrunchie when they work out, she adds.
Dusel says that the scrunchie has always steadily done well (though she mentions sales did take a dive after that Sex and the City episode), she’s definitely noticed an uptick in interest lately. “You always have your core group of consumers who don't think that the scrunchie ever left and never went out of style,” she says. “But we have seen—from a trend standpoint—scrunchies pick up more of our fashion-forward consumers.” She noticed it really becoming a trend when Gen Z started wearing it. The hair tie, for better or worse, represents a counter-culture that the generation gravitates toward (see also kitten heels, dad jeans, overalls, etc.). “While before, it was just a staple and everyday item, now there’s a craze behind it—everyone wants it,” she says. In response, the brand has introduced different silhouettes and fabrics and sizes to its already robust collection.
Celebrity hairstylist Laura Polko, whose clients include Hailee Steinfeld, Chrissy Teigen, and Gigi Hadid, has also been tracking the accessory's return. While she doesn’t see it reaching red carpet status, she has styled her celebrities in them for street style outfits and used them for editorial shoots.
As for the long-standing debate: Do New York women wear scrunchies? They haven’t always, but they definitely will in 2018.