Scrunchies on the runway at Marc Jacobs
To keep fashion moving forward, we have to believe the era immediately preceding our own had the absolute worst style. If you were young in the 1980’s, you thought the wide lapels and bellbottoms of the 1970’s were the ugliest things ever. But as a kid of the 1990’s, I remember my friends and I thinking the 1970’s were kind of cool–we drew doodles of bellbottoms and Afros, discovered ABBA, and performed painful lip-synched disco tributes at school talent shows. Where were our teachers to stop us?
But we had no time for the 1980’s, familiar only through sitcom reruns and embarrassing Polaroids of older siblings. As everyone knows, the 21st century had barely begun before fashion designers revived the 1980’s. It had less to do with shoulder pads and more to do with inserting volume, structure, and a sense of fun into the dead end of 1990’s minimalism. When fashion doesn’t know how to move forward, it moves back.
In recent years, designers have returned to the 1990’s to varying degrees of success. Hedi Slimane’s grunge-influenced collection for Saint Laurent was controversial (some thought he took the look too literally), but it was one of the most discussed shows of the season. It takes a deft hand to pick and chose which past styles to breath new life into. While fashion revivals are fun, are certain styles better left in the attic?image: American Apparel
Which brings me to the scrunchie, the much-reviled fabric-covered elastic band beloved by Claudia from The Babysitters Club. The scrunchie was invented in 1986 by a one-time Motown songwriter named Rommy Revson. Although she patented the design, knockoffs appeared almost instantly and Revson spent the 1990’s pursuing lawsuits against imitators. Despite the scrunchie’s popularity (or perhaps because of it) the accessory eventually became shorthand for bad taste. On Sex and the City, Carrie picked a fight with her writer boyfriend when he described a character wearing one to a club.
“New York women wear scrunchies!” he protested.
“Maybe in the bathroom when they’re washing their face,” Carrie countered.
The scrunchie’s ubiquity made it a faux pas, a fate that awaited Crocs a few years later.
But just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the scrunchie once again reared its ruffled head. It may have started with the red ones worn by gymnasts at the 2012 London Olympics. Soon enough, Marc Jacobs created his own version (with his logo, naturally), and figures as diverse as Hillary Clinton and Madonna put their own twist on the style. I can see why retailers like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel are producing them. Unlike with a lot of revivals, you can’t just go to Value Village and recreate the look yourself–not many used scrunchies are available for sale. That’s probably a good thing.
But can an accessory once so hated ever really make a comeback? I asked a friend not old enough to remember scrunchies the first time round. Instead of giving me a look of revulsion, she smiled. “Aww, they’re cute! They remind me of my Mom.”
Perhaps fashion revivals are generational in more ways than one. When the fashion of your parents is something you embrace rather than rebel against, you know you’re becoming an adult…albeit one who wears scrunchies.
Max Mosher writes about style for Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @max_mosher_.