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Viva La Scrunchie!

What do gymnasts know that we're missing?

July 20th, 2012

Getty Images2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team Member McKayla Maroney

It’s funny how a swatch of fabric sewn over an elastic band turned into the most maligned hair accessory of, oh say, ever. That’s right, we’re talking about the scrunchie—a much adored, 80s hair accessory that slowly faded from grace, only to become an object of derision when worn in public or for any reason other than holding back one's hair while washing your face. Perhaps the culminating blow came when Carrie Bradshaw herself famously shot them down in "Sex and the City’s" sixth season:

Carrie: You have your leading lady running all over town wearing a scrunchie?

Berger: What’s wrong with that?

Carrie: Nothing. Unless you’re writing about women on the island of Manhattan, in which case... where do I begin?

Here’s the thing though—scrunchies are actually darn good for your hair. They don’t cause breakage or tug at fragile strands like thin elastic bands do and they hold hair in place like nobody’s business. “Scrunchies are much better for your hair than typical ponytail elastics,” says Ryan Hoch, co-owner of Soon Beauty Lab in Brooklyn. “They’re covered, which means they’re gentler to strands.”

QUIZ: What Shape Is Your Hair In?

Let’s take a brief walk through some defining moments in scrunchie history.

Courtesy of Misty Talbutt HembreeNationally-ranked sports acrobatics athlete Brittany Dunlop in 1997.


In the beginning…

By all accounts, the scrunchie was invented in 1986 by Rommy Revson. (Not to be confused with Romy White of "Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion," who invented Post-It notes—kidding, kidding.) Pretty soon, scrunchies were everywhere and enrobed in every possible fabric. “My sister Brittany and I grew up doing gymnastics in the 80s and 90s, and scrunchies were an absolute must-have,” says YouBeauty editor Courtney Dunlop. “I still have crushed-velvet ones from my competition days. To this day, I've been known to rock a scrunchie here and there because they don't tear my long, fine hair. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I love scrunchies!”

In athletics…

There’s a reason women athletes turn to scrunchies to keep their hair out of their faces: they work. Gymnasts and figure skaters can’t have their routines (and vision) waylaid by errant strands. “Scrunchies hold my hair tightly in place, which is important during competitions, because I need to be focused on the routine—not my hair,” says gymnast Samantha Peszek, a 2008 Olympic silver medalist. We couldn’t have said it better.

MORE: Do Healthy Hair & Exercise Mix?

In (yes) politics…

In a perfect world, a woman’s appearance wouldn’t be the subject of more scrutiny than a man’s, but we live in our world, so that means anyone with boobs is (un)fair game for critics. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously stepped out in a scrunchie, bloggers quickly dubbed it “Scrunchie-gate” (a vast right-wing conspiracy?). Then in a recent interview with Elle Magazine, a Clinton staffer let it slip that “some of us are looking to ban the scrunchies.” Ouch!

Ready to bring back this much-maligned (but über-useful) hair holder? In honor of the London Olympics (where we’ll no doubt see several on display), here are a few of our favorite post-millennial scrunchie alternatives: 

 

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