Did you know scrunchies were in? Did you know that their recent reappearance is causing older millennial angst about the slow, unstoppable march of time? Were you aware that the thing you use to hold your hair out of your face is not just a hair tie, but an important and essential lens through which to view trends as a concept, lifestyle, and capitalist entity?
Arguably, anything in culture can be used as a proxy for anxiety, angst, agita, or general malaise about why the world is the way it is. Over at the Atlantic, Amanda Mull makes a tenuous case for the scrunchie’s renewed popularity with Gen Z, tracing its re-emergence from maligned hair accessory to trendy VSCO girl arm candy. The implication is that the scrunchie is a means of understanding, as Mull frames it, “how fashion trends rise and fall in America.” Clearly, what was old is new again: the youth, who lack the necessary context about scrunchies, happily wear them now.
Using a hair accessory whose second-life popularity peaked roughly in 2018 is a curious choice: There are countless other trends that follow the same rubric, as it is generally how trends go. Something is popular, then it is not. Then an enterprising teen or a fashion designer or both “elevate” it in some way, creating a demand, which is eventually met by retailers with dreams of making more money. Suddenly, scrunchies, or platform flip flops, or that horrible shade of moutarde that is everywhere, become ubiquitous, and eventually, attractive. People—both old and self-loathing and young and blissfully unaware—purchase these items, and life marches on.
Acknowledging that this is how trends work is fine, but what the Atlantic misses here are that scrunchies are and have always ruled. I’m wearing a scrunchie around my wrist right now. I’ve paired it with my Birkenstocks. Next to me sits a HydroFlask water bottle. Technically, I’m the oldest living VSCO girl in the world—or I’m just a woman who appreciates not ripping every single strand of hair out of her head every time she takes down her ponytail.
The beauty of a scrunchie is that you can buy it at a drugstore, and unlike regular ponytail holders or the ones that look like an old-fashioned telephone cord, the scrunchie feels gentle. God love a tight ponytail, scraped back and up as high as the eye can see, but the headaches that result from this coif are not worth it. The same tight pony, anchored by a scrunchie, is less painful. If the scrunchie in question is, say, velvet in a kicky shade of burgundy, or a particularly melancholy burnt umber, your dirty hair ponytail is now a fashion statement. You’re a fancy fall bitch now, and can’t nobody tell you nothing.
For me, a scrunchie in plain black functions a little like those hair donuts you can still buy at H&M next to the register—artifacts from the mid 2010s, when perfectly-sculpted topknots arranged like little UFOs were popular. The volume created by the scrunchie’s fabric provides the illusion that the hair is thick, lustrous, and long. A haphazard “updo” anchored in place by a scrunchie adds bulk to my hair. (I’m either slowly going bald or coming to terms with the fact that I have thin hair.) Hard to say which, but the good news is that I don’t have to reckon with that, because a scrunchie always saves the day.