It was 2003 when Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw declared that “No woman who works at W Magazine and lives on Perry St would be caught dead at a hip downtown restaurant wearing a scrunchie”.
It was a bold statement that really was about her mismatched relationship with boyfriend Jack Berger, but it set the tone for stylish women’s attitudes towards the playful accessory for several years to come.
Today, however, you can walk into any hip restaurant and you’ll spot a scrunchie, if not two. The practical but fashionable hair tie has become one of fashion’s favourite “entry-level” accessories, from unnervingly cheap versions at chain stores to ridiculously expensive options from luxury brands. There are silk scrunchies, patterned, plain or adorned with ribbon detail.
Several local designers offer their own versions of the accessory, using seasonal fabrics and prints - from Penny Sage to Kate Sylvester, and luxe cashmere versions from Elle & Riley. Young designer Emma Jing has made oversized silk designers one of her signatures, the perfect size for those with lots of gorgeous thick hair.
Hej Hej is about to launch a hair accessory collaboration with fellow local label Sophie, including a Liberty-inspired floral print scrunchie - made to be worn to match clothing items in the collection. Hej Hej co-founder Kiki Judd says that scrunchies are great for outfitting. “They’re an easy way to add fun and personality to an otherwise ordinary hairstyle. We love scrunchies and have quite a collection between us.”
Nelson-based Charlotte Holdaway launched Sustainable Scrunch in early 2020, frustrated by cheap scrunchies that regularly broke. She also wanted to create something that was “kind to the earth and kind to your hair”, and uses remnant and eco-friendly materials left over from other brands, and plants one tree for each scrunchie sold.
Alongside the usual print and silk options, she also offers “swim scrunchie”’ made from leftover swimwear material - which, as someone who’ll often chuck my hair up into a scrunchie to swim, is pretty genius (US brand Kitsch also offers an absorbent towelling option, made for wet hair).
The accessory’s history is debated, but according to Refinery29, the scrunchie story began in 1984 when Jane Reid invented the “bunch bangle”. Later, in 1986, a woman called Rommy Revson wanted a hair tie that wouldn’t damage her hair and so inspired by the elastic band on her PJs, created what she named the “scunci” - later renamed by swathes of teenage girls to what we know them as today.
In pop culture, the scrunchie has often acted as a symbol of both girlishness and old-fashioned nostalgia, from the 80s cult classic Heathers, where the oversized red version represents power between the clique, to Hillary Clinton, who was mocked for her long-time love of the simple accessory.
In 2011, an artist called David Riley held a lecture at the New Museum in New York where he talked about what he named “The Scrunchie Dilemma”: that is, that “something so practical, so useful and in so many ways, so adult, has come to be associated with immaturity and lack of sophistication”.
More than a decade later the association has changed; scrunchies are cool. Am I advocating spending $1000 or $400 on a scrunchie, such as the Prada, Balenciaga or Louis Vuitton options here? Absolutely not (unless you want to and are able to, then you do you).
But they both prove the shift and embrace of the accessory, at all levels of the fashion industry. On the other end of the affordability spectrum, local label Liam has a free downloadable scrunchie pattern - so you can make your own using fabric off-cuts.
This story was also published in Sunday magazine, in the Sunday Star Times