People love to judge, frum Jews need to and love to judge too. They need to judge because the person they are trusting may be serving non-kosher food and therefore need to use their judgment as to weather that person is trustworthy or not. The easiest way to judge a person is by their yarmulke. It is also the most common, people assume they know your whole life story based on your yarmulke, shadchuns always tell me I am more modern based on the fact I am wearing suede that day- to which I respond that I have about 50 different yarmulkes ranging from shiny black velvet to reformed teepee white plastic ones that you get for free at any shull- they are shocked, to me its like handbags, or shoes, you wear whatever you want to look like. Well we all are guilty of judging based on peoples head coverings and here’s my guide about how to judge correctly.
Often seen as the most neutral of yarmulkes, black or blue suede of medium size placed on the middle of the head is common in many circles including the modern orthodox machmir and liberal crowds, some more modern yeshivish circles and even rebelling lubavitchers might don the black suede genre. Its rather neat and almost invisible look make it a big hit with the professional crowd, due to its lack of attention getting style, it is also a great bad hair day depressor, for those days when that dep-9 mouse just doesn’t have its normal effect.
Colored suede is a different story. I find that lighter colored suede yamies are frequently worn by older men who are completely oblivious to the fact that practically every sect of Jews judges their neighbor on their head piece. My father is in this crowd, commonly donning that lone bar mitzvah yarmulke from someone named Marvin or Harold who was bar mitzvah in 1973 and the yamy has been retired to years of old challah crumbs drizzling out of the stack of benchers that has been piled on top of the pink or light blue suede yarmulke that you haven’t seen since Harold was doing the horah to some Fifth Dimension tunes. The light colored suede yarmulkes are commonly worn on the side of the head, since those who wear then lack any frontal hair and the bobby pin must be shoved into the last remaining hair that clings for all hell as its cousins further up fall off slowly year after year.
Then there are those folks that wear suede, just because it has they need something to be bobby pinned all the way on the back of their head so the spiked hair up front doesn’t become undone. Commonly referred by the derogatory terminology as “walk in Jews” these fine souls can be seen across the room at a family event-taking place in shull. Usually very good looking and all done up, the token cousins who came in from Arizona and wear the talis like a scarf will commonly, rock their yarmulkes all the way in the back of their head, unless they picked up the traditional teepee plastic like conservative shull yarmulkes- which are a party fave at Jewish events in movies. Note Owen Wilsons yarmulke in the Wedding Crashers film.
When most folks see knit, a few things automatically go through their heads, no mater which side of the coin they are on. Modern Orthodox – some spit with disgust, and others jump for joy at not having to be the only none black velvet wearer in that token Monsey or Brooklyn shull. Mizrachi, Zionistic, conservadox, Israel Lovers, people who say hallel on yom haatzmaut, kids who go to Ramaz or Frisch then Bravanders or Gush. Folks who listen to all those Soulfarm type bands. Amongst other things I am sure.
Knit also known commonly amongst the Zionistic crowd as Kipat Sruga has many different subcategories. There are the huge knit yarmulkes, which can commonly be seen on rabbinical students from Rabbi Weiss’s yeshiva or JTS, or maybe you are an Israel who dons his head covering once in a while, then it must be as small as possible and on the apex of your head. YU type ncsy advisors have in recent years gone with a more black and white approach, but in the early 90s it was the clips clamped hard on the colorful usually swirls type knit that depressed your hair so it would stick up just perfectly for the one inch in front of the kipa before your forehead. Everyone knows white knit or one of those olive green tzahal ones is reserved for gung hoe Zionistic sorts who have done their time in a hesder yeshiva and organize all the protests in front of random places in Israel and New York on tisha baav.
Arguably even more neutral then black suede, solid black knit yarmulkes have been made the yarmulke of choice for folks who need to drop the black velvet and go with something more accepting and casual. I have known of several black hat types who for business purposes needed to change the yamy they sported and went from yeshivish velvet to solid black knit. From afar it is hard to discern whether they are knit, suede, or velvet- thereby creating a dilemma with most folks who cannot decide what status to give the solid black knit wearer and allowing a more diverse clientele.
Every ones favorite category because it is the most judgmental of all. I actually wear the large size 6 black velvet soup bowl when my hair is short. This started a couple years ago when I cut my hair real short and liked the comfort of these ever famous controversial yarmulkes. Upon donning that yarmulke I instantly became one of the chevra so to speak. I got lines like woa when did you frum out? Or when did you get so yeshivish? Or so your really trying to get hitched to some frummy eh?
I decided to analyze my experiences since as my hair grew longer, I switched to suede, then to knit and finally back to black velvet again when hair cut time came. When I switched to suede the exact opposite happened. Some folks were visibly disappointed, I can almost hear their thoughts since people only like to compliment and do not like to bring up negative aspects of someone. Oy vey he’s going off the derech, or how does he expect to find shidduch with a suede yarmulke? What happened you were doing so well? Peoples opinions of me really changed based on 3 square inches of material, I never thought all the yarmulke crap was true until I experienced it first hand.
So back to black velvet and not the song but the controversial head covering. Size does matter, small flat black velvet commonly worn with bobby pins forward aft is the slowly going off the derech, frummy rebel, hanging out in Woodbourne and only listens to Metallica crowd. It is also worn by yeshiva guys who cannot rebel and go off completely and wear knit chas v’shalom, so they come close by donning the flat black velvet ones, of smaller size usually. Bobby pins with velvet are also a common sign of a kid going off the derech and a parent should consult a rav immediately so they can prevent the nights of tzaras that comes when finding out your son has gone from yeshivish black hat all the way to the lowly college educated crowd of yeshivish modern.
Larger soup bowl genres of 4 piece black velvet yarmulkes are of the yeshiva variety. They have started to permeate the YU crowd and many of them have now invaded yeshivish territory by donning the size 4-7 black velvet yamies, creating a dilemma for folks who judge according to head coverings. Yeshiva guys commonly wear them on the top or a little back on the head. If wearing a hat they commonly push the yarmulke out so you can see they are wearing one under the hat, because it is all too common these days for the sude or even chas v’shalom the knit crowd to don the hat, so the yeshiva guy must keep his status as the real yeshiva bochur and show the crowd that he is not hiding his modern orthodoxy behind the large Stetson on his head.
8 portion yarmulkes are commonly seen in the chasidish crowd. They are usually softer and shinier, I presume making one look more frum and also having the ability to constantly scratch his head and not effect the shape of the yamy, the stiff ones will be crushed by the amount of head scratching that some chasids do.
Brown, navy blue and red velvet is common amongst the lubavitcher crowd. I don’t know why, but I have some assumptions. They have decided to embrace their outcastish stance within frum societies not so invisible caste system or in modern terms the glass mechitze preventing certain frum groups from escaping common held misconceptions or stupidity that the frum community at large believes to be fact. So any way most of the black velvet crowd dislikes or downright hates lubavitch (I guess veahavta lareacha kamocha doesn’t apply to the men in black) and Lubavitchers have decided to rebel by wearing velvet which is apparently for a dual head covering thing but in the more attention getting colors of red, blue and brown, guys the brown is nasty looking by the way, how a bout green or something.
The cloth double layered yarmulke that looks rather messy is seen most at home on chasidish heads including many older lubavitcers. The cloth black velvet look alike, presents the wearer with a less glamorous rather drab looking head covering. I have decided that lubavitchers wear it simply to keep with the whole crushed hat look. It may be because the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe wore it- though I personally have never seen any pictures of him without a hat.
Can you say Bat Ayin, Shlomo Carelbach, Moshav Modiin, hippie, dreads, long haired, wacko, token dude in shull rocking the all white on shabbos look, guys who clap during the clapping point in kabalas shabbos, the professional shuckelers who shuckel every which way, guys who cry during every shmona esreh and punch the wall or raise their hands in the air to get G-ds attention somehow. That’s right folks, the biggest knit yarmulkes of them all, the thickest of the knit and the most colorful, donning one of these affirms your weird status with every other congregant in the shull no matter what kind of look you have, though its most likely you will have some of those funky ticheles tzitzis.
I think with the demise of Johnny Quest, the Smurfs, GI Joe and the Transformers the theme yarmulke market has taken a plunge. Yes I have seen pokemon, Harry Potter and the Simpson’s, but I guess it’s just not the same. I have noticed that shiny suede and grey suede are the most common and they usually seal your modern orthodox liberal status in stone, especially if you have one of those American and Israeli flag yarmulkes always a hit amongst the YU elder types.
Politically Correct: (black and white together)
I recently dated a girl who’s dad wears one. The black velvet and white knit yarmulke all in one. Rarely worn by the black velvet side for fear of losing their status as the men in black, these are commonly worn by folks who have little or no experience in the yeshiva world and fails to recognize that the only thing that will change the status quo will be the RCA, OU Agudath Israel or a major scandal involving the fact that the velvet used to make yarmulkes has been worshiped by Tibetan Sherpas as they climb from Khatmandu to Everest base camp, and will therefore be given the same status as Indian Hair Wigs. But really when I look at these yarmulkes they remind me of black and white cookies, or urban suburban bussing, or desegregation in Topeka, or MLK, or well you get the point. Breaking down barriers, accept fortunately for us, there is no such thing YET of short water fountains for the none velvet or visa versa yarmulke wearers. When it comes to that I can assure you these politically correct yarmulke wearers will be lynched by angry mobs from both sides of the fence.
Bobby Pins vs. Clips:
I know you all have been waiting for the minute details of what to hold your yarmulke down with. I remember the old Ramaz yarmulkes used to have Velcro, but truthfully it aint my style. I am more of a nothing kind of dude, I like big black velvet when my hair is short, in case your wondering I have decided to go for the scraggly messy hair look until I get a job- which looks like along time, and therefore have donned the black suede with two bobby pins at the sides. Clips are also a sign of modern orthodoxy, they show color and the frum are all about the penguin uniform. Black suits, white shirts and everything else black besides that funky yellow or pink tie you picked up on the clearance rack at Marshalls- the yeshiva guy emporium. Pins are only to be used by semi yeshivish people. As mentioned above, those who wear the flat velvet forward on their heads tend to wear bobby pins, and clips are tend to be worn by the colorful suede crowd and folks who wear yamies on the very back of their heads like a billboard rather then a sign that G-d is above eh.
The word yarmulke actually has a meaning and that why I do not use to the term Kipa. Yarmulke is actually two words yuray malka- fear of the kingdom. Pretty cool eh. Oh and a black velvet wearing lubavitch Rabbi in Edmonton told me that one.