Someone can probably write a book on yarmulkes, after all they are the most identifying aspect of someone Jewish and male, sometimes female as well. Besides for the locks and beards stereotypes that many in the media give us- the yarmulke comes in a close second to the most Jewish thing about someone who is religious. Just look at the way we judge many people, if they are orthodox they cover their heads, if not they don’t (I am not about to get into a whole discussion about yarmulkes in the workplace and Sephardic ways) I am talking about generally
I myself have written countless posts about yarmulkes and like most post ideas, this one hit me while riding my bike at the largest skate park in Texas, Don’t know why it hit me as I was riding this enormous concrete bowl, but something clicked to the point of why on earth have I never written about yarmulke placement and the judgments around that.
In the late 90’s the infamous Jewish Observer issue concerning kids at risk hit the newsstands, well it hit the shelves at your local seforim store and people soon learned that yarmulke placement determined whether of not your kid was likely to be at risk or go off the derech. One of the heartbreaking stories was from a mother who told us of the signs she should have realized were telling her that her child wanted to talk to girls more then shteig away. She stated that her son had started to wear his yarmulke towards the front of his head as one of the several reasons that caused her to worry, and so I bring you:
Judging people based on the way they wear their yarmulkes:
There are really two main ways to wear a suede yarmulke which are traditionally worn by folks of modern orthodox descent. Most modern orthodox youth and young folks tend to wear the suede yarmulke pushed toward the front of the head, not all the way to the front, but preferably about 1.5 to 2.5 inches from the hairline, any further and you have automatically gained in your years.
Folks who wear their suede yarmulkes a bit further back are traditionally known as old-school orthodox. But really anyone over 40 or so may wear their suede yarmulke like this. If you wear it any further back (which means you must wear your clips or pins very tightly) you are automatically placed in several groups. You may be a baal teshuva, you may be an occasional yarmulke wearer, but not so unoccasional like the folks who wear brightly colored satin yarmulkes that are given away at the front of the shul.
I should mention that placement with suede is definitely not he only factor, the type of fastener you use has a big effect on your status within the frum community. For instance if you use silver clips- many people will not even eat in your house, for they assume that you have no experience wearing a yarmulke and therefore need to bring in reinforcements to hold it down.
Bobby pins are a sign of modern orthodoxy but it depends on how many you use. Old school Yiddish speaker types haphazardly shove the yarmulke onto their head using one pin, they rarely push their yarmulke down and therefore it tends to be lopsided. Then you have the NCSY types who have perfect yarmulke placement closer to the hairline with ever slight amount of bumped up hair caused by the tightness of their pins.
Knit is almost the same as suede, except you can wear knit like a frummy and suede you just cant, its impossible. You see knit has the ability to come in sizes comparable to its frummer velvet cousins in that you can place the yarmulke on your head so that it covers the exact middle and you don’t need fasteners.
Did you know that many yeshivos do not allow fasteners of any sort? They expect you to be able to keep the yarmulke on your head no matter what weather God thrown at you- that’s a lot of faith, but they may be why black velvet yarmulkes are very heavy and tend have a Velcro-like stick when you have short hair.
Just like suede, the more modern you are, the more forward the yarmulke is placed- just like suede its also to do with age. If you are a YU rabbinical student you may place it forward aft, or towards the back of the head – there is no in between. I have noticed YCT students on the other hand tend to favor the back of the head placement. Women who wear yarmulkes- always wear knit by the way- when are we going to see a girl with a 6 piece big rimmed shiny black velvet yarmulke? Women either wear their yarmulkes hanging from their hair or all the way on the front of their heads right by the forehead.
Black knit has different ramifications when it comes to judging people based on the type of yarmulkes but with regards to yarmulke placement it pretty much goes with regular old knit. For those that are interested to find out what those ramifications may be check out the links at the bottom of this post.
If you choose to be one of those modern Israeli guys with the really small knit yarmulkes you must wear it so it makes your head looks like it comes to a point. It must be perched precariously atop your head and you hair must be short.
As mentioned above if one were to take a black velvet yarmulke and place on the front of his head two things would happen. First you will be labeled as more modern, a yeshiva rebel or one of those greasy Sephardic guys with the shiny hair tucked under it. Then it would probably fall off unless you put pins in which is a major faux pas for black velvet wearers- but this can be broken down even more.
Yeshiva rebels, modern yeshiva guys, chofetz chaim guys and anything else that may considered “open minded” IE not really yeshivish in the yeshvishe velt – tend to wear smaller 4 piece flatter velvet, the kind that tends to resemble suede more then velvet because it has a lack of shine compared to bigger velvet and they tend to require the use of fasteners to keep them on automatically reducing your black velvet status (and you thought you could just waltz into the frum community throw on some black velvet and get the royal treatment?)
Many folks in the modern orthodox community have it wrong, they think when they see a black velvet wearer that he has a higher status then the suede wearer, but its simply not true, case in point, in the late 90s it was the yeshiva rebel style to wear flat black velvet yarmulkes shoved to the front of the head with the bangs underneath. In fact yeshiva rebels commonly compared who had the longest bangs- it was pretty gay now that I think of it- but it was the closest you could come to growing your hair long. The Sephardic guys with long hair tended to wear these enormous shiny velvet yarmulkes a little more forward then one would think possible. The Bucharians in my school loved to do it like that.
The traditional yeshivish way to wear a black velvet yarmulke is so it conforms nicely to the average rounded head, it also makes it possible for it to be seen in the back of your head when you wear a hat (extra frummy points for that)
Shiny black velvet wearers are completely different; I could never really figure them out. Maybe some of you know why the yarmulkes either look crumbled, or like pieces of metal that are unbreakable. Then you sometimes have these crumbled up flat topped velvet that look like those hats that Indians (dots not feathers) wear.
If you are a BT you must wear your black velvet a little far back, or you must wear pins in it- but you still wear the regular traditional 4 piece with a small rim yarmulkes. I cannot really explain it in writing but BT’s in black velvet can be spotted from 30 miles away.
I should mention that the only stereotyping for placement of yarmulkes that goes on is really for the main three. Knit, suede and velvet- if you wear one of the minority yarmulkes like Satin, carlebachian (crocheted) plastic, or themed – you will be judged – no matter where you place it on your head – placement really makes no difference. Although some Sephardim like to place these black plastic yarmulkes (I call them the tee pees) right on their hairline – they look ridiculous but I have these theories about Sephardim having this minority status in the frum community and therefore thinking they can get away with crazy styles just like the American black community – I always want to say to the local arsim at Burgers Bar “dude your not black” face it.
Other yarmulke posts: