On December 21st of 2004 I cut my hair, it was many inches long at the time. My beautiful thick long hair that waved down past my shoulders was suddenly gone, in doing so I ended an era that has not yet been matched- though I hope some day my working position will be of the long hair type work. With that came a very important decision, which type of yarmulke would I don?
At the time I actually hadn’t given it any thought, I just pulled out my huge yarmulke collection that had been gathering dust since my hair had been long and sifted through the remnants of my collection that I had amassed during high school. It was and is still in excess of 50 different types, colors, materials and sizes of yarmulke. I used to go into the shull and trade with the little collection of head coverings that every shull has for those occasional walk in Jews who come for the religious cousins bar mitzvah, they usually sit next to the little white doilies that remind one of wedding dress lace and beer coasters for millionaires, these are head coverings for the old ladies and non-religious cousins that come to shull for their cousins bar mitzvahs as well.
For years I would barter with no one in particular, I would just pick a few unwanted yarmulkes from my families’ yarmulke drawer that had been flattened between old benchers from the wedding of Harry and Gertrude in 1961 and my fathers coin collection in an old cigar box. Everyone has a bencher drawer, depending on the age of the owner will depend on the variety of nasty yarmulkes that are wedged between those old blue and red velvet benchers and yellow fuzzy yarmulkes with little buttons on top.
I would bring these to any shull I went to and just take it upon myself to trade. Not like the token non-religious cousins ever cared, they usually took the white flakey yarmulkes anyway- something about the tent shape I think.
So here I was aged 23 and sifting through the viable yarmulkes for my new job, I settled on a white knit one that hadn’t browned at the edges too much, a few black and blue suede and a bright red larger knit kipa. For the last few years I had been wearing these enormous Carlebachian yarmulkes that I had bought in Zfat and would throw my hair into a pony tail. When I wanted to look presentable which is not common for me- I would slick my hair back with some of my brothers dep-9 hair gel and don a black suede yarmulke while making a neat pony tail.
In the summer of 2005 for the first time in my existence I donned a large black velvet yarmulke and contrary to popular belief it changed absolutely nothing about me, besides the fact that people I hadn’t seen since high school thought Ihad “frummed out” as they call folks who go to Israel for a year and get brainwashed by all the kaballah and aish tanors.
What brought about such a rash decision to don these mysterious disks of velvet that miraculously alter life paths and change the status of frum Jews forever? Well it was actually an economical and a comfort thing. The event that turned me into a black velvet yarmulke wearing frummy was a thing called a number 3 at the barber shop. Until recent times I received all my haircuts from a guy simply known as Moby- in yeshiva of Rochester. Suddenly I had moved to Albany and he and his wife to Queens, in all of adulthood he gave me my haircuts and now I had no idea how to take one. Well the barber said 3 and I said fine, realizing after what I had done. It grows back I told myself, while trying to figure out if this was what they did in the army. I then promptly realized that all my yarmulkes did not match the true curvature of my head, and that I lacked the right amount of hair for bobby pins or the painful hair pulling clips. I was working as a camp inspector in the Catskills and decided that I would try out some black velvet. I marched into the Woodbourne Seforim store and asked the counter guy-who will inevitably engage every single customer in a bout of Jewish geography- where the yarmulkes are? He rightfully assumed I was talking about the suede and knit yarmulkes as he pointed me in that direction, I was wearing some sort of rock t-shirt, shorts and a baseball cap. I proudly replied that I was looking for velvet, if he was shocked by my response I couldn’t detect it, after all the Catskills in the summer brings together all the groups of Judaism to share the streets and push each other out of line at the pizza stores and Dougies.
I tried on several and finally I found my match. I felt completely whole, never in my life had I put on a yarmulke that felt like air and yet fit perfectly. Size #5 in the 4 pie piece less shiny non-chassidish yarmulke was my soul mate. I also felt like I was one of those metro sexual business men ordering a low-fat no foam, soy extra shot latte- I didn’t know so much detail could go into yarmulke specifications- maybe it was like a caste system serial number- the higher the size and the shinier the piece, the better chelek in olam habah you received. Or maybe at least you would be spared a beating for wearing shorts in Meah Sheariim.
I had found my bashert, it fit perfectly and when I realized that these rather comfy pieces of cloth were a quarter the price of knit and half that of suede, I chopped peshat and realized why so many frummies wear them. It was purely economical, I myself lost on average one suede yarmulke a month, with black velvet I could just keep on buying them. In fact that is what I did, I just bought a whole bunch of them size 5 and 6 just to make sure when my hair got a little longer it would fit as snug as it did now.
I donned them and felt no different until someone where I was staying at for shabbos mentioned a famous movie and when I piped in he was shocked that I had seen it. I of course had no clue why, then other things came up and they assumed I was some sort of frummy rebel. They mentioned that they just assumed with my yarmulke and all, even though it being 90 degrees out that shabbos I refused to wear a suite- summer is shirt and pants time for me.
And so little incidents here and there made me realize that people actually did judge by the yarmulke. I had never experienced anything like this before, it was two sided, I could be judged for being frum or being a faker. It happened to be that I wear shorts and a t-shirt all summer long and always have- so the black velvet and that outfit make no sense- so some people just dismissed me, but some who I knew thought I was indeed frumming out- solely based on my yarmulke.
I was not really dating at the time so I could not tell if my dating chances were improved and I was involved in any sort of community that would actually care what color yarmulke you had on- all they cared about was that they could have a mincha minyan before shkia preferably.
What did happen however was this: when my hair started getting too long to display my black velvet in a neat fashion I would switch to suede or knit depending on the mood. Nowadays I happen to switch off quite often depending on outfit and mood. I view suede as the neatest and velvet as the shlumpiest- interesting eh. I do in fact have some weird yarmulkes floating around that put everyone else to shame.
The what type of yarmulke do you wear question that has been posed at me multiple times by shadchuns is always the most fun. They cannot understand how someone can mess around with their frumkeit or status so easily; they think it all boils down to the yarmulke. I enjoy it so much, that when they fail to bring up the topic I steer the conversation that direction just to start some fun.