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The inventor of the scrunchie dies, leaving behind a fabulous fashion legacy

Rommy Hunt Revson, inventor of the iconic scrunchie, died on September 7.
Mhari Shaw
/
NPR
Rommy Hunt Revson, inventor of the iconic scrunchie, died on September 7.

The scrunchie is everywhere. And although its acceptance in pop culture and fashion has ebbed and flowed since its invention in 1986, the scrunchie has refused to go away.

It's been hailed by some as a genius product that's both functional and fashionable, while derided by others as an accessory that screams "suburbs." Regardless, the former singer and pianist widely credited with inventing the fabric-wrapped elastic, Rommy Hunt Revson, left her mark on fashion history. She died on September 7 at the age of 78.

In a 2016 interview with Talk Business & Politics, Revson said she invented the scrunchie as an alternative to plastic and metal hair ties. At the time, she was house sitting in the Hamptons. Although once married to heir of the Revlon cosmetics empire John Revson, she said she had no claim to any of the fortune, so had to make money where she could.

"I went to South Hampton and bought some fabric and found a $50 used sewing machine," she told Talk Business & Politics. "That was a pretty big purchase for me on a house sitter budget, but I bought it and took it home."

Within weeks, she had taught herself how to sew and had a working prototype. Inspired by the design of the elastic waistband on her sweatpants and named after her dog, the "scunchie" (pronounced SKOON-chee) was born. It would only later become known as the scrunchie.

Revson patented the design, and once she got the product into retail stores, it took off. While some accounts credit Philips Meyers for designing a similar product in 1963, it was Revson's version that we're all familiar with.

The rise and fall (and rise) of the scrunchie

Sara Radin, a self-described scrunchie enthusiast and briefly the internet's unofficial scrunchie historian, wrote in a 2019 Teen Vogue article the design solved a problem for women in the 1980s.

"In a time when big hair was in, the scrunchie offered women a way to pull it back without damaging it, unlike standard rubber bands, while taking basic hair ties to the next level," wrote Radin. "On top of that, it was just another way to accessorize their already over-the-top looks."

In years to come, pop culture and entertainment icons – from Madonna to Paula Abdul to Full House's Michell Tanner – elevated the scrunchie to universal stardom. NASA astronaut Pamela Melroy wore a blue scrunchie to space, which is memorialized in the Smithsonian even today.

But like all trends, the scrunchie era came to an end.

"Trends tend to go away when they become super en masse, and become associated with a singular type of person," said Patrick Michael Hughes, a fashion and decorative arts historian at Parsons School of Design.

In one particularly iconic turning point in the scrunchie saga, Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw delivered an emphatic condemnation of the accessory.

Bradshaw, who is dating writer Jack Berger, tells Berger it's unrealistic that a woman character in his book would wear a scrunchie in public. "No woman who works at W Magazine and lives on Perry Street would be caught dead at a hip downtown restaurant wearing a scrrrruunchie!"

"It was very humorous because it was very true," Hughes said about the scene. "New York [in the '90s] was kind of glamorous and things were really surging in the city in terms of nightlife, and going out and being dressed up and playful ... And there was a definite look for the New York woman. And a scrunchie was not part of it."

A scrunchie was a sure sign of a suburban transplant in the city, Hughes said. "Kind of like UGG boots."

So the accessory fell out of favor, its glory days in the fashion mainstream lost to the early 2000s.

Lizzo, in a bejeweled scrunchie, poses with Lil Nas X at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards.
Kevin Mazur / WireImage
/
WireImage
Lizzo, in a bejeweled scrunchie, poses with Lil Nas X at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards.

But fast forward two decades, and the early 2000s look was back. And riding this wave of nostalgic revival right back to its former glory: the scrunchie.

"There's [been this] revival of sort of Y2K fashion, and it has been coming through the pipeline for a number of years," Hughes said. "We start to see celebrities on the red carpet wearing a scrunchie, but not necessarily in their hair, sometimes on their wrist or something like that. It becomes sort of cool again."

Scrunchies are back on TV too, making an appearance in Stranger Things, for example. At the same time, the rise of athleisure solidified the scrunchie's place in many people's everyday wear, Radin said.

Hughes is skeptical the scrunchie is back to stay. And Google search data show interest in scrunchies spiked in 2019, but has remained at a higher average than pre-2019 levels.

Still, Revson leaves behind a lasting impact on fashion.

"I think it holds a very significant place in the sense that is truly a trend," Hughes reflected. "It is something that popped up in popular taste and in popular culture, just like skinny jeans, and had a really strong moment."

"She was a genius who came up with an invention that really changed how women dress," Radin said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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