“Snood.” The word is funny in itself. Is it a scarf-hood? A Snookie-dud? A snow-firewood? Does it really exist? A garment that sounds more like a Dr. Seuss character than something people willingly put around their necks, the snood is a mystery. Upon browsing H&M, I concluded that it is a piece of fabric that hangs, often limp, around the neck. But why, snood? Why are you not a conventional scarf, allowing for a variety of tying techniques to accompany more outfits than those donned in the dead of winter? Why must you be an endless, knit loop?
Because a snood is so much more than that.
Although the fur neck-handcuff version may be similar to that tuft of hair around the Grinch’s collarbone, the snood has a substantial history, having dabbled in the territories of accessories, hats, scarves, hoods, and religious head-coverings.
Originally, the snood was a hairpiece, created to ensure the modesty of pre-sixteenth century women. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “The Scottish snood was a narrow circlet or ribbon fastened around the head and worn primarily by unmarried women, as a sign of chastity.” In the years that followed, the snood would become less symbolic and more functional: it would grow into a glorified hairnet.
Following the end of the Medieval era, snoods evolved from the antithesis of a scarlet letter to a fully fledged hat . . . of sorts. (Is it still a hat if your scalp isn’t covered?) Typically crocheted or similarly woven, these snoods were the first step toward the scarf-hood hybrid worn today.
The hairpieces were meant to keep stray hairs from falling into the faces of women so they a.) would look fresh and pretty (c. 1500), b.) wouldn’t shed into the dinners they were cooking, and c.) wouldn’t get their hair caught in the machines they were working during WWII (c. 1940) (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Pretty and useful, the snood of the early twentieth century was the perfect accessory for the polished woman’s wardrobe. It’s funny, then, that these early snoods remind me of those saggy beret things every pseudo-bohemian was wearing a few years ago. Maybe these hipsters were concerned about getting film developing chemicals or paint in their hair. Or maybe they all had cold heads. Or cold back-of-heads.
The more traditional form of the accessory, covering not only the hair, but also the top of the scalp, is the most direct precursor to the hooded style that erupted on the fall/winter 2011 runways. Snoods worn to protect female modesty in Orthodox and Hasidic Judaism (called the shpitzel in the latter), according to Head-Coverings-by-Devorah.com; Islam (called the hijab), according to Islamic.org.uk; and other faiths are draped over the head to provide the wearer maximum coverage.
Sometimes referred to as “cauls,” according to ElizabethanCostume.net, a version of the snood made of more tightly woven fabric are reminiscent of cowls in both their name and silhouette. These snoods, seen most frequently in stores today, look like the top portion of a cowl-neck or turtleneck sweater, chopped off of the garment’s body. The excess fabric makes this a convertible product, like reversible puffer coats or zip-off cargo pants: the snood of 2011 can be both a scarf and a hood. Clever.
Published at The Lion, The Stitch, and The Wardrobe on December 15, 2011.