An Orthodox Woman Wears Many Hats: How To Blend In While Standing Out
Covering my hair makes me feel like part of the Orthodox community. But how I cover it makes me feel like an individual.
More than a marker of fashion, my hats slowly became external markers of my identity as an Orthodox woman. A certain sense of stability accompanies external identification. Whether it’s a T-shirt, a baseball cap, or a catchy tote, our style of dress indicates belonging. The hats I wore daily started to do that for me. I started to feel a sense of pride in my head covering. That pride did not stem from the communal approval my head covering garnered, though that was my initial motivation—rather, it came from of an emboldened sense of self as I shared something with the world about who I was and the community to which I belonged.
The feeling of identification was both internal and external, depending on the hat. When I walked outside in a baseball cap to go jogging or a wool hat on a frigid day, I was the only one who knew there was some deeper significance to the way I was covering my head. It felt rather like a secret, something I knew and appreciated that didn’t make the rest of the world look twice. But when I one day chose to wrap a colorful Israeli scarf around my head, similar to the ones my mother always wore, my head covering signaled to the world that I was different. While my teenage-self had blanched at the idea, my adult self wore the look proudly. My scarf was an external sign of oneness with my community.
As one of my non-Jewish colleagues astutely observed when considering my new headgear: “I feel like so much more goes into this decision than people realize.” I nodded emphatically in assent. You have no idea. Hat or no hat expands to which kind of hat? Hair up or down? Wig or no wig? Wig with hat? The permutations become dizzying, each new combination signifying something subtly different about the wearer. A wig might indicate that you are more right-leaning, a stylish hat with nothing underneath might imply that you are comfortably Modern Orthodox, a wig with a hat on top might signify that the wearer is chassidish. No head covering is arbitrary—every detail, to the carefully trained eye, is significant.
For me, however, covering my head has evolved from an attempt to appease my community into an effort to belong to my community.
Now, when I walk into synagogue on a Saturday morning, I’m proud to be wearing a hat. My hat is not pink, flowery, or floppy. But the head covering that once made me feel like a stranger now makes me feel at home.
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