Very egalitarian, my synagogue. Ladies can do practically anything on the bima. Anything that gentlemen can do. And since we’re so very egalitarian, our dress rules are egalitarian too. Gentlemen on the bima must sport headcoverings and therefore so too must ladies.

The headcovering of choice for your standard American Jewish gentleman is a kippah. Like a suit and tie, a kippah sends Messages to those who observe it. “I am a Respectable Gentleman,” it says. “I comply with a certain set of social mores. Please interact with me accordingly.”

And like a suit and tie, transporting that mode of dress wholesale across gender boundaries results in awkwardness. A suit and tie are all very well if you’re an air hostess or a waitress at a five-star establishment, maybe even if you’re in Big Business if you have a special ladyfied suit and tie, but I personally would feel like a bit of a pillock wearing them in the street. They’re just not clothes I wear.

Likewise kippot. Some ladies wear kippot and it seems to suit them just fine. I’ve got no quarrel with them. I just personally feel that in my circles, a kippah says “I am a Respectable Gentleman,” and I have no particular desire to go around saying “I am a Respectable Gentleman.”

But I am on the right-wing side of my synagogue, for better or worse. Kippot in my synagogue sometimes mean “I am a Respectable Jewish Gentleman” – that’s men who wear kippot all the time – and sometimes they mean “I am in Shul, and Respectable Men Cover Their Heads In Shul.”

That is to say, “covering our heads is how we show that now we are Doing Religion.” And since egalitarianism means “now the ladies may and must do everything the gentlemen do,” we have definitively proved that Respectable Jews Cover Their Heads In Shul. Serious God Business Needs Hats, as we say. And accordingly, if the ladies are to be permitted to join in with the Serious God Business, they must cover their heads, because we know that it is not proper religion unless you have your head covered.

Happily, I am not the only lady who dislikes wearing kippot. Yes! There are other head-covering options open to a lady in the synagogue.

These fall into three categories.

1. The Respectable Lady’s Shul-Going Hat.

You know. If you don’t own one, your mother does, and she wears it to weddings.

Respectable Lady Hats are no fun when it is ninety degrees out.

Orthodox Married Lady hats also fall into this category – the berets, diamente-adorned baseball caps, and headscarves beloved of the Modern Orthodox. These aren’t exactly Respectable Lady Hats, but the logic goes like this: the Orthodox wear these things all the time, and everyone knows the Orthodox are terribly authentic and do religion constantly, so these are obviously acceptable religion-indicating hats.

A sub-category here is the “Oh, hey, look, my head is covered!” Stealth Headcovering, when the hair is tied back with a wide bandana, such that a kippah-sized area of the head is covered.

2. The Feminised Kippah.

On the model of the little-round-Jewhat, but manufactured of beads, or pink material, or otherwise embellished such that no man could respectably wear it. The problem is, of course, that unless your feminised kippah has been your religion-inducing hat of choice for two decades (such things are exempt under the heading Hallowed Traditions), it is an inherently doomed exercise. After all, the point of Ladies’ Headcoverings is to replicate the kippah’s function across the gender boundary. The Feminised Kippah merely produces a kippah which no man would ever wear, thus (arguably) defeating the object entirely. Or (perhaps) accomplishing it perfectly.

3. The Doily.

Cousin to the kippah, someone at some point had the bright idea of replacing the knitted circle with a lace circle, thus accomplishing “Little Round Jew Hat For Wearing Whilst Doing Religion” and “Totes Feminine, It’s Made Of Lace” simultaneously. Brilliant.

There are two ways of wearing the doily.

a). Flat, otherwise known as the “Where are the petits fours?” mode of wear. (Incidentally, I once saw a lady visiting a shul which did not supply doilies. But she obviously very much felt that it is not religion unless you are covering your head, so she improvised a doily substitute from a paper towel from the bathroom. This was not so much “Where are the petits fours?” as “Now Wash Your Hands.”)

b). Folded, otherwise known as the “Damned if I want to look like a tea-table” mode. At Events, folded doilies are frequently hot-glued onto combs. The model displayed here is the kind provided gratis by the shul and held to the head with a bobby pin.

Folding renders the doily approximately the same size as a kippah, which gives it the advantage of increased authenticity. So we see that a folded doily is a) authentic religion-inducing headgear and b) feminine.

But it is still undeniably a doily. Now, maybe I feel like a pillock wearing a kippah, as it’s assuming a mode of dress more generally associated with gentlemen. But a doily is a mode of dress generally associated with a) ladies from 1950s North America b) aspidistras. You see the difficulty.

So this is my latest Absolutely Brilliant Solution To All Problems Caused By Misapplied Gender Binaries In Jewish North America. Wear a kippah, because we are not a grandmother. But fold it into quarters, because wearing a round headcovering folded into quarters is obviously a distinctively feminine act.

Honestly, sometimes I amaze myself. Not only does this accomplish head-covering according to the rules of my shul, but it is obviously a profound statement about American Jewish egalitarianism. “Aha,” people will say. “Here is someone who obviously wants to challenge gender roles in dress as defined by her synagogue, but in quintessentially-feminine passive-aggressive fashion, as expressed by this highly-original act of sardonic sartorial subversion. Marvellous. By such brave acts as these the patriarchy will crumble.”

It’d be simpler to wear a suit and tie really. Or an aspidistra. If anyone wants me, I’ll be at the florist’s.

Further reading on kippot.

Mirrored from

tigerflower: (Default)

From: [personal profile] tigerflower

The doily drives me completely bananas. Folded or unfolded, I don't care, I am not a chair that needs an antimacassar pinned on it.

I kinda dig the quartered kippah. But really, what I would love to see, is a surge in the numbers of Jewish women wearing gele. Major-league head-bling would make the whole thing better if you ask me.
tigerflower: (Default)

From: [personal profile] tigerflower

They use wax on gele cloths. Starch isn't enough. My gele cloths have to go back to Esther the Wonderful Ghanaian Gele Lady a few times a year for re-waxing.
tigerflower: (Default)

From: [personal profile] tigerflower

Or perhaps you could get a Ghanaian fabric maker to do a custom print for you, with pretty calligraphy of ayeshet chayil or something like that.
lethargic_man: (reflect)

From: [personal profile] lethargic_man

Except that isn't tsitsis supposed to be on a garment for the whole body, not just the head?

(Though I like the idea anyway.)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)

From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle

Ah, this reassures me. Most of my head scarves have four corners and tassles. I kept wondering whether they should really have tzitzits.

From: (Anonymous)


I am a practicing Judeo-Christian and an American woman of African descent committed to wearing headcovering on Sabbath. Of course, this sits outside of the traditional viewpoints of religious women in America. I agree with the gele bling idea in lieu of traditional kippot. It may add a tremendous means of self-expression and individuality to those of us who take on this lifestyle.

From: (Anonymous)

Re: Geles/Kippot

Dear Anonymous,utc you 07/16/2010

As a judeo-christian and an African-American women, why do you think it important to cover your head in worship. Do you not have natural hair on your head as a covering.Please reply soon.

utc me 10/03/2010.
I am open to comments from others.


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