October 22, 2021 Fashions of the Shtreimel
The shtreimel is the Hasidic hat that married men wear to weddings, festivals, and on shabbes and holidays. The hat is made of real beaver and mink furs, and a young man receives his shtreimel as part of the gift exchanges during his engagement.
In recent years, the shtreimel has become the most ostentatious piece of men’s clothing—this news story is of a stolen shtreimel worth $8,000. As the shtreimel has become a sign of wealth, it has also changed rather dramatically.
These older pictures of the shtreimel show a markedly different hat. It is rather flat, as if a yarmulka has been covered in fluffy fur. The second picture, from the 1960s Irving Herzog collection, reminds me a great deal of my grandfather and his hat. This hat was considered so outdated and flat that we would kid that it is a “matzah shtreimel,” a shtreimel as flat as the flat bread of passover.
About 20 years ago, the shtreimel would look like the photos below, with much tighter fur and much taller than older ones, but still only a couple of inches tall. Also, the edges would be rather flat.
In recent years the community has become a lot more oriented toward symbolic elements of wealth, and the shtreimel has become ever more decadent. It has become taller, and the fur much longer. The fur is now combed up, creating a look of long combed hairs that defy gravity. One might speculate on the Freudian symbolism of hats that each compete with each other for size.
Shtreimels are one of the most advertised men’s products in Yiddish newspapers. The fashions have changed so much that it’s easy to tell how old a shtreimel is based on its height and the comb-up style.
Meanwhile, one of the sweetest sights in Williamsburg is little kids dressed up as adults, complete with cotton candy beards and bad shtreimels. We see this often on Fridays, when kids role-play shabbes tattes (shabbes fathers) in school before Shabbes.
And lastly, on the subject of shtreimel heights, now you’ll understand this old cartoon of mine that illustrates the growth of the community in shtreimel inches! At this rate, it might be difficult to go through doorways!