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What is a Skull Cap?

By John Markley
Updated May 21, 2024
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A skull cap is a brimless, visorless, close-fitting cap, usually made from fabric or leather. Unlike most caps and hats, skull caps often are worn indoors as well as outdoors. The term "skull cap" most frequently is used to refer to a kippah that is worn for religious reasons, but the term also applies to a wide variety of caps worn for both religious and secular purposes in cultures all over the world.

Traditionally, Orthodox Jewish men wear a skull cap called a kippah or yarmulke at all times as a symbol of humility and as what they consider a reminder of God's constant presence. Kippahs also are often worn by Conservative and Reform Jews in religious contexts, such as during prayer or while inside a synagogue, and in these branches of Judaism are sometimes worn by women as well as men. Many kippahs are smaller than other kinds of cap, sitting perched on the crown of the skull rather than covering the entire head. The kippah's materials, color and size can vary, and different styles often are associated with different religious and political movements.

Skull caps also are prominent in other religious traditions. Members of the clergy of the Catholic Church often wear a skull cap called a zucchetto, especially in the upper levels of the Church's hierarchy. The color of the zucchetto depends on the rank of the wearer; black zucchettos are worn by priests, purple by bishops, red by cardinals and white by the Pope. Many Muslim men wear a skull cap, called the taqiyah in Arabic, which can be worn either by itself or under a turban or scarf. Many Muslim regions and nations have their own style of skull cap, such as the Pakistani topi.

Skull caps also are widely worn for purely secular reasons. Skull caps referred to as beanies, tuques, toques or stocking caps often are worn during cold weather in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. Their close fit to the wearer's head prevents heat loss and keeps the wearer warm. “Beanie” also can refer to a type of knitted or crocheted skull cap, usually visorless, that commonly was worn by boys in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A novelty variant with a propeller attached to the top of the cap, called a propeller beanie, often is associated with members of geek subcultures such as science fiction fans and computer programmers.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Oceana — On Jul 01, 2011

@OeKc05 – Yes, beanies did fall out of fashion in the 1940s, and because of this, fraternities made their pledges in the 1950s wear them as a kind of gentle hazing. I went to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, and they still maintain this tradition today. Freshmen must wear beanies during their first week of classes if they want to join a fraternity.

Though Benedictine is the only college that still holds this tradition, I heard of several others that used to do it back in the 1950s. Lehigh University, Rutgers, Gettysburg, and Franklin & Marshall all made their newbies wear beanies.

By OeKc05 — On Jun 30, 2011

I studied fashion design, and during my education, I learned about the history of beanies.. They were originally worn by blue collar workers, mechanics, welders, and any workers who needed their hair kept out of their faces without the obstruction of a brim or visor. Though some beanies do have a brim, it is less than one inch.

The baseball cap got its beginnings from that type of beanie, though a brim was added to it to block out the sun. By the middle of the 1940s, beanies had become less popular, due to the rise in popularity of baseball caps and other caps with cotton visors.

By seag47 — On Jun 29, 2011

I bought a beanie in the 1990s when grunge was popular and the beanie became a part of grunge culture clothing. Also during this time, snowboarding became popular, and I followed this trend right down a cold mountain wearing the beanie like many other people for warmth.

The beanie I have has triangular pieces of cloth that are joined together at the crown by a button and stitched together on the sides. Though mine is made of cotton, beanies also came in leather and silk. I figured since I would be using mine while snowboarding, I didn't need to get a leather one, because moisture is not good for leather, and I knew that I would be falling down in the snow a lot.

By Perdido — On Jun 28, 2011

Skull caps worn for cold weather are actually quite comfortable. I had been wearing a toboggan to keep warm, but the only one I had was green and didn't match a lot of my clothes. I found a gray skull cap made of cotton, and it works just as well at keeping me warm.

Since most of the body's heat is lost through the head, skull caps have a significant effect on warmth retention. If you've never noticed this, try stepping outside on a snowy day for just five minutes without a head covering. Then go back inside and put on a skull cap, come out again, and stay out five more minutes. You will notice a big difference.

By Eviemae — On Jun 28, 2011

In theatre, when a person is referring to a skull cap they are often talking about a skin colored cap that covers the hair so that a person can appear to be bald on the stage.

Think about it; most people do not actually want to shave all of their hair even if it fits their character. While this might be popular with well-paid actors, it is a little less popular among community theatre and college type shows.

So, this ‘skull cap’ is glued on over one’s hair and then colored with makeup so that it appears as the same color as their actual skin. They are actually quite popular and can be found in any theatrical catalog.

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