Even as a young child, Stevie Friedman wore hats. So it came as no surprise years later, when she married into an Orthodox Jewish family, that she took up the mitzvah of covering her hair with a hat, rather than a sheitel – a wig – or scarf.
“For some reason my grandparents discovered that I looked cute in hats,” she says. “My grandma would knit me hats and when we would go to department stores, I would try on the ladies hats just for fun.”
These days, Friedman has turned the fun she has had with fashionable hats into a business. In January she opened HATtitude, an at-home millinery shop for Orthodox Jewish women in the Woodside area of Silver Spring. The shop offers a broad selection of soft head coverings, including embellished berets, beaded scarves and snoods, and decorated pre-tied head wraps that can cover all of a woman’s hair or as much as she chooses. But beyond the beautiful colored, patterned and decorated scarves, HATtitude is becoming best known for its one-of-a-kind selection of hats – many imported from Israel, others made by milliners who sell to high-end stores like Bergdorf Goodman.
Hats and head coverings have long been an important component of the wardrobe of many Orthodox and observant Jewish women due to a Jewish law that requires married women to cover their hair, reserving it solely for their husbands. Many Jewish women of other denominations choose to wear hats to synagogue rather than the traditional male head covering, a kippah.
“Each woman has her own custom of how much [hair] she does or doesn’t cover,” says Henia Gruner, a Baltimore-based Jewish educator who previously lived in the Kemp Mill section of Silver Spring. “Some women cover completely, some women cover partially, some women only wear a hat and leave their hair out.”
Gruner, a long-time sheitel wearer, has recently begun wearing hats and scarves to cover her hair. “Here,” she gestures to the racks filled with colorful spring and summer hats, “you have an opportunity to really fulfill your needs, so it’s pretty wonderful.”
She picked up a cloche and noted that it could cover a woman’s entire head, including all her hair. Some women, she continues, might choose to wear a fall, or partial wig, beneath a hat as a fashionable way to wear a hat but also show some hair, albeit not her own.
Friedman, a Wilmington, Del., native, who lived in Israel for a decade before moving to Silver Spring, has a vast personal collection of hats. “There was no place to buy hats here,” she said. “Luckily I had purchased a tremendous number of hats in Israel and people always asked me where I got them.”
The mother of a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old, she was looking for work when an opportunity arose to purchase another local hat seller’s business, including contacts with designers and manufacturers from around the world.
“I have to credit my mother; she suggested it,” says Friedman. “This is the most b’shert [fated] thing.”
Gruner, a mother of four and grandmother to two, notes that many Orthodox women don’t feel comfortable shopping and trying on hats and scarves in a department store or even a specialty hat shop because of the lack of privacy and the possibility that strangers might see their hair. Additionally, many of the hats sold to the general population don’t offer enough coverage or feature very broad brims or other styles that are not fashionable among Orthodox Jewish women.
One more advantage of Friedman’s selection, which includes high-end hats from Orit Parente and Israeli designer Kolav Sagol among others, is that she rarely carries doubles. That means women in the same synagogue are unlikely to show up wearing the same hat on Shabbat or holidays.
At HATtitude, women make an appointment and they can try on hats and scarves in privacy. Thus, if a woman needs to remove her sheitel, Friedman can accommodate her and she even provides a place to put a wig. In the near future, she wants to begin a hat exchange program, for owners of gently or never worn hats; she’ll set up an opportunity to trade them with other women’s hats.
“It’s very unique, very special,” Gruner notes. “You walk in and it’s amazing. I’ve been to a lot of hat stores and I’m sure she’ll be very successful. This really fits the needs of the Jewish woman.”