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Ashkenazi yarmulkes from around 200 years ago closely resemble the Yerushalmi style - white knitted with a tassel on top. Today, the vast majority of Chasidim and Yeshivish Jews seem to wear black velvet yarmulkes, with some notable exceptions. When and why did this change take place?

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I guess the question could be asked in reverse - when and how did Ashkenazi Yarmulkes start resembling today's Yerushalmi style ones (with links to photographs)? –  Seth J Nov 11 '11 at 9:42
Seth, how can the question be asked in reverse? –  avi Nov 11 '11 at 11:54
FYI, in “Teshuvah, A Guide for the Newly Observant Jew”, Adin Steinsaltz writes that because the male head covering is a not a matter of mitzvah, there are no requirements about how it should be made. As to the shape or materials there are no limitations. The various types of headgear are a matter of local or communal custom. Halakhically meaningless details can take on a certain significance so that various kinds of head covering can signify very specific things to both religious and non religious people. –  Avrohom Yitzchok Nov 11 '11 at 15:00
@avi I assume Seth means that we might as well ask how it is that many Yerushalmim wear yarmulkes like those worn 200 years ago and never adopted the standard black velvet. –  yoel Nov 11 '11 at 19:44
There is nothing "standard" about the black velvet.... Most Jews do not wear black velvet kippahs. –  avi Nov 12 '11 at 22:35
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2 Answers

I heard Rabbi Berel Wein discussing that Rashi's headcovering (in the animated film made by Rabbi Wein) is red, maroon, and/or brown. The historical research shows those were men's colors for Jews in Rashi's time and place. Someone objected that it should be a black velvet yarmulka. Rabbi Wein replied that black happened in the 1400s as a result of a Church decree that colors were too happy for Jews, they should only wear black. Much later, some rabbis came along and said "I see the Jews wear black; that's nice, it's a sign of humility."

That doesn't completely answer the question, but it's probably a piece.

(Of course, Rabbi Wein's questioner replied, "oh um ... but you still should have made it a black velvet yarmulka!" Rabbi Wein: "What's next? Rashi with a shtreimel? When is it wrong to tell the historical truth?")

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Well, as you may know, even Moshe Rabenu wore a streiml... –  yoel Nov 11 '11 at 19:45
1400s doesn't make sense since the questioner is asking about the 1800s. –  avi Nov 12 '11 at 22:37
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One odd thought might be related to size? As you knit a kippah it takes more effort as the outer rim gets larger and larger. I asked my sister once to knit me one, but I have a big head and like a big kippah. She did it once and refused after that saying it was so much work to do big ones.

Cloth kippahs have no major additional cost in effort (material is cheap) to make larger sizes.

I doubt this is a real answer, but something to consider.

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In Israel, the larger knitted kippot are much more common than the smaller ones. Especially amongst people who live in areas where there is a lot of manual labor. (they fall off less) –  avi Nov 12 '11 at 22:37
@avi Excellent points. Also why I wanted larger ones. But my experience with larger knit kippahs is that the thread is much thicker and thus much less effort to make larger. –  geoffc Nov 13 '11 at 0:19
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