Headbands Are Back

Headbands are back; they seem to be everywhere. Did you notice just how many Olympic athletes rocked out the old headband at the 2012 London Games?

Runners, jumpers, tennis players, footballers – they all seem to want to be seen wearing this simple strip of headgear that was once only worn by hippies, rock stars, and freedom-fighters. Of course, if you have ever done sport you’ll know that there are two very good reasons for serious sportsmen and women to wear a headband.

Firstly to keep your hair safely behind your face, instead of in front of it. It’s pretty difficult to score that vital penalty if your mop flops forward just as you are about to boot the ball. Secondly to keep all that salty sweat from out of your eyes – ouch that hurts!

As an athlete you are going to sweat regardless of how much antiperspirant you spray on your body; sport is like that, there’s no way out of it. Your body overheats and needs to cool down, so your body makes sweat and sometimes lots of it – and there’s nothing worse than an eyeful of sweat just as you are about to serve for match-point.

It’s all about science really. Headbands work by absorbing that extra sweat in ‘real-time’, as it’s dripping down from the hair on your forehead – and in sports, like tennis, basketball, and many others this is a BIG deal because everything is happening so fast. One little blur of vision could mean the difference between winning and losing. In these days, where hundredths of a second count, there’s no room for concentration breaks in order to wipe the sweat from your troubled brow – and you are using up precious energy whilst opening up chances for error.

Okay, hair and sweat management are two good reasons for headbands, but it can’t just be that. Can it? After all, some sports were being played for hundreds of years before anyone even thought about putting on a headband, and it wasn’t until the late seventies and early eighties that they suddenly began to appear on sporting heads everywhere. Perhaps this was partly due to the rash of sporty hit dance-movies like Fame and Flashdance in the early eighties.

Tennis has always been a sport that is particularly prone to fashion, so maybe it isn’t that surprising that the headband phenomena seemed to turn up here first. Who could forget the 1981 Wimbledon Men’s Final where perhaps the two most well-known head-banded heroes of all time, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, fought it out headband-to-headband with McEnroe eventually winning. And how about the young Andre Agassi’s streaked and teased mullet (actually a wig) and range of funky Day-Glo headbands? Yes, in the words of the theme from Fame (almost): he’s going to live (with that) forever.

More recently in 2008 McEnroe’s headband showed up once again like an eighties reminder not to swear at the umpire. Intent perhaps on invoking the Wimbledon champion’s talent rather than his famously short temper, Jamie Murray, brother of Olympic gold medalist Andy, tamed his frizzy hair with a McEnroe trademark red sweatband as he played a doubles match at the French Open. Fortunately for us all though, he left his Agassi back home in the drawer ready for another day.

Of course, some sports are more headband prone than others, and tennis is just one example. In America, the NBA has more headband wearing basketball players than you can shake your finger at. There’s even a top 10 with Denver Nuggets player, Carmelo Anthony (Melo), coming in at number one. Headband wearing is so prevalent in American basketball that the NBA even banned wearing headbands upside down. Why? Well, the NBA decided to replace all freestyle headbands with an obligatory NBA headband bearing their famous logo. Some players objected and reversed the NBA headband or even turned it upside down. Of course, the NBA didn’t like that; hence the ban which has led to some players no longer wearing headbands at all.

Football has its fair share of headbanded heroes too; David Beckham, Carlos Tevez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Torsten Frings to name just a few. Beckham has even been known to wear that other type of headband – the Alice Band – onto the pitch. They too are soon to be subject to a ban, this time by UEFA who claim that they are jewellery and likely to cause injury. Yet another imaginary health and safety issue, making many wonder if UEFA really does live in Wonderland… or should that be Cloud Cuckoo?

Interestingly, there is some evidence to suggest that wearing a headband can effectively reduce the impact of soccer balls. In a study published in 2003 in the “Journal of Athletic Training”, researchers tested three popular models of a headband and found that the peak force of the soccer ball decreased with their use; saving the headbanded player from a head-banging bang on the bonce.

Obviously there are some sports where keeping the sweat out of your eyes is more difficult than others. It’s pretty hard to wipe away the sweat when you have both hands on your bike handles, pedalling along in the Tour de France. Bicycling around France is a really sweaty business, so there’s a new type headband on the sweat-reduction scene – the Sweat GutR (in case you wondered that last part is short for gutter). The GutR works by re-routing the sweat around the eyes using a gutter like system on the headband “dramatically helping bicyclists around the world when it comes to stopping that sweat”. It’s good to see a sport as old as cycling at the cutting edge of headband technology – just make sure that you stay in the lead though, the GutR channels the excess sweat over the cyclist’s shoulder.

So headbands… a useful piece of sporting attire, or not? They certainly help keep your hair in place and the sweat from out of your eyes. They can offer an advertising opportunity that is heads above most others; even give some protection in some close contact sports like football – but nowadays, as ever, most of the headband’s attraction is about style, it isn’t about the sport at all.

Just as you didn’t really need a headband to Flashdance your way across the dance floor, you don’t really need one to score goals. Headbands are worn for fashion whilst training at the gym, jogging by the canal, doing household chores, even running errands. At anything other than the highest level, it’s more about the look than practicality; but even so, there seems to be no heading them off. Headbands are well and truly back on the sporting scene with hundreds of designs to choose from including designer, customised, and plain old white towelling. So go on, get your head around it and get yourself a headband, the hottest sports accessory of the moment.