Today, I give thanks for the snood. My amusement begins with the word itself, which rhymes with rude. Try enunciating it several times in a row, slowly, and you’ll see what I mean.
But the snood is more than just a delightful word and common crossword puzzle answer. It’s also a comedic example of sexual selection and the silliness of haute fashion.
In male turkeys, the snood is a long, fleshy appendage that droops down from the forehead. Richard Buchholz at the University of Mississippi has studied wild turkeys and found that snoods are highly prized status symbols among these fowl. In experiments that used both real wild turkeys and a series of decoys he’d created (which were identical, except for their snood lengths), Buchholz found that hens prefer long snooded toms and short snooded toms defer to toms whose snoods hang lower than theirs.
It’s a classic example of sexual selection, not so different from the peacock’s showy tail feathers. Snoods provide an easy way to assess a tom’s fitness. The length of the snood is linked to testosterone levels, and Buchholz’s work suggests that snood length may track with susceptibility to parasitic infection.
When a tom is just kicking back, relaxing, his snood tends to bunch up toward his forehead and undergo some shrinkage. But when a tom gets agitated or wants to pull rank, his snood elongates and he flaps it around for everyone to see. I’ve witnessed this behavior in the heritage turkeys that I’ve raised at my farm as well as the wild turkeys that stop by.
Take, for instance, this Narragansett, who attacked me right after I took this video.
Having seen the turkey snood in action, you are now ready to ponder the fashion snood, which is back — in a big way. So declared the New York Times in 1989. The snood was also back in 2009 when the Wall Street Journal declared that “retailers are betting big on the snood” and Bloomingdales declared it a “lavish new accessory.” And now, “snoods are back!” in 2012 too.
It would be easy to dismiss the fashion snood as nothing more than an example of the repetitive nature of fashion cycles and the human susceptibility to advertising. But perhaps it has something in common with the tom’s snood after all. Those with the power to declare such things have deemed the snood “very Chanel – and very chic.” Which means it’s a status symbol, not so unlike the flappy appendage.