Truck Trend Legends: The Baseball Cap
Truck Trend Legends
If everyone in the United States checked their clothes closets, there are probably half a dozen baseball caps in each one. Right now, the nation’s population is about 319 million. Assuming there are some newborns, eccentric fashionistas, and other abstainers, let’s round it down to 300 million. That still comes to total of 1.8 billion baseball caps. Sure, we may have bought a few. But as for the rest, who knows? Baseball caps are so common, so much a part of American culture, that it seems like they just appear spontaneously, like bubbles in a soda. But someone makes them and someone must have designed the original baseball cap, way back when.
The first recorded instance of baseball caps being worn was, not surprisingly, by a baseball team. In 1860, the Brooklyn Excelsiors—an amateur side—had headgear that was round and had a button on the top and a long peak at the front. Subsequent caps were referred as “Brooklyn style.” But the inspiration might have come from England more than 200 hundred years previous.
That country’s civil war took place from 1642 to 1651. The opponents were the Royalists, also known as cavaliers, and the Parliamentarians, who wanted to abolish the monarchy. They were nicknamed Roundheads because of the design of the soldiers’ helmets. Imagine a baseball cap made of metal, often consisting of curved triangular sections topped off with a small round piece where all the points met, then add ear flaps and protection for the back of the neck, and that’s a Roundhead helmet.
English school caps have a baseball cap–like design, only with a shorter bill. In Victorian times, the country used to have empire on which “the sun never set,” but it’s also a country on which the sun rarely shines. Cricket caps are virtually identical. And when soccer players (they call it football over there) are chosen to play for their country, the expression is that they’ve been “capped.” They are actually given something that looks like a baseball cap, only with a shorter brim and a tassel at the top. This is a time-honored tradition going back to the beginning of organized international sport. So this great American icon probably originated across the Atlantic, like a lot of great American icons. (The V-8 engine is another example.)
These days, the baseball cap is more than just protection from the sun. Our choices reflect who we are, which of society’s modern “tribes” we most identify with (flat bill, worn rebelliously back to front, at an angle, Dodgers fan, Cubs fan). A lot of them are promotional giveaways. And sometimes they’re even used as a disguise, especially when celebrities want to thwart the prying lenses of the paparazzi. In the military, parachute riggers wear red baseball caps and parachute instructors wear black caps. If the ’60s and ’70s were somewhat light on baseball caps, they came back strong in the ’80s with Magnum PI, followed by the advent of hip-hop.
Naturally, there are different types of baseball cap, like constructed and unconstructed. The former has a piece of cotton called buckram on the inside of the cap’s front, which creates a smarter, stiffer look. The unconstructed version doesn’t have that buckram insert.
And there’s the trucker hat, with a foam front and mesh sides for better ventilation, which never seems to be made out of anything that might have been organic at any time. This variation has enjoyed and endured various waves of going in and out of fashion.
One business seems to have cornered the market in baseball caps: the New Era Cap Company, headquartered in Buffalo, New York. It now has more than 500 licenses for various teams and other franchises (such as Disney and Hello Kitty), and it produced 65 million caps in 2016. It created a cap in 1934 for the Cleveland Indians, and that basic design is still the one that’s most popular today. New Era calls it the 59Fifty.
Fads will come and go, but the baseball cap’s usefulness, affordability, and enduring coolness—in both senses of the word—mean it’s not disappearing in the foreseeable future. Even Vogue magazine calls it “the perfect all-year-round accessory.”