What is it About Ball Caps?

Everywhere you look, there are baseball caps – on the Red Carpet and runway, on the avenues of New York City and the dirt roads of Sugar Tit, South Carolina, on the heads of heads of State and in the mouths of babes.  Baseball style caps are the great equalizer, loved by Americans like no other fashion accessory.

$7,295m was generated in cap and hat revenue this year and that is expected to grow annually by 6%.  The volume is expected to amount to 568.41m pieces by 2023.  The 503.32m caps produced  were in sizes small enough for a Chihuahua (4.5) to those made to fit a linebacker (8.5).  And more and more Universal Unilink suppliers are adding caps to their lines. BIC Graphic has a new line from Cap America, Black Clover just joined Starline, and Augusta Sportwear Brands added Pacific Headwear to their family this month.  There are few things that can make the impact baseball style caps make in today’s promotional climate.

But how, in a time when hats had become passé, did this lowly cap gain national appeal?

They aren’t called baseball caps for nothing – they originated with the game. Back in the day Major League ball required players to wear something to keep the sun out of their eyes.  It was the responsibility of the player to decide what type of headgear would accomplish that.  When the League finally took on the responsibility in 1849, they chose straw hats. By the turn of the century, the various teams would choose something more secure, a style more closely resembling the baseball cap we know today.  It wasn’t until 1954 that this fitted style became the official hat for all of the teams.  It was known as the “59fifty,” named after the roll of fabric used to make them or the “Brooklyn Style” cap. It wasn’t a fan item, it wasn’t worn on the street. In fact, it wasn’t supposed to be worn at all off the field.  Fast forward twenty years…

Baseball has not been the most popular American sport for some time but it will always be called the national pastime because it is the oldest original American sport.  And its fans are true fans.  Once caps became available in bulk to fans in the 60-70s, they religiously wore them – to the games.

James Lilliefors, the author of Ball Cap Nation, believes we can thank Tom Selleck and the television show Magnum, P.I. for bringing the caps out of the stadiums and onto the streets as a national fashion statement. In describing “the relative suavity of the Detroit Tigers cap worn by Tom Selleck as the title character of Magnum, P.I.,” James Lilliefors, says, “It made sporting a ball cap seem cool rather than quirky; and it created an interest in authentic M.L.B. caps.” Caps became synonymous with laid-back charm.

George Steinbrenner enhanced the “fashionality” of caps when he allowed Spike Lee to don a Yankees cap to match his red Yankees jacket.  His “outfit,” televised during the 1996 World Series, gave a push to the fashion trend of custom baseball caps.  A baseball cap “connects you with people in a broader way,” Givhan said. “I think so much of fashion really is about finding your identity in the broader world.” And Spike showed how it could be done while Steinbrenner opened the door to allow wearers to make statements about their individuality – a Yankees cap in Barbie pink, a Red Sox cap with its “B” rendered in the rainbow stripes of the gay pride flag, or a Cincinnati Reds cap in black leather.”

As the customization of caps grew, brands got into the game – where team logos once dominated, we saw sports company brands like Nike and Adidas increase.  Finally, other brands jumped on board and people are able to be show their devotion to things other than a baseball team.

Since this time, more and more mainstream fashion has related back to athletics – the sweat shirt, the baseball shirt, football jerseys, tennis shoes, skater dress, etc., etc. Maybe Americans wear so many sports-born styles, like sneakers and the baseball cap, because “it makes us feel like we are part of a team,” said Robin Givhan, The Washington Post’s fashion critic.

This history, this data, supports the fact that ball caps are a huge opportunity for promotional product distributors. Caps are appropriate and worn by everyone. They look good on almost everyone, framing the face and highlighting the eyes. They are great for those inevitable bad hair days. And they still excel at what they were originally made to do – keep the sun out of the eyes.