The History and Politics of the Baseball Cap

Mia Orantia
Staff Writer

As a woman, I never understood the way men wore their baseball caps. Forward or backwards, so many different prints and fittings, tags kept on — I always wondered, is there a certain politics to how guys wear their ball caps?  

“I’ll wear my SF Giants cap because it compliments what I’m wearing and I’m also a huge sports fan of baseball, basketball, and NFL. I just want to display my fanhood,” said junior media studies major, Nick Schebetta, whose cap brim always points forward, like a baseball player’s.

Sophomore biology major, Alex Avanzado, wears his caps backwards, and often his caps are not sports-affiliated, but rather have prints that he personally likes. “The reason I wear my hats backward is because it looks cooler, and primarily the main reason I wear hats is because I don’t want to style my hair,” he said. “Some people wear hats for the primary purpose of keeping the sun out of their eyes, but for me I just wear it for style.”

The baseball cap is a hat style that evolved from simply being used to represent baseball teams and other sports teams. Today, baseball caps come in a variety of styles and designs that have nothing to do with sports.

In a recent article, USA Today said the baseball cap has endured for generations as the all-American hat. They credit the amateur baseball team, the Brooklyn Excelsiors, as the originators of the baseball cap in 1860. The team wore the ancestor of the modern, rounded-top baseball cap, and by 1900, the “Brooklyn-style” cap, with a long visor and a button on top, became popular.

In 1954, the brand New Era, which has been making caps for 85 years, was producing a uniform hat for each baseball team, and now produces about 2,000 per team each season, according to USA Today.

That’s just a small slice of the company’s market. According to New Era’s own “stat sheet,” the company made 40 million caps in 2012. Baseball caps have also received what you might call the ultimate compliment. Add them to the list of things – Gucci and Louis Vuitton purses – counterfeited in China and smuggled into the United States.

The fear of having a fake may help explain a trend I’ve observed recently: people wearing their caps with the stickers and tags still on them. People do this specifically with New Era caps to signify the authenticity, according to Cesar Martinez, USF senior Business Administration major and hat addict, as described by himself and his friends.

Avanzado said, “It shows that your hat is legitimate because there’s a lot of third party brands. It’s a status symbol that says ‘Hey I bought this hat for $50’ versus spending less elsewhere.”

Baseball caps today usually have five panels shaping the “dome” and a flat brim, compared to eight-panel ball caps back in the 1900s. New Era sells their caps from $20-$100, with their post-season official sports caps at around $37.99.

The five-panel cap is also characteristic of urban culture with urban brands such as Obey, Supreme and HUF. These brands focus more on prints and colors in their hats, particularly worn with classic street wear, according to their websites.

“I see a lot of Obey hats and HUF hats,” Avanzado said. “HUF and Obey have some quality hats where the fabrics are thicker so it holds it shape. Other hats lose [their] shape. Mostly I like [them] for their prints.”

While ball caps have transitioned to more progressive styles, some contemporary brands still produce ball caps with the classic eight-panel design with curved brims.

Hat aficionado Martinez works at the Brooklyn Circus store on Fillmore Street, a menswear store that sells pieces reflecting vintage America.

“Ebbet’s Field Authentic Flannels produces [our vintage-styled] hats. They’re based out of Seattle, and they do a wonderful job at up keeping the vintage ball cap aesthetic, paying homage to American style.”

The Ebbet’s Field brand has been around for 25 years and produces the ball caps sold at J.Crew. They’re known for their wool caps with the green satin brim, according to Martinez.

The company apparently cares about what happens to its products once they leave the store, according to Umar Issa, social media manager and store clerk at Brooklyn Circus.

“Our company did a blog post with Ebbets Field,” Issa said. “The founder Jerry really appreciates the way baseball caps are made and are worn. He’s really against people wearing baseball caps backwards because that’s not how they’re supposed to be worn and it’s sloppy.”

However, Issa, a recent graduate of USF, said he’ll wear his hat backwards because it just looks cool. “It’s really up to you. It’s all about image and comfort,” he said.

Issa, a Los Angeles Native, remembers his first ball cap being an LA Dodgers cap, but he said he doesn’t necessarily wear caps for a team.  “Aesthetically, caps could be a subtle pop that complements an outfit.”

In the morning, “If I don’t want to do my hair or if I’m in a rush, I’ll throw on a cap,” he said. While Issa recognizes his passion for fashion, he also said that men usually don’t think too deeply into baseball caps.

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