The iconic baseball hat has traveled far from the big leagues, evolving into a worldwide wardrobe staple we love so much today. People loved the style so much; they started making styles for every occasion.
Today there are dad hats, five-panel caps, trucker hats, snapbacks, and strapbacks. Each has its own history and specs, which ultimately means they have gained popularity with different crowds. So when you’re choosing the perfect hat, it helps to know the history, and more importantly, style and fit.
The Iconic Baseball Hat
The iconic baseball hat made its debut at the first-ever modern baseball game, which took place in Hoboken, New Jersey, on June 19, 1846, when the New York Knickerbockers played the New York Baseball Club.
There had been amateur bat-and-glove competitions throughout the Northeast up to that point, but the Knickerbockers created official standards during this game. This included formalizing the number of teammates, determining official rules of play, and creating the uniform: matching shirts, pantaloons, and wide-brimmed hats made of thin, plaited wood strips.
But the straw hats didn’t last.
The Knickerbockers switched to using merino wool within a couple of years. The baseball hat design eventually became a narrow front brim with specialized stitching to support a higher, more comfortable crown of six panels. This differentiated the hat from its forebears, including the front-leaning newsboy’s cap and the double-long-brimmed deerstalker hat.
The new model was designed not for style but rather to keep the sun out of players’ eyes. Then in 1901, the Detroit Tigers, well… put a tiger on it, turning a utilitarian sunshade into a branded icon. The cap’s usefulness and brandability would turn it into perhaps America’s greatest fashion export, take, for example, the NY Yankees hat that has become a worldwide hit, changing the way people dress all over the world.
The “Philadelphia style,” with a sturdier brim, debuted in 1908 and was embraced by major-league teams as it had a higher crown and was constructed from higher quality materials than the hats that came before. By 1945, every team was wearing its own branded hat.
Not long after, the dad hat emerged, which is essentially a baseball cap made of canvas or cotton material, without the stiff ‘Buckram’ to hold the structure of the front of the cap. As a result, dad hats are ‘floppy,’ making them resilient, easy to pack and travel with and have a slightly curved brim but not as curved as a traditional baseball cap. In true ‘dad’ fashion, these hats are highly functional and informal and have found new popularity due to their casual, carefree look.
The 5-Panel Hat
The 5-panel cap, also known as the camp cap, earns its name from its construction from five individual pieces of fabric. Five panels make the cap fitted and popular within the cycling community because it can fit comfortably under a bike helmet and does not have a metal button at the top.
This may be why in the early part of the 20th century, these 5-panel hats were worn by almost every courier boy in America, which may explain how these hats came to the attention of the cycling community in the first place.
But the 5-panel hat is not just popular in the cycling community; similar to dad hats, 5 panels are an unstructured construction without the buckram layer. This means accidentally sitting on the hat you left on your camp chair or stuffing it in your luggage won't damage it.
The Trucker Hat
In the 1960s and ’70s, agricultural companies began embellishing their foam-front hats with company logos and cheap, plastic adjustable straps, and boom, the trucker hat was born. Companies gave away these hats to farmers, rural workers, and truckers alike.
Additionally, the snapback fastener created a one-size-fits-most piece of headwear, so workers of all shapes and sizes could benefit from their use.
Trucker hats were so cheap to make and distribute that local animal feed shops, agricultural implement stores, and tractor sellers created the trucker hats for next to nothing and gave them away as inexpensive advertising. These were some of the most effective promotional products handed out in many rural communities around the country.
Ironically, trucker hats have evolved to become a bit of a fashion statement probably because in the 80s and 90s, because they were not readily produced for sale, they were strictly promotional items. This means they fell into the hands of thrift shops, etc., and became a coveted, rare fashion item. They were primarily vintage and hard to replace, thus precipitating their meteoric return to popularity in 2000's fashion.
Snapback vs. Strapback
Strapback caps are designed with an adjustable strap at the back. These straps are usually made up of real or fake leather, cloth or nylon and have a metal buckle. Strapbacks are a popular design with dad hats and 5-panel hats, but baseball-style caps these days are almost exclusively snapbacks.
While strapback caps are designed with adjustable straps and a metallic buckle, snapback caps are designed with plastic straps that snap together. Snapbacks have primarily replaced the strapback design, as they are cheaper to produce and never slip, making them great for sports and more active pursuits they are easier and faster to adjust.
The one drawback is that they're invariably made of plastic. Many strapbacks are made of nylon or plastic leather straps and plastic closures, but the strapback design can still be produced sustainably with natural fabric straps and metal clasp closures.
Find the Perfect Hat
You don’t have to be playing a pick-up baseball game in the sandlot with all of the neighbor kids to need a baseball hat. Baseball hats have traveled all the way from the field to the streets and are ultimately are loved worldwide.
The various styles that have originated from and influenced the iconic design have become a worldwide fashion icon, boasting both style AND function, these iconic styles are not just for the field anymore. With so many options to choose from, and almost every brand on the planet putting their logo on one, you'll find one that aligns with your style and priorities.
At Rustek, for example, we are in the process of designing what will be the most sustainable collection of baseball caps on the planet, focusing on eliminating plastic and highlighting the use of sustainable, natural materials in our headwear whenever possible. We've got tons of new styles releasing in the coming year; we can't wait to share them with you!