Boys' Caps: Baseball Caps


Figure 1.--The American Scouts adopted the baseball cap as part of the official Scout and Cub uniform in 1980. These American Scouts in 1982 are wearing the new uniform.

The original baseball caps looked like British school caps, a clue to their origin--presumably caps worn by British schoolboys playing cricket. Thus the modern baseball cap in a continuing reminder of baseball's origins in cricket. Baseball caps were worn almost exclusively for playing baseball and in the United States. As recently as the 1950s it was not common to see Amerivan boys wearing baseball caps except for actual play. Since the 1960s baseball caps have become virtually the only headgear worn by American boys and in the 1990s worn backwards. Beginning in the mid-1980s baseball caps have spread virtually all over the world and are worn by boys who have never played baseball and who would object to waring a school cap. American Scouts and Cubs adopted baseball caps in 1980 and Scouts in several countries who have never played baseball have followed suit. A HBC reader wonfers, "I grew up playing baseball and its city variations. I believe I may live long enough to see the only thing left of the game among kids to be the cap."

Chronology

Baseball caps first appeared iun the late-19th century as the sport began to develop into an important professional sport. The early caps had stiff vertical sides. We are not sdure presicely when the modern style with soft rounded caps began to appear. We do not notice themn bring worn by boys in the late-19th and early-20century, except for vaseball. There are large number of images of groups of boys during this period abd very rarely do baseball caps appear. We notice them after World War I in the 1920s, but believe they probably appeared in the 1910s or even erarlier. Theu were still not commonly weirn in the 1920s ad early-30s, boys mostly wore flkat caps. For a long time we see them mostly as a sports cap. We note them bring worn as a casual cap in the 1930s, but more prominantly in the 1940s.

Styles

The baseball cap is esentially a gored cap with visor and a button on top. The basic stylistic differences among baseball caps is the size of the visor.

Origins

HBC has not yet located an authoratative study adressing the history of the school cap. HBC had thought that the original baseball caps looked like British school caps, a clue to their origin--presumably caps worn by British schoolboys playing cricket. Thus the modern baseball cap in a continuing reminder of baseball's origins in cricket. A HBC reader, however, reports that the baseball cap, descended from the "kepi" worn by Civil War soldiers. HBC tends to think the English cricket origins are more likely, primarily because of the rounded crown and cricket conections, but this clearly requires more research.

An HBC reader had provided the following information on the kepi, "The American Civil War `kepi' was adopted from contemporary European military uniforms. Most specificaly from France where it was worn by the soldiers of the Second Empire. There are two theories about the kepi. Either it was a cut-down version of the shako of the Napoleonic era. Or it was derived from the kind of floppy cap worn by school boys and sportsmen and worn by the reformed Prussian Army in the last phases of the Napoleonic Wars. The tie-in between sports wear and military uniforms is well documented. It also runs the other way. I believe it's significant that baseball, which was probably not invented by General Doubleday, but which did grow in popularity among the soldiers, especially the Union soldiers during the Civil War (1861-65), was the only American popular sport of the 19th century (Including football which was played bare headed!) to involve headwear. And that hat was a kepi-like cap." HBC believes the Civil War connection is an important point. Baseball was being played in the large northern cities well before the War. However men away from home for long periods with much free time promoted thepopularity of the sport. (Until Grant took command of the Army of the Potomac, there were long periods of inactivity between major engangements.) When the soldiers went back to small towns and rural communities they brought with them a passion for the sport. However, we have never noted images of baseball being played in kepis, except by soldiers. There must be some images of baseball being played before the War. The outfits may provide some interesting clues.

Usage

Baseball caps are today widely worn. Playing baseball is probably now a minor usage of these caps. Baseball caps were at first and for many years almost exclusively for playing baseball and in the United States. We begin to see winter caps styles like baseball caps in the 1930s, Many were done in thick flannel or other heavy material as winter caps, often with fold unfer ear flaps. These were not real baseball caps, but styledcvlike them. They were very popklar in the 1940s and 50s. As recently as the 1950s it was not common to see American boys wearing baseball caps except for actual play. The army began using baseball caps, I think in the 1960s. The Scouts adopted them in the 1980s. Since the 1960s baseball caps have become virtually the only headgear worn by American boys. They increased in popularity during the 70s and 80s. Boys wore them caually abd to school. As a kind of mark of teen angst, boys began in the 1990s to wear the caps backwards.

Conventions

Any discussion of baseball caps would be incomplete without a discussion of how it is worn. Boys for decades wore the bill forward. The only exception was the catcher who put the bill backwards during the game so his prorective mask could be put on. This changed in the 1990s when many boys began wearing the baseball cap with the bill to the back. Why a boy chooses to wear his cap one way or the other is an interesting question. A HBC reader writes, "As to the bill being worn front or back, it seem to depend on the style a boy's 'hero' wears it, be it a ballplayer or rap star. Some African-American kids like to wear the brims to the side or slightly askew." Another of the cap conventions for boys now is if the hat is a sized fitted hat (like Major League ballplayers wear) or adjustable. Many boys prefer the fitted style and will even cut the seams at the back or sides to keep wearing them even after their heads grow too big.

Types

There are a number of different types of baseball caps. Becoming popular in the 2000s are "flex-fit" hats that stretch to fit the head. Another popular style is the low crown hat which doesn't stick up as much as a regular cap and the flattend, distressed style that look like its been washed a hundred times.

Adjustment Starp

A plastic adjustment strap was introduced in the 1970s. The original plastic adjustment straps on adjustable hats hats are now changing to velcro backs or cloth adjustable straps.

The Bill

The bill (brim or peak) is an important part of the baseball cap. Functionally it served to shade the eyes on a sunny day. It took on a stylistic cnnotation over time. Many Americam boys, including those that were not very fastidious about their clothing, were very particular about shaping the bill of their baseball caps. This was especially true of the boys who actually played on a team of some sort, beginning with Little League. Most boys wanted the rather flat shape of a new cap to be rounded considerably. While this was the most popular shape, some boys often actually creased or folded the extremes at both sids to come down almost vertically. We have especially noticed this tendency in the South during the 1950s. Boys in the 2000s will usually put a deep bend in their baseball team hats. Many team hats now come "pre-bent" for that reason. Some Afro-American kids like the bill completely flat. The New York team in the 2002 Little League World Series all wore their hats this way. We note a school cricket team, perhaps in Australia and New Zealand where the boys have doine their bills in a "V".

Countries

The baseball cap of course originated in America. The baseball cap is America's most significant contribution to the world of the modern headwear. Originally visorless, the current version first gained widespread popularity when it was worn by Babe Ruth. As baseball players became national heroes during the 20s and 30s, fans began using their home-team baseball caps as everyday wear. Beginning in the mid-1980s baseball caps have spread virtually all over the world and are worn by boys who have never played baseball and who would object to waring a school cap. The baseball cap has now become an international symbol of American culture: it was the first popular hat invented in America.

Scouts

The American Scouts introduced baseball caps in the 1980s for both Scouts and Cubs. Many Scout groups had begun wearing baseball caps unofficially in the 1980s. Individual Scouts would also wear them instead of the official cap. A few other country's Scout groups have also adopted the baseball cap, but it is still not a widely worn cap style for youth groups around the world. The baseball cap is one of the few non-military styles to be adopted by youth groups. Scouts in several countries who have never played baseball have followed suit.

Logos

The first logos on caps were baseball team logos. The caps now are also worn with other team logs, including football and basketball teams. The logos on hats now include skakeboard products, etc as well as sports logo's. The styles are constantly changing as well. Another popular thing is that the hats have the Pro look 3-D, thick logos on the front which mimics the way logos are sewn on Major League baseball hats. Now kids can buy a fitted Major League hat which is exactly the same as the pro's wear.

Material

Baseball caps used to be all cloth garments, perhaps with a leather inside head band. There were holes for ventilation. Baseball hats started as wool fitted hat. Hats for kids have stated with wool, gone to synthetic fabrics with plastic mesh backs and back to wool again. Some leagues use cotton hats, rather than wool to save money. Many souvenir hats are cotton, especially in Canada. The modern cap has mesh backs to the crown and various types of size adjusters.

Adults

The baseball cap, except for professional ball players, was for years worn by boys. In the 1960s, men starte wearing them. This is an American tradition that has been around since the 60's. Some women even wear baseball caps. You will see men and boys wearing BB caps all over the world now, even in England. The first I noticed this was during the coal miners strike led by Arthur Stargill during the 1980s. (This was the strike the British film Billy Elliot was set around.)

Many fashion experts do not believe that baseball caps are appropriate for men. A HBC reader in America believes that they look silly on grown me. She writes, "I have always thought that baseball caps, in their various forms, looked quite childlike on grown men. These are a cap for chidren.When I lived in Michigan I looked for just one person wearing one, really made it an issue, and I never saw one in all of Kalamazoo! I hope that men will come up now from this sartorial Hell which they have imposed on themselves, and get back on track with fedora hats, and caps of tweed." A British fashion writer complains about the popularity of baseball caps. "If people wear a cap at all it is usually one of those American baseball things with big nebs and something - often NY - written on the front. That is not a manís hat. That is a sportsmanís hat, or a childís hat, with a bit of elastic to hold it on and a big gap at the back. A gentleman would not be seen in a cap like that. Not unless he played rounders for a living." [Mather] A sly touch of British humor is envolved here. Rounders is a child's playground game somewhat similar to baseball for children not yet old enough for cricket, hardly something a man would play much less make a living at. The British disparage baseball as more like rounders than their cherished cricket, which of course they always seem to loose when playing the West Indies, Pakistanis, or Australians.

Popularity

The popularity of the baseball cap is truly phenomenal. It hjas proven the vap of chioice, often after the game, from sports from football to fishing. It has spread to virtually every country except for totalitarian Communist societies. HBC first noted this trend when we began to see striking English coal miners wearing them in the 1980s. The baseball cap has passed far beyound the world of sport and many workers now wear them from UPS to heavy equiment operators. In the process they have become the cap of choice among Ameriocan boys an widely worn by boys in many other countries. Some schools have even adopted them for school uniforms.

Sources

Mather, Geoffrey. "Capped for England" BBC Radio 4, 2001.






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Created: March 15, 2001
Last updated: 8:40 PM 6/2/2010