At the turn of the 20th century, baseball players took an “anything goes” approach to headgear. Their only goal was to keep the sun out of their eyes; they wore straw hats, flat-topped pillbox caps, and even experimental tinted visors. In the early 1900s, the Detroit Lions became the first organization to embellish their hats with a team emblem.
By the 1940s, players were rallying around a specific style–a rounded hat with a protective brim, the practical descendant of the Victorian-era sun bonnet and the jockey’s cap. New Era Cap Company seized the moment, designing the “59Fifty” style baseball hat, which became the official cap of the Major League, and is worn to this day.
Today, the unassuming baseball cap is nothing short of an American wardrobe staple. It is worn by athletes, fans, workers, kids, outdoor adventurers, and trendsetters alike. The process of making these hats is straightforward, even if they aren’t always worn that way.
The classic baseball hat is composed of four basic raw materials: cotton, rubber, rayon, and dye. Although early caps were made of wool, cotton has proven cooler and more breathable. It shields against a strong midsummer sun at center field.
First, the cotton is refined into cloth and dyed in the desired color. From a large sheet of this cotton fabric, hat makers cut six identical triangular panels. They stitch these panels together with rayon thread, fashioning the rounded crown of the hat. If necessary, a logo or symbol will be embroidered over the seam where two panels meet. These will become the right and left front panels.
Then, from a new sheet, they cut two semicircular cotton panels for the hat bill. The bill itself is crafted from rubber, which is suitably flexible yet firm. To keep costs low, hat makers often use synthetic rubber, which is made by processing Styrene and Butadiene into latex.
The rubber bill is sewn snugly in between the two semicircular panels with rayon thread. Extra rows of stitches across the top and bottom of the bill fasten cloth to rubber, preventing the fabric from bunching up. Then the bill, or brim, is attached to the hat crown.
Finally, cap makers add a small button, sometimes called a squatchee, to the top of the hat. They use a machine to fasten a fabric-covered metal button to the point where the six panels meet. Not all baseball hats have this button; it is a decorative touch that hides the stitching.
As the baseball cap evolved into a fashion statement, embellishments were added. Today, many hats include extra features to increase ventilation to the wearer’s head: metal grommets or eyelets on the side panels, and small “windows” and mesh sections at the back of the hat.
Other major additions allow the wearer to adjust the cap’s tightness on his or her head. These take the form of adjustable fabric buckles, plastic snap backs, and plastic hooks. The inside of the hat may feature a fabric sweatband, and fabric “taping” that conceals the stitched seams.
The baseball cap became so popular that it spawned several sub-styles. Trucker hats replace the four fabric panels at the rear and sides of the crown with mesh panels to keep heads cool. Distressed hats have a deliberately worn, frayed appearance. Flatbill hats, as the name suggests, have flat brims instead of curved ones. A fitted cap has an elastic band that fits to the wearer’s head, eliminating the need for a closure.
Despite these new styles, the process of making a baseball hat remains fairly simple. As long as the materials are available, people around the world will keep donning these versatile caps every day.