One of the most egregious fashion trends of the past 15 to 20 years has undoubtedly been the proliferation of baseball caps – not just in the United States, but now across much of the world.
What began as a harmless and humble exercise in showing support for one’s favorite local baseball club has mushroomed into something so gargantuan and irreversible that I fear baseball caps will never vanish from the sartorial landscape.
Walk down any street in New York City or Ottumwa, Iowa – or, for that matter, even Madrid, Rome, Delhi or Tokyo – and you will see people wearing baseball caps: old folks, youngsters, teenagers, middle-aged fellows, men, women, children, even babies. And the caps may not even carry the logo of a baseball club, it might instead depict the symbol of some team in some other sport, or it may not have anything remotely connected to sports at all!
Watch a football game: when Peyton Manning or Tom Brady are standing on the sidelines, they are wearing caps. Watch an NBA draft, the lucky young newly-minted multi-millionaires are wearing caps (with their new basketball team’s logo emblazoned on them, of course). Even Hollywood director Steven Spielberg seems to always wear baseball caps when directing a new blockbuster. (Can anyone imagine Alfred Hitchcock or Cecil B. DeMille wearing such a cap while working?)
I first noticed this disturbing trend in early 1990s when Spike Lee released his epic film “Malcolm X.” Ever the entrepreneur, Lee (or his business agents) engineered a massive merchandising scheme in which stores were stuffed to the gills with caps bearing the “X” logo.
That bit of movie cross-marketing roughly coincided, or perhaps just followed, what appeared to be a synchronized campaign by Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Basketball Association, and even the National Hockey League to inundate stores with millions of caps bearing team logos. Their huge success likely led corporate and marketing honchos in other industries to similarly produce caps advertising or promoting whatever their enterprises involved.
Certainly the Nike Corp. (NYSE: NKE) played a significant role in this phenomenon, capitalizing on the extraordinary popularity of Michael Jordan to produce tens of millions of caps globally. Indeed, the Nike ‘slash’ design has become as well-known as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s arches as a global brand.
Regardless of its origins or the reasons behind them, baseball caps now are as ubiquitous as bread and water, crossing all boundaries of race, ethnicity and even class. Wealthy white WASPS in Westchester County and impoverished black and Latino homeboys in The Bronx and Brooklyn wouldn’t be caught dead without a sharp-looking Yankee cap (worn backwards or perhaps normally, depending on one’s mood).
When I was younger I seem to recall that the only people who sported baseball caps did so for largely practical reasons: laborers and workingmen to keep their hair out of their eyes; folks who work in the food industries and, obviously, baseball players.Now, the practice has expanded to encompass practically the entire globe.
So, why do so many people wear baseball caps now? Is it a kind of proletariat fashion? Is it a statement against the pretensions and snobbery of high fashion?
A friend of mine (who truly cares about such things), said: “I think the proliferation of baseball caps is a symbol of the decline of culture and the destruction of standards in modern society.”
While that may sound unduly harsh and pretentious, my friend is actually a working class proletarian himself as well as a passionate baseball fan – but he too clearly hates the massive popularity of baseball caps.
He goes on: “Baseball caps serve no practical purpose and it certainly doesn’t improve one’s looks,” he declared. “Why do beautiful women wear these caps, covering up their lustrous hair? Why do elderly men wear these caps? It takes away from their dignity.”
My friend actually went so far as to claim that baseball caps are a symptom of society’s seemingly permanent deterioration; like dreadful TV reality shows, junk food, horrid Hollywood movies and declining education standards.
Where do we go from here?
Sadly, it seems that baseball caps (as a popular head-covering) are here to stay. After all, even the President of the U.S. wears them in informal settings (like golfing or fishing).
We cannot possibly be rid of baseball caps… or those wretched cellphones.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.