It’s December – and that means Art Basel Miami Beach, the art fair that kicks off the party season. But what to wear to protect one’s head against the southern sun? Clearly a woolly cap, the usual seasonal headgear, is inappropriate. Enter the luxury baseball cap. It’s become a piece of art in itself – and not just in the United States.
“The baseball cap, interpreted in a smarter way, marries two of the key trends for men at the moment – tailoring and sportswear,” says Ben Andrew, men’s fashion buyer at Liberty of London, where styles by Paul Smith and Kenzo are particularly popular. “I think this is definitely a part of the move towards men dressing up, and it also highlights the importance men place on accessories, which allow them to represent trends and buy into designer brands in a very accessible way.”
Witness, for example, street fashion label Acne, normally known for its wasted urban look, which has created baseball caps in black, dark brown, navy and forest-green tweed that epitomise the trend towards remaking a sporty basic in incongruously luxury fabrics. “I like taking generic pieces like the baseball cap and mashing them up with traditional luxe fabrics like tweed,” says Acne designer Jonny Johansson.
He’s not the only one. Dior Homme is offering a baseball cap in three-tone grey cashmere embroidered with simple, naive bird images (a change from the usual US baseball team name or high street logo) and an Officer cap in green wool flannel, with a more rounded and elegant shape than the typical cap. Lanvin, meanwhile, has styles with elegantly rounded crowns and neat peaks in distressed charcoal grey and brown. Even cashmere experts Loro Piana are getting in on the game, with a neutral brown cashmere cap that is sleek and elegant but still sporty – and costs a major league £330 (Lanvin’s cap is even more, at £400).
As to why the baseball cap is still a home run, Michael Dudley, product manager at headgear maker New Era says: “As with footwear, people are drawn to baseball caps to make a statement about themselves, so they are more willing to spend money on the latest cap or trainers in order to complete their look. The versatility in style, colour and design allows for a cap to say ‘This is who I am’.”
Chris Sedgwick of classic British hatters Bates, now part of Hilditch & Key, adds: “High-quality, long-lasting and wearable materials such as leather will ensure that a cap develops aesthetically over time, the more it is worn.”
Of course, while the baseball cap is sporty and masculine, it’s not always foolproof in terms of the image it projects. William Hague, now Britain’s foreign secretary, famously sported a baseball cap on a visit to a theme park after he had been elected leader of the Conservative party in 1997. But his attempt at suggesting a younger, hipper image prompted widespread derision from fashion and political commentators alike. Apart from a second well-publicised cap-wearing foray in 2010, Hague has since returned to a bare head.
To avoid such fashion faux pas, the trick is to have a few different styles of cap in the drawer. Faded cotton or canvas caps work well with equally faded polo shirts, while something sleek and dark is better with a suit or smart jacket.
“Baseball caps are easy to wear and they always remind me that I’m off duty,” says Jeremy Cosgrave, a 33-year-old property investor. “I like the idea of a smarter version that I could wear with a suit or a smart jacket.”
David Redburn, 39, who works in legal insurance, agrees. “They’re a way of changing a look – like when you add a scarf. Men are supposed to be rubbish at accessorising, but with a baseball cap it’s pretty easy.”