You see them everywhere around the world. Every major city, every college campus, every playing field, and every baseball diamond. The backward cap is a mainstay in the world of guys from every walk of life. How did this fashion trend happen and why does it have such staying power? Baseball caps were designed with a specific purpose in mind. Had the inventor of the cap known what would become of it, they probably wouldn’t have bothered. Ball caps aren’t meant to be worn backward, and there is one reason why.
There Is a Function to the Baseball Cap
In 1849 the New York Knickerbockers sported the first “baseball hat.” It was little more than a straw hat with a flat top and round brim circling the entire head. It was impractical and most likely itchy as all get-out. Then, in 1860 the Brooklyn Excelsiors debuted the great-grandfather to the modern baseball cap. Each player wore a rounded cap, made by Peck & Snyder, made of wool with a button on the top and an elongated bill. There were some competing styles, including the “pillbox,” which boasted a flat button top and horizontal striped crown, like what the Pittsburgh Pirates wore in the 1970s. By 1900 the Brooklyn-style cap would become the norm with all teams adopting some form of the cap. The Brooklyn-style cap had a distinct advantage over the others: the long bill. The bill shielded the players’ eyes from the sun. In the early years, baseball was only played during the day, so battling the sun was an everyday fight. Players would use the combination of the bill and their hands to shield the sun from their eyes. Ball caps aren’t meant to be worn backward because doing so renders it useless during a baseball game. Catchers can get the credit, or the blame, for backward hats. As part of their uniform, they wore a cap, but it was incompatible with the catcher’s mask, so they turned it around. Their use was functional and not some fashion statement.
When Did This Become a Thing?
It’s hard to trace the backward hat to patient zero because so many have worn it that way for so long. Pop culture is full of reverse hat-wearing revolutionaries who fight the system in a conformist sort of way. Sly Stallone used his backward hat to become an arm-wrestling machine in the 1980s movie, Over the Top. The Italian Stallion starred as an arm-wrestling truck driver who wore a pre-Von Dutch trucker hat that was his switch. When it was time to win the big match, he turned the hat backward and kicked butt. Hall of Fame baseball player Ken Griffey Jr. famously wore his cap backward all the time. During warmups, at the home run derby, and during batting practice, the junior Griffey made Gen Xers everywhere turn their hats around.
Wear your hat however you want. This is America, and we are free to do what we want. Pair your hat with a patriotic baseball jersey and rail against conformity.