Emphasize the Knockout In…Knocking Out Winter Headwear Woes

Jennifer Elgin is a freelance writer and broadcaster, covering fashion and sports beats for various media outlets. She attended the School of Journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she earned her B.S. in Broadcast Journalism. She loves fashion, fishing, the color red, traveling and sports. She currently resides in Memphis.

Though we are well aware of its annual, imminent approach, the winter season still manages to startle us every year with the first cold snap disturbing our peaceful autumn routines of gathering leaves and getting the kids readjusted to their fall school schedules.

This season is no exception. It seemed as soon as we threw out the slowly crumbling jack-o’-lanterns of Halloween, winter began seizing parts of the country in turn with its icy hands, showing no intention to back down for weeks. Make that months—the “official” winter season may kick-off in late December, but the cold, blustery days of benumbing weather patterns can span almost twice its calendar timeframe. This means full-body protection is absolutely essential, especially where heat can escape the body most rapidly: The head.

We take the precaution of wearing non-slip soles on our feet and gloves on our hands, but oftentimes don’t want to be seen in traditional bulky winter headwear that can rob us of the image we want to project at work or the PTA meeting. We want to stay warm, but are willing to sacrifice this staple if we think we look less than serious. (Tell me you’ve never witnessed anyone duck immediately into the men’s or ladies room to doff all evidence of hat hair and winter caps into their tote before they’ve been seen. I’ll believe you….)

There are no signs that winter plans to take it easy on us this year, so I asked a few industry experts just what solutions exist to keep us toasty warm, seasonably fashionable and promotionally functional until the anticipated thaw next spring. It’s awkward enough to juggle a teeming coffee mug and computer case while trying to honor plastic “Wet Floor” warning signs through the office doors, do we need to top off the grand entrance in headwear that disrupts the pulled-togetherness we strive to project? Not this year.

Cap-off winter needs for warmth

“Jacquard is a great way to weave in designs that will look very retail as opposed to promotional.” My ears literally perk up. Jacquard? You are speaking my language: Jacquard, an intricate weave used in creating tapestries, brocades and damask, adds interest to fine items and piques mine. “We can do these at one-hundred-forty-four piece minimums so there is not a huge investment required,” continues Tony Karlicek, CEO of Headwear USA, based in Frederick, Md., who acknowledges that there is certainly a demand and answer for headwear that looks off-the-rack, but is indeed promotional apparel, in jacquard.

Karlicek also cites a surge in cable-knit beanies this season. “These have a stripe pattern knit in the material, so they look great if you are in a suit or more formal business attire, and dress down easily as well,” he explains. These sleeker, more refined silhouettes are ideal for keeping in step with what winter tosses our way without drawing unwanted attention to our domes in the stiff, unforgiving shapes of headwear past. A warm winter hat that translates directly from the 3 p.m. office meeting to meeting buddies around the corner for the game? That’s something we can wrap our heads around.

Dan Saferstein, of Shawnee, Kan.-based Sportsman Cap Network, adds to the diverse attraction associated with knits this winter. “Knits are popular with both young and hip and more mature and conservative audiences. The younger generations see knit as a fashion statement. The more mature generations see knits as a warmth factor, so its appeal transcends all.” Safe to say that knit headwear can bridge age gaps seamlessly and keep us streamlined in our appearance all while paying homage to our ever-present efforts to stay bundled and healthy in this frigid season.

Varieties of a self-expressive kind

Just because winter knits can meet the toned-down needs of some fashion-conscious wearers, don’t think the market for highlighting individuality is sitting the bench this season. Streamlining a winter wardrobe-clad profile doesn’t have to mean stuffy or boring at all; the choices in promotional headwear for showcasing your clients’ message are limitless. Anyone can look pulled-together and stay warm until the solstice without stifling the urge to express their desired degree of flair.

Saferstein agrees that the slightest of tweaks can create a signature look for a client: “It’s all about fun with knits, whether it’s using rugby stripes, camouflage, bold colors, cuffed or un-cuffed, a flame detail or just a contrasting trim.” Decorators can use a range of subtle, less-is-more nuances, to overt “Notice me!” color palettes in making a headwear design distinctly your client’s own.

It may be months until the sun wipes out the stubborn gray landscapes of plowed snow and dreary skies, but that doesn’t have to render a bleak winter headwear forecast. Especially because colder temperatures are no indication of life slowing down; many people are more than determined than ever to avoid possible stir-craziness when the mercury drops.

Outside the office, headwear remains a constant for weekend winter fun as specialized hue selections and heavy knits to represent your favorite sports team or cold-weather activity are abundant. Saferstein also notes that color-coordinated winter headwear and complementary rugby scarves are appropriate and stylish for both men and women, all season long. As far as embellishments, embroidery remains a favored standard for decorating promotional headwear. Karlicek says that making this feature stand-up and pop-out proves very catching to the scrutinizing eye.

“Three-D embroidery is really becoming more popular as we are seeing this move away from cheap giveaway caps. They appeal to all ages.” He adds that the new, rapid demand for jacquard and the use of printed appliqué help to stay in line with the desire for headwear to appear more retail than promotional; and that skull and fleece-lined beanies are staples which provide significant warmth. In short, I may look ridiculous stumbling and flailing around the public ice-skating rink, but it won’t have anything to do with my winter wardrobe....

Head, not global warming

Being ecologically responsible has evolved from an idyllic grassroots hobby to a global necessity. In fashion terms, it is also moving away from earthy kitsch to eternally chic, and many people are determined to find everyday ways to integrate this mindset into a lifestyle. This means that green options in apparel must be made available to accommodate this shift in collective thinking. Saferstein says that green efforts have definitely made an impact in the headwear arena, and provides a new example made from a combination of bamboo, polyester and spandex.

“We have a bamboo cap that is antibacterial, wicks moisture away, does not create odor-causing residue and is eco-friendly.” Another sustainable cap model option Saferstein presents is manufactured from recycled plastic bottles. Recycled PET yarns, pre-dyed fiber blends and re-purposed woven labels are all innovative approaches to please the eco-conscious masses. Even using computer software to initially design and perfect an order down to the smallest detail can aid in avoiding unnecessary time and material waste.  

This inspired demand from customers certainly isn’t news to apparel and headwear industry pros. But the fact that this is the new here-to-stay standard and not a brief, societal soapbox trend, will continue to challenge suppliers to strike a balance in fulfilling this permanent category. Efforts to promote responsible products from the drawing room to the end-product can be more sustainable than others in each step of creation. Karlicek is well aware of this possible duality struggle in striving to meet green needs: “Organic is nice, but you still leave a carbon footprint. We are trying to reduce landfills.”Only through continued creative procedures and customer feedback will we be able to find parity in the quest to be environmentally prudent and fiscally profitable.

Positive winter headwear solutions you can tip your hat to…

I may still have to face the white-knuckled mornings of a powder-filled commute (after displaying impressive survival skills burrowing out from the front door to the driveway), but the utter humiliation of walking into a room looking like a soaked and defeated victim of the elements won’t plague me this winter.

Whether impeccably vogue in a jacquard knit beanie, hopelessly allegiant to my beloved Denver Nuggets in a proud display of powder blue and gold, or Earth-first in recycled wool, I needn’t compromise the luxury (and personal requisite) of looking polished for the absolute necessity to stay warm.

The lifelong habit of pining away for the dog days of summer while crossing my fingers that no one I know sees me adorned in the “practical”—read: wholly unattractive—oversized, nightmarish styles of dome-toppers in years past, can be re-delegated to a status of permanent vacation. Make that hibernation. While some of us warm up to the idea of long winter months more readily than others (present company excluded) we can all face the season with our headwear held high.