Keep up with Consumer Demand

With a professional sales and marketing background that spans more than 30 years, Mark Stern pioneered sales efforts for the original Flexfit hat in the mid-1980s and has held the position of vice president of sales for Flexfit since 2004. He lives on Long Island, N.Y. with his wife and two sons.

Trends in headwear are truly consumer-driven. (Image courtesy Bodek and Rhodes)

Headwear has claimed its place in the fashion arena in the 21st century. The construction of a cap seems more influenced by fashion trends now than ever. Age-specific as ever, construction largely depends upon the lifestyle preferences of different generations. 

Keeping score

The high-profile cap has become the hallmark for the active sports-inspired lifestyle and for those looking to project that look through fashion. Originally designed and constructed to accommodate professional athletes, the high-profile cap has morphed several times in recent years, and has gone on a journey from the athletic field to urban areas of the U.S., finally descending upon suburban neighborhoods. The structured crown of the high-profile cap is now a must-have for young suburban males aged 14 through 25.

Looking at the style and construction of a baseball player’s cap, it’s evident that caps for this segment have not changed over the years. It is still a wool blend, structured, high-profile cap. We also see tradition is important in that there are much cooler fabrics than wool to be worn in the spring/summer. But the style is classic and therefore has remained intact. That’s why cap manufacturers are now offering performance headwear that provides the aesthetic and tactile qualities of wool in order to accommodate this long-held baseball tradition. 

In performance headwear, the fabrics are actually lighter and offer moisture- wicking properties. This is another case of fashion trends and aesthetics overriding functionality and the headwear industry rising to the occasion by providing a similar look with a more functional and comfortable construction. 

Eyelets were originally constructed as a means of breathability and to address cooling concerns. (Image courtesy Flexfit)

Golfers have generally been quite conservative in their headwear choices and have historically worn low-profile caps that conform to their heads made of garment-washed fabrics that are pliable. Bright luxurious colors have also been a mainstay among pro-golfers. Interestingly, the younger generations of professional golfers are now going for the higher-profile look with a flat visor, and it is the young players who are now bringing that trendy headwear look to the golf course. 

Consumer conscious

Trends in headwear are truly consumer-driven.

At the minute, trends in decoration point to sublimation and screen printing on caps. For this reason, although six-panel caps are still selling in larger numbers, there is a noted increase in awareness and availability of five-panel caps. Sublimation practitioners and screen print professionals find five-panel caps easier for both screen printing and sublimation; the lack of a center seam makes five-panel caps easier to embellish.

As mentioned earlier, “performance headwear” is the huge buzz-term lately in the headwear industry and, slowly but surely, headwear consumers from many industries and hobbies are catching onto this trend and requesting it when placing their orders. Ten years ago, the idea of a performance-enhanced cap was introduced with much less fanfare. Spanning the past three or four years, performance apparel has emerged in the marketplace in the form of technical base layers that regulate body temperature, and as various forms of performance-enhancing exercise and athletic and performance wear. These were brought to mainstream consumers’ attention via pro athletes, employing the age-old “I wanna be like Mike” marketing ploy. The idea of technical fabrics and fabrications has seeped into public consciousness, creating a demand for and causing buyers to request performance caps for promotional use.

Consumers are continuously finding new and innovative ways for using caps as a means of effective advertising for their goods and services. (Image courtesy Heritage Sportswear Inc.)

Performance headwear is the huge buzz-term in the headwear industry. (Image courtesy Champion)

Style and function

Buckram is a staple in headwear manufacturing and construction, and serves as the backbone for the shape of a cap. Buckram is the fabric that holds the crown of the cap and tends to the structure of the cap. Hard buckram is used in high-profile caps, sometimes along with a secondary fabric to allow for the crown to have height and maintain its structure. Buckram also makes embroidering less labor-intensive as it holds the fabric tight enough to create a better finished product. Low-profile caps also use buckram in a softer variety.

Sandwich visors are another specific example of headwear construction that has become more readily-available as people discover the fashion and promotional benefits, particularly with overseas headwear manufacturing. Sandwich visors do not add to the functionality of a cap and are purely aesthetic. While most consumers simply like the appearance of a two-toned sandwich visor as it adds some dimension and variety to the cap, organizations such as NASCAR utilize this style concession as a place for promotional graphics. Some patriotic caps will even feature an American flag worked into the sandwich. This type of intricate design construction is (ironically) done in overseas factories where the promotional design is either displayed on top or underneath the visor.

One headwear trend that may become obsolete in decades to come is the eyelet. Years ago, when caps were constructed according to functionality, manufacturers designed eyelets as a means of breathability and to address cooling concerns. In recent years, with the advent of moisture wicking technology, eyelets went from being strictly functional as a way of staying cool to merely an aesthetic trend fueled by habitual headwear manufacturing.

Fabric factors

Just before the Great Recession, we saw consumers’ heightened awareness of eco-friendly apparel and accessories, looking to organic cotton blends and fabrics like bamboo as earth-friendly alternatives. As part of this trend, consumers are also aware of tactile characteristics when deciding upon a fabric for a cap—fabrics such as garment-washed cotton and brushed cotton twill have a soft hand, something that is always highly in demand for casual cap wearers. Yet, in light of the new economy, headwear consumers and buyers on the wholesale level are also thinking more about their wallets. As a result, we’ve seen sales decline in eco-friendly caps due to higher manufacturing costs—a notion of perceived cost-differences among consumers and due to the current rising costs of organic materials. The cost of fabric, in general, has gone up and eco-friendly caps are more labor-intensive. 

Still, eco-friendly caps have held their ground among certain segments of the market that are resolute in their eco-consciousness. Others are still concerned with making an eco-friendly statement to the public and to their customers, and will incur the extra costs of buying eco-friendly caps as a result. 

Fashion fabrics have also become a big item in headwear. (Image courtesy MV Sport)

Fashion statement

Fashion fabrics have also become a big item in headwear. Patterns that emulate men’s suiting, such as the pin stripe, sophisticated and collegiate plaids and even paisley prints, for a few examples, are popular patterns finding their way into the headwear market. Any type of fabric that is being created for apparel can now easily apply to headwear manufacturing as well. These fashion caps are also constructed as mid or high profile since that is what is currently driving the market. 

Recap

What we are seeing in the evolution of headwear are four distinct patterns that influence style and construction. The functionality of features in headwear, such as high-profile buckram structured caps, has trickled down from the pro-sports fields into the urban and then suburban neighborhoods. Secondly, temperature-regulating methods such as the old-fashioned eyelet have given way to cool and dry technology and lighter fabrics that retain their aesthetic appeal. We also see the younger generation’s influence on headwear that put fashion trends first and comfort and function second no matter where they tip their hat. Finally, our economic reality greatly dictates our fabrics of choice. 

Throughout these trends, one thing remains the same; consumers with commercial interests are continuously finding new and innovative ways for using caps as a means of effective advertising for their goods and services.