2007 November 15

dianaoftripoli.jpg It is that time of year again.  The bin men (whom I should probably call domestic waste removal engineers or something) coming down the street at six in the morning are wearing them.  The people sweeping the road with one of those little electric brushes on wheels machines are wearing them.  Even the guy who checks my ticket at the station has one on, although his, oddly, is under his railway cap.

What am I talking about?  The ubiquitous beanie, of course.  What I didn’t know, until I began to research the subject is that beanie is the name for two different types of hat and once again, it’s a case of two nations divided by a common language.

One kind, the beanie cap is made of felt, and was popular amongst schoolboys  – it was either brimless with a visor or, more commonly, no visor at all.  This became a cap made of panels  of several colours which was madly popular with American college fraternities because they could incorporate their school colours into it.  And that, in its turn, became the geek cap, which is essentially the same panelled, coloured, beanie, with the addition of (wait for it!) a propeller.  No, nobody knows why, but if you ever attend a linux conference, believe me, you will see enough propellers to run a wind farm.

Recently, and partly through the efforts of stars like Eminem, the other form of beanie has been more popular.  It’s usually made of fleece, or special synthetic material that wicks moisture away, which earns it one of its other names – the fleece hat. Woven or knitted versions are popular in winter sports.  The design is incredibly simple but the hats don’t only protect the head and ears from the cold and wet, they are increasingly worn as a fashion item, often heavily branded or with logos or slogans.  This is also called a Bronx cap in the UK, but not in the USA – weird but true.

The name beanie is used mainly in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. In the United States, this kind of headgear is variously known as a knit hat, stocking cap or skull cap. In India it is usually called a monkey cap. 

These knitted versions are also called bobble hats if they are topped with a pompon, which is common, and the bobble hat, as worn by Cartman in South Park, has become a fashion item of choice in the USA snowboarding world.

Who would have ever believed that the thing your gran used to knit for you, that made everybody laugh their heads off when you waited for the school bus, could become a Nike best-seller?  Life is strange.

Beanie photograph by Dianaoftripoli, used under a creative commons attribution licence.



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