When talking about the history of the trucker hat in a broader evolutionary perspective one must first dwell at its precursor, the baseball cap. The baseball cap paved the way for what was to become known as the trucker hat.
The baseball cap is so ubiquitous in American culture that it could be called America’s national hat. Made up of a soft cap and stiff visor, it is typically adjustable at the back thanks to a plastic, Velcro or elastic band. The baseball style of cap derived from earlier brimmed hats popular in the late 19th century, including deerstalkers popularized by the illustrations of Sherlock Holmes, jockey caps, military “pillbox” caps, fedoras and boaters. The earliest baseballs caps were made of wool with a leather bill and were worn exclusively by baseball players in the mid- to late-19th century. As the 20th century dawned, the headgear moved off the field and into everyday wardrobes.
The earliest baseball teams — the sport was invented in America around 1800 and the National League founded in 1876 — did not wear standardized hats. Players were free to wear any type of brimmed hat to keep the sun out of their eyes. Many preferred the straw boater style or the pillbox style. Spalding’s Official Baseball Guide of 1888 shows a wide variety of caps worn by baseball players, including soft and hard cap styles. The cap as we know it today began to take shape around the turn of the century: air holes were added in the 1890s; a logo appeared for the first time in 1901, when the Detroit Tigers put an image of a running orange tiger on the front of the cap; sticking was added to the visor in 1903; longer bills were introduced in the 1920s and 1930s, and the visor became firmer; the crown became more vertical by the 1940s, allowing the front of the cap to become a billboard of sorts and shaping it into the style of cap that we know today. In 2007, the Major Baseball League changed the standard cap from wool to polyester for players’ comfort.
The baseball cap did not become socially acceptable for non-sport wear until the late 1970s. The explosion of televised sports, in the late 1970s and early 80s largely contributed to the acceptability of the baseball cap for the common wearer—a tendency fueled further by the likes of TV and movie stars such as Tom Selleck in the role of Thomas Magnum on Magnum, P.I, the character of MacGyver from the show of the same name, and Tom Cruise in Top Gun (just to name a few), cemented the cap’s transition from field to fashion.
The trucker hat came about in it’s true form in the early 1970’s as a promotional give-away from U.S. feed or farming supply companies to farmers, truck drivers (hence the name), or other rural workers, as companies began to realize the cap’s potential for advertising and promotional. Cheap to produce, they also became known as “feed hats” or “gimme hats.”
The wide front panel made it an ideal platform for emblazoned company logos and at the same time functional, practical and cheap. It soon became part of the ‘uniform’ of rural workers all over the States. The combination of the stiff, long peak with the comfortable foam front and the breathable mesh back meant that the cap not only protected the wearer from the sun but it readily absorbed sweat too.
The practical cap worn by truckers and farmers soon became a staple of blue collar uniform and an iconic symbol of Americana, boosted by the countless Hollywood productions, rock stars etc.
Baseball caps come in all sorts of variations, but the most classic is that of the traditional baseball player uniform. Typically constructed with six triangular(ish) panels/sections, creating a low crown as compared to the high crown of the trucker hat. The baseball caps have a slightly curved bill or brim in front and a fabric-covered button on top (called a “squatchee”). Fabric eyelets or metal grommets are normally included in the top of the cap for ventilation. Baseball caps were originally made in standard hat sizes, and a fitted baseball cap was the only kind available until 1980. After 1980, however, adjustable baseball caps became available, featuring adjustable snap, velcro, or strap closures, as well as “stretch-fit” fabrics.
A trucker hat (or trucker cap) is most frequently done in a five-panel construction, creating the very characteristic front that stands up tall and straight, also referred to as the crown (high crown/high profile). In turn this makes them an ideal platform for emblazoned company logos. Another key distinguishing feature is the nylon mesh back, designed with breathability in mind, as well as the foam front panel and snapback closure for one-size-fits-all adaptability.