It's Much, Much More Than Just a Hat
Growing up in the Boston suburbs in the 1980s, Doug Karp and Ben Fischman loved to wear hats, but couldn’t find a decent place to buy them. The selection at the mall or at sporting goods stores like Herman’s was always crammed into ill-tended racks in the corner. Too often they had to settle for a cap with cheap mesh backing, or a B stuck flat against the fabric instead of stitched out on it. For something so simple, there was a surprising amount that could go wrong.
In fact, no one had gotten it right since 1860, when the Brooklyn Excelsiors became the first squad to wear what we’d recognize today as a modern ballcap (theirs were black with white stitching at the seams). Although "Brooklyn caps" soon became de rigueur on the diamond, people simply did not wear them in polite company. Considering how bland most were, there was little incentive to. The Red Sox, for example, donned unadorned (often white, sometimes red or blue striped) hats from their 1901 founding into the Great Depression. In 1931, they added a solitary red sock, but shelved it after one season, spending 1932 in the wilderness of logo-less headwear before finally settling on the style they’ve worn ever since. (Nobody seems quite sure why that design stuck.) From a fashion and manners perspective, caps for non-ballplayers remained taboo for the next few decades. But when social change rocked the ’60s, sartorial mores began to loosen. They continued loosening, and by the ’80s, hats at last started appearing off the field.
Still, as young Karp and Fischman discovered, the crown was always too high or the bowl the wrong shape or the front puffed up too much. All this was of little concern to adults, but Karp, Fischman, and their friends were embracing the idea that hats shouldn’t just be declarations of allegiances. They should also be deliberately chosen components of one’s attire.
For years the two implored their fathers, bigwig shopping-mall developers Steven Fischman and Stephen Karp (who later unsuccessfully attempted to buy the Red Sox), to open a new kind of hat store in one of their area malls, a store that would address the fit of the cap as well as the decorations sewn onto it. Their dads brushed off the idea, but the teenagers kept at it. Finally, having heard enough, the fathers told their sons to stop talking and go do it themselves.