As hat collectors and enthusiasts, we all speak with our New Era caps to represent our favorite characters, artists, brands and teams, and, most importantly, to fly our own flag, to show how we feel and who we are! New Era hats are now made in countless colors, styles, and designs. From caps representing our beloved teams in almost any colorway imaginable – such as flashy black and gold Blue Jays hats and neon Brewers fitteds – to the classic navy blue on-field Yankees 59FIFTY, the wide selection of choices available is almost endless! There are even caps encrusted with crystals, adorned with authentic Wookiee fur, or constructed with shiny metallic material that would make Tony Stark proud. And let’s not forget one of this year’s biggest releases: a hat embroidered with a bacon strip logo, because the MiLB Iron Pigs believe even the New Era on-field 59FIFTY is better with bacon! The love and enthusiasm for New Era and the brand’s wide variety of headwear has given birth to a thriving cap collector/enthusiast community, where people from all over the world and all walks of life have made lasting friendships bonding over the New Era brand. People trade and show off their caps, and share stories behind their favorite hats. Some have even created their own collaborative caps! Many collectors refer to this as living the New Era lifestyle, making them feel part of a Fitted Family. But would we have such a wide variety of New Era caps available, and would this thriving cap enthusiast community exist, if Spike Lee had never made that call to New Era CEO Chris Koch back in 1996, to request a custom red Yankees hat?
It was during the 1996 World Series that Spike Lee, a die-hard Yankees fan, wanted a red Yankees cap to match his red down jacket. No big deal, right? Except that during this period of time, there was no such thing as a custom cap.
A Yankees cap was navy blue and white, a Red Sox cap was blue and red, and a Dodgers cap was royal blue and white, and so on. This was not a time when you could get a hot pink snakeskin visor Yankees fitted to match your sneakers. Colors were synonymous with their teams, and most people would not have imagined wearing their favorite team’s cap in another color. When Spike Lee called New Era and asked for a Red Yankees fitted, they were not even sure that they could make one, due to the color red being associated with a rival team: the Boston Red Sox. So, Spike Lee called up the New York Yankees owner, the late George Steinbrenner, who is also known for making what would have been a groundbreaking hat decision had it not been called off: giving in to Jerry Seinfeld’s demands to hand out a fitted cap for a day to every fan in Yankees stadium. Steinbrenner gave the ok to Spike Lee, and the green light to New Era to go ahead and produce a red Yankees hat – a decision that would change cap culture forever. From this moment, Spike Lee said, the trend “took off.”
At the time when Spike Lee requested a custom Red Yankees hat from New Era, he did not know that he would make such a dramatic impact on fashion and culture – setting the trend for the modern-day custom cap and changing New Era’s business model forever. He just wanted a red hat. So, what if he had never made that call?
Would we be wearing our allegiance to our favorite teams in almost every color imaginable? Would we be speaking with our caps to represent ourselves, and flying our own flags proud, in a thriving cap community based around New Era’s wide variety of headwear? Would the friendships and bonds formed in that community have been made? We aren’t sure, but perhaps things would be very different. Maybe we would all still be wearing caps in only the standard team colors, with no other choices available. There’s a chance that creative character-themed caps and designer-inspired New Era headwear would not be in stores and on our heads, and it’s possible that our inclusive cap community might not even exist. We aren’t sure where cap culture would be, but what we do know is that the call Spike Lee made to New Era in 1996 changed everything, and had a vital role in shaping contemporary headwear fashion and the culture that surrounds it. So on July 24, 2014, go out and pick up the Heritage Series Collection that pays homage to the first red Yankees hat – and let’s all tip our caps to New Era CEO Chris Koch, the late George Steinbrenner, and, of course, Spike Lee, for the role they played in making cap culture what it is today.