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Old is New

Headwear manufacturers propel the category forward by putting modern twists on retro trends.

By Jennifer Morrell, Contributing Writer

July 23, 2019

If you think about the state of the headwear category one year ago, you’ll probably remember a proliferation of retro headwear, with the front-and-center positioning of trucker and low-profile styles. Denim and mesh also were commonly seen.

While some of these trends have made an appearance again in 2019, a few new styles and colors also will be ushered into the mix.

“Standout colors include seafoam and coral,” says Ben Roberts, senior vice president of marketing, Outdoor Cap. “With fabrics, it depends a lot on the category the hats are in. But you’ll see bold patterns, sublimation and even pop-culture references.”

The 1980s neon color scheme currently is trending strongly, says Stacy Ki, marketing associate with Flexfit. Neon shades, which began as a micro-trend in 2018, undoubtedly constitute a 2019 fashion statement.

“Our top-selling style, [the] 6606T YP Classics retro trucker two-tone [cap], now features neon colorways: neon green and neon orange,” Ki says. “With the charcoal body and neon mesh backing, it will be a great introduction to incorporate neon colorways into your wardrobe.”

While mesh-back caps have been uber popular for nearly a decade, the actual structure is the real phenomenon, Roberts says. Right now, the popularity of certain structured caps is stemming from the outdoor
industry, thanks to retailers like Patagonia. “Now, everyone has their version or multiple versions of these caps,” he says.

It seems the “everything-old-is-new-again” sentiment will continue to ring true for the headwear category.

“As fashion’s cyclical tendency allows the inevitable rise of past trends, designers and brands continue to modernize retro trends,” Ki says. “It’s quite apparent that retro, older styles are now the norm. Consumers are flashing their individuality and sense of style through their nostalgia with vintage-styled caps, like the trucker and low-profile styles.”

And that may be because trucker hats are priced lower than the traditional, all-fabric baseball cap. “Being in a promotional industry where pricing is constantly a concern, this may have contributed to the popularity of trucker caps,” says Tina Liu, marketing manager for OTTO Intl. “Low-profile caps just fit and look better on the majority of the population, hence the popularity. Your mid-profile or even high-profile caps tend to give a person the appearance of having a big forehead when not worn properly.”

Innovation Drivers
“Innovation in most headwear for 2019 is coming out of [the] surf and skate [markets],” Roberts says. “With our retail business and partnerships in that industry, we have a great line to what is coming next year from that vertical.”

Roberts adds that the same stylistic innovations will be seen in Outdoor Cap’s promotional lineup.

While some trend drivers center on culture and lifestyle, simple comfort will never take a back seat when it comes to headwear. Neither will sustainability, especially considering the booming generation of environmentally conscious consumers currently swarming the marketplace.

“Sustainability is a driver for more and more people,” Roberts says. “Where did you get it? How was it made? Is it something that isn’t bad for the planet? These are things people want to know when they are buying products today.”

Neck-and-neck with the idea of comfort is the concept of performance. “Although consumers find comfort a top priority, the performance technology behind it is a crucial function as well,” Ki says. “Our Flexfit 110 Pro-Formance cap is not only fused with Flexfit Technology and an adjustable back closure for a responsive and comfortable fit, but also engineered with Pro-Formance technology to wick perspiration away and maintain its premium look.”

Business Drivers
Whether retail brands still loom large at the wholesale level really depends on the end user’s market.

“Rather than shifting away from the trend for ‘branded’ headwear, industry suppliers are required to think about the quality and consistency of their product on a different level,” Roberts says. “They have to have the same high expectations as the consumers of name brands.”

According to Roberts, retail’s influence on the wholesale channel still is strong, but the delay has shrunk considerably. “The reason is the promo [market] is becoming more retail, as every small business is trying to build a brand of their own,” he says. “We’re seeing our promo customers push the envelope of design, style and ambition when it comes to what they want to best represent their clients’ small businesses or events.”

Consumers experience a strong relationship with retail through mobile technology and e-commerce, and the expectation of B2B customers has evolved just as much as B2C customers.

“Everyone wants the ‘Amazon’ experience, regardless of what e-commerce site they are purchasing from,” Roberts says. “We have upped our experience substantially over the past few years and are continuing to evolve based on feedback and our customers’ needs for more self-service, quicker response and transparency to things like order status. We’re also in the process of becoming fully compliant with Promo Standards.”

Popular Patterns
Camo patterns will remain popular and more versatile than ever.

“With the military-inspired trend, camo has been seamlessly integrated into the streetwear market for everyday wear,” Ki says. “Our best-selling Flexfit and YP Classics styles are now equipped with MultiCam patterns that provide the perfect utilitarian look.”

Design trends also are running the gamut, from minimalism to bold logos. Consumers are happy to conspicuously reveal their brand loyalty. Logo-centric patterns and an emphasis on brand identity have a prominent place in the headwear market.

Men’s styles will encompass florals and allover prints this season, including plaids, tie-dyes and geometric patterns, Roberts says. For women, it’s all about fabrics: metallic leathers, velvets, heavy-washed denim and frayed edges.

On the Horizon
Headwear’s future remains positive and strong. “Look for surf, skate and coastal brands to continue to shape wider trends across headwear,” Roberts says.

One trend to watch is how sustainability affects the headwear category as has been the case in most other apparel sectors.

“Since sustainability is gradually becoming more of a norm rather than a trend for the fashion industry, we view brands taking on and prioritizing sustainability,” Ki says. “As a company that is constantly evolving, we’ve been closely researching sustainable practices that we can implement into our products.”

For example, plastic waste is a threat to the environment, so Flexfit has created its Rescued + Renewed collection. Ki defines it as headwear engineered with renewed fabric made of recycled plastic bottles.

“The end goal of our Rescued + Renewed collection is to become a catalyst in promoting the protection and prosperity of our planet,” she says.

Jennifer Morrell is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at