New Era is the most recognisable sports headwear brand on earth, and with four generations of family ownership behind it, the brand comes from humble beginnings. Founded in 1920, New Era was established with the goal of revolutionising the hat business. The brand might have started in the 20s with a focus on Gatsby-style hats; that style of course didn’t survive the decades unlike the baseball cap the brand would come to perfect like no other. Baseball was growing and growing in popularity around this time, and as Americans begun to find themselves with more disposable wealth, going to sports games and spending money on clothing and accessories became more and more commonplace. New Era took advantage of this culture and economic shift, and its simple, robust designs were enough to win over fans from across America. The initial baseball cap wasn’t the New York Yankees cap that has become the most iconic New Era cap by some way – it was the 1934 Cleveland Indians cap which would be seen around the country. By the 50s New Era was the MLB’s only independent cap maker, sponsoring the Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers, and soon afterwards the 59Fifty cap would establish itself as the most-loved hat in sports, with a comfortable design.
Of course, we all known New Era for its impact on the culture in the 90s, a time where New Era caps became more than just a uniform for athletes. Sure, New Era hats are functional, simple, and keep the sweat from an athlete’s eyes, but in the 90s something else happened beyond simple how a New Era hat is made. The brand’s caps became a fashion statement, ubiquitous across New York, then the US, then the planet. Rappers, singers, film directors, actors, and just about everybody else have been seen in New Era caps, extending the brand’s reach far beyond the sporting arena in which New Era was established. It’s fair to say New Era isn’t just about baseball anymore, and that’s down to one man. In 1996 Spike Lee called New Era CEO Chris Koch to request a custom, entirely personalised hat. Spike Lee’s red cap request shifted from the strict guidelines that New Era, and indeed any sports designs, had established – that a cap can only be in its team’s colours. So for the New York Yankees, you wear dark blue. Spike Lee, director of School Daze and Do The Right Thing, requested red, and in doing so changed how sports and streetwear looked at each other. It established the era of fans wanting to wear the caps, and not just watch their stars do their thing. At this point, colour choices and design options started rolling out, and New Era started popping up outside of stadiums. New Era’s strength and popularity fits the sentiments that athletes want to be rock stars and rock stars want to be athletes, which goes a long in explaining the presence of the brand across celebrities in music. The culture that emerged with the New Era cap has become ingrained in everyday fashion, particularly the New York Yankees hat that has been seen on rappers from Nas and Jay-Z to a countless host of actors and singers throughout the years.
The New Era brand remains strong – as strong as ever – as it moves into its third decade post-Spike Lee’s request. In that moment, its entire impact on society changed, and it’s where New Era became more than most brands – it became a culture globally. People across the planet wear baseball caps by New Era who have never watched a baseball match, something that is testament to the power of the brand. At General Pants, we stock the brand’s most influential styles, including the 9Twenty, 9Forty, and 9Fifty, designed for both men and women.