A Case for the Knit Cap

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It seems that in the world of menswear, hats are a bit of a touchy subject.  I think most of us agree that it’s an elegant piece that provides some old school vibes, but it’s difficult to put into practice.  In those conversations, it’s mainly about fedoras and flat caps where the negative comments tend to be directed toward ballcaps and beanies.  But truth be told, I really like the beanie.

The beanie (or knit cap, as a  less casual name) has always had a bad taste in menswear.  It’s basically a round piece of knit cotton or wool that fits snugly on your head to keep you warm. Unlike a fedora or a cap, it has no structure or brim, so it doesn’t do much to frame your face.  The fact that it’s the mainstay of skaters, hipsters, and streetwear people probably leads to the [false] conclusion that it has no place in menswear.   I think that’s where the charm is.

You guys know by now that I’m a big fan of slouchy classic/vintage menswear.  I’m not about looking prim and proper, like some of the Leyendecker ads from the 1920s.  I’m really all about looking comfortable, which I believe makes menswear look easier and more accessible to people.   It wasn’t until I found the Armoury, Brycelands, and B&Tailor when I finally saw guys who made classic menswear look both elegant and natural.  With their sprezzy ties and pockets stuffed with hands, they approached menswear like it was just clothing.  In essence, they treated bespoke tailoring as if they were in a casual jacket and tee shirt.   But what if you add accessories to that method?

The knit cap really reigns supreme for me because of how slouchy it makes an outfit look.  Yes, it may be less formal than a fedora or flat cap, but that’s the point.  I don’t want to look like an elegant dude all the time (though I do have my moments).  The knit cap is supposed to keep you warm, right?  Who cares if it messes up your hair! That’s not the point;  the knit cap has a functional purpose.  Plus, I find fedoras and caps to be a little too stuffy for most outfits.  I do wear them, but it takes a lot of confidence and a lot of careful styling/posting to make myself not look like Indiana Jones or a gangster.

Unlike a flat cap or a fedora, the knit cap can actually be worn both with both sartorial and casual pieces.  I mean would you wear a fedora or a flat cap with a tee shirt? It doesn’t look right, while a knit cap and a suit can work since it’s functional at that point.  Perhaps my predilections for the fedora/cap come from the fact that it’s a very intentional style piece, which makes it hard to reconcile with a slouchy suit since it’s pretty dandy.   But that doesn’t mean that the knit cap doesn’t come with any style points.

In addition to keeping your head pretty warm, I think it adds some subtle pizzaz to an outfit.  If you compare it to a guy who isn’t wearing a beanie, obviously one person has a something extra.  Since I have a bit of an unruly head of hair, I think it works really well for me, spicing up my more “plain” casual wear.  We’ll get into this in a minute, but I think it’s best worn with minimal, dressed down outfits.  I still maintain its killer with tailoring though.

There are plenty of guys that I’ve looked at that wear knit caps with tailoring and casual wear.  I don’t think it detracts from the outfit at all.  Here’s some inspiration that I kept in my mind before I actually wore it myself.

Simon Crompton in a great overcoat and grey knit cap.

Milad Abedi.

The Armoury’s Ben Levy in a green cap and navy suit.

FE Castleberry in a great combo.

Alex Winchell for Drake’s.

Will Utama (Drake’s) rocking a combo that Spencer could do.

I think the person who best embodies the knit cap look is Ethan Newton, of Brycelands.  Like me, he is a fan of vintage and contemporary tailoring, often mixing the two to create a very classic look.  He wears his knit cap with a variety of different outfits, whether it’s odd separates or workwear.  Honestly, he was one of the main inspirations for me to explore the cap for myself.

The Knickerbocker Cap

Now I’ve tried knit caps/beanies before.  Not in a menswear sense mind you, but just in my casual attire.  I’m pretty sure there’s a “hipster Ethan” outfit from my tumblr back in college that has me wearing it the lame way, hanging off the back of my head like a wanna-be cool guy.  But now, I’ve actually decided to try one for myself and wear it the proper way.

I lucked out that my friend Cody Wellema of the Wellema Hat Co stocks a few great items other than his bespoke hats, like these 100% cotton knit caps from Knickerbocker Mfg.  He only had a few pieces (like 4) in each color, so I picked up the red and navy ones right away.  I visited him this past weekend and he only had two in the cream left!

Even Cody gave me inspiration to wear them.

Wearing the Knit Cap

So now I wear the knit cap almost all the time, when I’m not at work. It’s been pretty chilly here in LA, so it’s been plenty useful!  Unsurprisingly, a lot of people have been pretty vocal about how much they don’t like it.  You can’t imagine how many comments I get saying that my outfits would look much better with a fedora or flat cap (or even no cap at all). But the fact remains that it’s versatile and does what I intend it to do: makes things look super casual.

After work, I’m usually hanging out with my friends.  Sometimes I don’t bring a change of clothes, so I just go in my sportcoat, tie, and trousers.  To prevent myself from looking too out of place with my friends (who are not into menswear at all), I wear my knit cap.  In my mind, it looks more like “slouchy dude who just got off work” instead of “weird guy who wore a suit to get boba”.   Makes tailoring look unassuming, akin to wearing loafers, white socks, or having a natural shoulder.  To be quite honest, I think that it gives that NYC vibe to an outfit, where people literally wear caps (both of knit and ball) to protect themselves against the elements.  It’s a utilitarian thing that can double as a style points.

It’s been pretty cold and windy here in LA, though not as harsh as NYC, but it’s still perfectly reasonable for me to wear a knit cap.

You’ll notice that almost all of these outfits incorporate texture.  That’s probably both intentional and for function, as the cold tends to require both heavy textures and some form of headwear.  With tailoring, the knit cap is almost always worn with flannels, tweeds, and layers.  The case was the same, if you look back at the top; the knit cap is worn with “rugged” tailoring.

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Now on the subject of style points, I maintain that it looks really good with casual wear.  I touched on it earlier, but I want to explain more.  I always feel like my casual attire is a little plain.  I do prefer something a bit more minimal (ie, no striped shirts + patterned ties) but I had always felt like it was too basic. The knit cap/beanie intrigued me, so I found myself wearing it.  I don’t have to worry about my hair (which is one thing that I’m semi-self conscious about) and it usually ties into the dark theme of the outfit.

Obviously layers and textures can play into a casual “rugged” outfit, but it’s not entirely necessary.  I think the knit cap looks great with a tee + trousers and a leather jacket + chinos.
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Conclusion

My knit cap has become one of my most worn pieces, since I literally wear it with everything: tailoring & casual wear.  It’s an incredibly minimal accessory that isn’t rakish like a fedora/flat cap and isn’t too sporty like a ball cap.  I often catch myself feeling self conscious when I’m in other headwear, so this was a great purchase.

Above all else, the knit cap isn’t stuffy at all.  In fact, it dresses down an outfit more than anything, which is exactly what I want it to.  When it’s worn with casual stuff, it just adds a little bit of extra style that I always feel is missing!  Wearing a tee shirt and jeans? Throw on a beanie.  Leather jacket and chinos? Beanie.  Chore coat? Beanie.   It’s the appeal of wearing a hat but without any of the stigma.  When it’s worn with tailoring, it looks like “this dude is sharp but he’s got no one to impress”. I like that.  I’m long past the days of looking like an elegant gentleman.  My goal is to make vintage and classic menswear look as easy as possible for anyone who might ask me something.

I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for this article, but I couldn’t really care less.  A lot of people say a fedora or a flat cap is the ultimate menswear head accessory and that I should never wear a knit cap.  But I don’t want to wear a fedora or flat cap.   You could say the same thing when referring to brown suits.  Sure brown suits are cool, but they aren’t as versatile or classic as a navy one. Once you dress beyond social convention, you can pair things together however the hell you want.  And if you want to wear a fedora, then you should!  Just apply the same principles I talked about here.

For now, I’ll keep going with my knit cotton cap.  It does everything I need to and actually ties into my outfits pretty well, whether they are suits or streetwear-esque. That’s probably due to the fact that I’m usually wearing something navy in the first place.    In general they just feel cool to me.  They have that “I don’t give any fucks” attitude, which certainly holds true for me.  I like wearing it and I don’t care what other people think.

Why not try it for yourself?

Always a pleasure,

Ethan W.

@ethanmwong 

Street x Sprezza 

20 comments

  1. Thomas L Jung · March 5, 2018

    Love a good knit cap. Kind of a bummer for me as I have relatively short hair on the sides, so I look bald whilst wearing one… Wish I had that Antonio Ciongoli flow.

    Great post, my guy.

    Like

    • Ethan W. · March 5, 2018

      Thanks Thomas!

      I keep my sides short, so whenever I get a haircut, I tend to also look bald! I definitely got that comment from my friends when I first started wearing it.

      Like

  2. Kingston L. (@EveryMan_Style) · March 10, 2018

    I’ve found that a knit cap also works excellently as a sleeping mask. This makes it great for travel when you have screaming kid sitting behind you. If you can’t dull your hearing when trying to catch some winks, at least you can dull your sight!

    Like

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