Class conscious - Andrew Martin

Baseball caps make sense in America. Here they just spell "idiot"

I was sitting in a traffic jam in horrible, violent Kentish Town when a juvenile delinquent came walking out of a side street. He wasn't much more than three foot tall, and probably about eight years old. He wore gear that I've lately learnt to call Chav: luminous white trainers, baggy jogging pants, sweat shirt with the hood worn down to make way for the cherry on top of the Chav ensemble: the baseball cap.

I watched this kid. I knew he was going to do something violent and illegal, it was just a matter of when. I'd only moved a few feet forwards before - this being Kentish Town - the kid found a glass bottle in the gutter. This he thoughtfully rolled out into the road ahead of me, probably in the hope of puncturing my tyres. A middle-aged man in non-Chav gear (a long mac) saw this action, rolled his eyes at the kid, and walked into the road to retrieve the bottle. "Why did you do that?" he asked the kid. "What?" said the kid, who then added, after a pause for thought, "Fuck off."

The kid's baseball cap carried the Nike tick, which, when so located, always seems like the affirmative answer to the question: "Idiot below?" Five minutes later, as I parked in Camden, I saw a girl sitting on a traffic bollard which had been transplanted to the middle of the pavement. She was kicking it rhythmically; she was wearing a baseball cap.

It used to be that all Britons wore hats, and that is becoming true again. As I sat in that traffic jam, almost all of the dozen or so people who walked past my car wore hoods or hats, mainly baseball caps. I've never seen anybody in a baseball cap that I'd like to have spoken to, and Michael Moore would cut more ice with me if he didn't wear one. I must admit that I own one myself. I can't remember where it came from. It says "Arsenal" on the front, inevitably. Looking back, I've only ever worn it when I've felt depressed or out of sorts, and I recall that Hugh Grant wore one after that embarrassing business on Sunset Boulevard, as a sort of penance.

The baseball cap is the main symbol of the Americanisation of Britain. There's some American logic to this headgear: it keeps the sun out of your eyes as you throw a pitch in baseball (the first baseball team to wear them were the Brooklyn Excelsiors in 1860), or as you shoot some people in a trailer park in Dallas. We don't have much sun here, only the Sun, although I admit that global warming and the huge sunshades affixed to baseball caps do seem to be coming together in a nightmarish modern convergence. Most people here seem to have forgotten that baseball caps come from America. You can buy one from St Andrew's Golf Club the design of which "represents over six hundred years of golfing history".

If people are going to dress like proles then they could at least dress like British proles. "Flat cap wearing" used to be a term of abuse, but now it's more of a compliment, because the flat cap wearer is a cut above the baseball cap wearer. Flat caps are more elegant than baseball caps, they keep your head warm in winter, it's practically impossible to wear them backwards, and there's no point in affixing brash logos to them because they would only end up pointing towards the sky.

Most good old traditional British flat caps are now made in China, I once read, but I would suggest to one of those few remaining North Country manufacturers of flat caps that they offer a nationwide amnesty for a limited period only: your old, blood-stained, battle-scarred baseball cap for a brand new flat cap. It could kick-start a flat cap revival, and help get things back on track in this country.

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