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Hat's Off To Headwear!

Heads Up! Caps and hats ain't what they used to be; they're better, more versatile and made with cooler materials and features. Here's a heads-up on headwear.

While the baseball cap continues to be the MVP (most valuable product) of the headwear category, other styles are making "headway," so to speak. These include visors, bucket hats, knit hats - even sombreros, sailor hats and reindeer antlers! The fact that hats and caps have universal appeal (and are now constructed in ways that fit either gender and any age group) is largely why they're right up there with T-shirts in the wearables pantheon.

Know Your Options
Caps these days are made from all kinds of materials, including twill, acrylic knit, mesh, micro fiber, suede and leather. Some are even available with the bills already bent (for those who don't know, 'bent' is cooler). Likewise, cap closures can be made from leather, suede, cloth, etc. for the recipient's added comfort. Features like pockets, Velcro® closures, chin straps, water-resistant coating, piping, color-blocking and texture also help make things more interesting.

Knit hats are available in traditional and newer versions, tweaked with custom colors, wild patterns, reversibility and high-tech linings. Imprints can be added with embroidery or by knitting directly into the fabric.

Suppliers are able to imprint caps just about anywhere. A few ideas:
  • front panel
  • back panel
  • side panel
  • over the closure
  • on the closure
  • on the bill
  • underneath the bill
Imprinting choices include silk-screening (a less expensive, but also less elegant, option than some others) and stitched-on, etched leather patches. Or you could do combinations of screen-printing, embroidery and debossing. Fiber-optic technology is even used so that imprints can be back-lit with batteries. Talk about attention-getters!

Embroidery Basics
Embroidery (one of the most popular methods of decorating headwear) has come a long way, but Stephen Wilson of Artbox Digitizing Studio notes that there are many misconceptions when it comes to embroidering six-panel caps. While many people think anything can be sewn onto a cap (mostly because of what's available in retail), the truth is that retail caps can be embroidered in so many areas because they're decorated before they're assembled. Most distributors don't have this advantage, since the quantities that need to be ordered for this type of process are often prohibitively high.

Restrictions in the industry, therefore, are mostly based on style and quantity. For example, two basic cap styles are: structured, which has a lining or backing that keeps the front of the cap stiff; and unstructured, which doesn't. Within those categories, you have different variations (see below). Sewing fields also differ for each of these styles, which means that the size of a logo may be limited, depending on cap selection. Some companies have strict guidelines for logo consistency.

Some special-effect embroidery techniques, such as 3-D puff, work well on caps and other stable materials. The process requires placing a piece of foam on the spot to be embroidered. The needle penetrates the foam as it sews across the top, cutting it like a cookie cutter. When sewing is finished, the excess foam is cut away. A raised design (a few millimeters above the fabric) remains.

A few other terms you should know:
  • low profile - This cap is unstructured and made to be form-fitting. The approximate sewing field is 1.5 inches high by 4 inches wide. A design higher than 1.5 inches will appear to ride up the top of the cap.
  • low crown - This is the most common cap on the market, and it can be either structured or unstructured. It has a sewing field approximately 2.25 inches high by 5 inches wide.
  • standard crown - These are generally structured caps and not as common today as they once were because of their large size. Most come in a five-panel version with a smooth, seamless front. They have the largest sewing field, about 2.5 inches high by 5.5 inches wide.
All these factors need to be considered in the beginning, saving you a lot of grief in the end. "The best thing to do is talk with your suppliers, designers and decorators," says Wilson.

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