Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

How the 5-panel cap took over

Image via HighSnobiety.com  Every generation has its key fashion item. From smiley face t-shirts, to low slung wallet chains, there’s always an accessory that becomes ubiquitous. Right now, it’s hard to argue with the popularity of the 5-panel hat. There’s …

Wed, May 16, 2012, 16:02


Image via HighSnobiety.com 

Every generation has its key fashion item. From smiley face t-shirts, to low slung wallet chains, there’s always an accessory that becomes ubiquitous. Right now, it’s hard to argue with the popularity of the 5-panel hat.

There’s little material out there documenting anything from the history to the tipping point of 5-panels. Some might trace it to the popularity of cycling caps amongst gay clubbers in Berlin and London, or indeed amongst bicycle couriers themselves who have slyly contributed a lot contemporary fashion and are generally overlooked in terms of influence, even though single-speed bikes, knee-length cut off shorts, and low, flat trainers are now part of urban style globally. For some, the 5-panels reign is an 80s and 90s throwback to when peaks on caps faced skyward, even though through the early 00s they became increasingly horizontal. For others it’s to do with adopting a skating cap with a peak that offers more visibility while you’re snotting yourself falling off a rail.

Whatever the muddled roots are, over the past four years, 5-panels have gone from a niche item to a necessary one. Norse Projects, Thrasher, I Love Ugly, Quiet Life, Obey, DOM and an almost endless array of other labels count the 5-panel as a label leader. Last summer, Irish label FucknFilthy debuted their woolen 5-panel caps.

And then there’s the biggy, James Jebbia’s Supreme. Supreme had been quietly carving a niche amongst skaters in New York since the mid 90s as the t-shirt, cap and backpack brand of choice alongside Vans and DC Shoes. A decade after the New York store took off, they opened one twice as big in LA in 2004. Four stores in Japan followed, along with a London branch last year. Their 5-panels are their winning product, snapped up every time new versions go on sale.

Leaving aside the caps other more tenuous origins, most kids who didn’t already own one would have come across Supreme and 5-panels when they saw Tyler, The Creator rocking them. Steeped in skate culture, Tyler and Odd Future were rarely seen without at least one 5-panel between the group in videos, interviews and photoshoots. Now at queues for their shows, 5-panels are the uniform, a uniform that made every fan want one and opened the flood gates for a hat trend occupying a space that fitted Starter caps and trucker hats previously occupied, taking a diversion for hipster snapbacks ironically advertising John Deers and dodgy beer brands. In 2012 5-panels are ubiquitous. Practically every new collection from a street label will carry a range, and on eBay, limited edition Supreme ones go for upwards of €100.

Garrett Pitcher runs Indigo & Cloth on Dublin’s South William Street. They stock Norse Projects 5-panels. “This whole 5-panel thing has only really caught me in the last 2 years. I was really aware of it in terms of street culture in New York, and that’s where Supreme was one brand that kicked it off,” he says, “We stock Norse Projects and they’ve kind of become the European Supreme. So we just have a stream of hipster kids coming in buying them. The crème de la crème is Supreme 5-panels. Supreme recently opened a store in London, and some people over here [Ireland] are literally flying to London just to buy up Supreme stuff.”

There’s also an economic reason for their popularity. You mightn’t be able to buy a Norse Projects jacket or a Supreme travel bag, but 5-panels are affordable, says Pitcher, “I think they’re popular because it’s the cheapest entry price point into a brand. Guys can afford it, in the same way women might go into Marc Jacobs and buy a wallet [not a bag].”

Clicking on a 5-panel tag on the youth fashion scrapbook that is Tumblr and the references are hypnotically endless, but as the design seeps its way into Urban Outfitters and the mass market, there’s still reverence for what kind of 5-panel you’re wearing. “It’s still all about the brand,” Pitcher thinks, “If you’re wearing a Supreme or Norse Projects cap, you can see it at the forefront on the hat. It’s all about the name of the brand.”

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