Young boys share many common fashion trends and wearing a cap probably tops them all. Most boys in the north consider wearing a hat as a normal part of the dress code. It is almost a necessity to wear a cap at one point in your life up here in the far north. There is a ritual surrounding the wearing of a hat. It is not just a matter of putting on a piece of fabric on your head. To many guys and girls, it is a fashion statement, a status symbol and a form of self expression.
In the 60s and 70s, the hunter’s cap became popular with people up the coast. It was something to wear in the summer months to keep the biting insects off your head. It was made from tough durable fabric that ensured it would last for years.
The green hunter’s cap was a plain hat, with a low rise top and a soft felt visor to keep the sun from your eyes. I think these types of caps started the fad in the north. The hunter’s cap was the first one that was used as a status symbol or a fashion statement by the people I knew back home in Attawapiskat. If you wore the cap, it meant that you could afford a little bit of luxury and you were up with the trends. It also meant you were a hunter and if you wore it in the community, it let everyone know what your main occupation was in life. As most people were hunters in those days you can imagine soon we had a flood of hunter capped heads on the streets all the time.
There came an evolution to traditional headgear in the 80s up the coast. It was during this period that the hunting cap slowly disappeared and the trucker cap was introduced to the north. This cap featured a large and stiff visor with a higher rise top that was more square and angular with a foam front and the back was a mosquito net mesh.
These were more personal pieces of head gear. There was a wide variety of styles and colours to choose from. The foam front of the cap was the place to advertise to the world and it could include a witty remark, a lame joke, a cartoon figure or a company logo.
The trucker cap was the first cap that could be stylized to the individual. You could leave it alone and wear it as you bought it. Others chose to curve the visor to their liking. Some wore it deep over their forehead and others kept it light fitting over their hair. The traditional hunter could also retain a need for a status symbol by stitching a small slick duck feather or two into the mesh.
In the 90s, I became part of the generation that adopted the baseball cap. To my friends and I these were more sophisticated pieces of head gear as compared to the ones worn in the previ-ous decade. These were made of wool or cotton with a stiff visor and featured sports logos. Your loyalty and support of a sports team helped to make you an individual. So I was eager to buy my first sports hat which was adorned with the Oakland A’s baseball team logo.
The trick was to choose a team that you thought was a winner and that made you a winner. We felt like if they won, we won and if they lost, we went down with the team, hat and all. These hats became almost like works of art with all types of embossed and coloured and textured logos. They were expensive too and you were judged on how much you spent on your hat. People actually commented on the quality and look of these hats. It was a big deal for a teenager.
Back then, caps of any kind were also head pieces we could use to help us hide from the world. Most of us chose to wrap the cap over our heads. You curved the visor around your brow to keep the world away. With a cap it was easy to turn away from the gaze of another person by simply facing down and allowing your trustworthy cap to keep you out of sight. I remember at one point feeling almost naked if I did not have my cap on. Most of us were just very low on self esteem in those days.
It took me about a year to wean myself away from my cap. This happened during a period where I was gaining more confidence by being able to face the world without the help of a shell to hide behind. Donit get my wrong, I still love wearing a cap when I am working outdoors or travelling on the land. It is more about protection.
The sports style cap of the 90s is still worn but it has evolved yet again into something new. Now it is more popular to leave the visor alone, let the cap slide back and even point it off to one direction or another. It seems to be a style more confident and fashionable rather than as a prop to hide under. However, it is still used as a status symbol more than ever. Today hats don’t only feature team logos. They are designer wear and they can be styled with fashion labels, band logos or elaborate designs and colour combinations. The sky is the limit.
I gave my last cap away a few years ago to a young Cuban boy living with his family near the ocean outside the city of Santiago de Cuba. He came right up and asked me for it. I had a brief moment of hesitation but in the end I saw in him a little of the boy that I was at one point in my life. I realized that a well worn Michigan Wolverine cap would mean the world to him. In a way it also released me. It was empowering to easily pull the cap from my head and give it away. After all, it was just a cap.