Intense and vital debate! Hats vs. caps

Join in an intense and vital debate upon which rests the fate of the internet! The very fate of humanity hinges on this important issue.

A friend just said that he needed to buy a hat while he was here. I started to cite John Helmer Haberdashery downtown, which has a wonderful selection of hats.

He then clarified that he was looking for a Ducks baseball cap hat. [Edited to add: He says that he called it a hat. La! See me be snooty and disdainful.]

I think that a baseball cap is not the same thing as a hat. He thinks that they are.

Now arguably, hat might be used as an umbrella term for headcoverings, but it’s like saying, “I want some fiction,” and then clarifying that you really meant you wanted a movie.

So! Internet debate. Are hats and caps the same thing? Discuss.

(By the way, if the folks who read my blog on Facebook and LJ don’t mind commenting at my website I’d appreciate it. That way my friend can see the full range of responses in one location.)

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41 thoughts on “Intense and vital debate! Hats vs. caps”

  1. Hats are considered and weighty things that say something about who a person thinks they are.
    Caps are what a person would wear if they simply wish to indicate an allegiance.

  2. I think baseball caps are caps, but also fall under the broad category of hats. This is partly because all through my growing up years we were told not to wear hats in class, and that meant baseball caps. I’ve found it odd, though, when people tell me they like my hat while I am wearing a headband. Fascinators are not hats, I feel, though the general public would seem to disagree.

  3. Baseball caps are caps. Hat is a broad term encompassing shaped head coverings (excluding scarves, headbands). Think of the term “car.” Lots of automobiles are called cars, but there are vans, trucks, mini-vans, and SUVs. There are many kinds of hats: bowler, fedora, Panama, golf, fishing, baseball cap, toboggan, fez, wide-brimmed, felt, pillbox, etc.

    That’s how I’ve always thought of it anyway.

  4. I think that hats are a superclass of caps, in much the same way that fiction is a superclass of fiction books. I suspect that if you said “I want some fiction” to a film professional, their first thought would be of a movie which is not a documentary, and “I want a hat” to a baseball fan, their first thought would be of a cap; whereas saying those things to a writer and a pre-Victorian would instead conjure short stories and bicornes. And saying these things to a computer scientist prompts him to use words like “superclass” when describing headgear. πŸ™‚

  5. Same thing but vaaaastly different interpretations. One covers your head. The other enhances your outfit in the process of covering your head.

    (more seriously, it’s like asking if “sedan” and “coupe” both mean “automobile.” Of course they do, but they describe different things.)

    also, that reminds me. Need to get Old Faithful reblocked for winter.

  6. I wonder if it’s a regional thing? Like Kansas says pop, Missouri says soda, and the people on the border can get heated about it. Then there’s Texas with coke.

    My origins are in pop-drinking Kansas. When I look back, I’m not sure anyone refers to them as baseball ‘caps’. They’re hats. In fact, when I think of the word ‘cap’, I think of something roundish. “Hats’ have a part that stick out, like a baseball hat or a top hat. Of course, now that I consider it further, I think most of the world thinks of them as baseball ‘caps’. I’m by no means saying the people I grew up with are correct, of course. But I still say pop, and I’ll likely not be able to break my ‘hat’ habit. Forgive me.

    My alma mater near central KS, Kansas State University, seems to prefer hats:

    But the Royals baseball team, NE in the KCMO region, says it’s caps:


  7. A baseball cap is a type of hat — a callow, debased type of hat — but saying “I want to buy a hat” if what you want is a baseball cap is… well, let’s just say it’s poorly chosen. It’s like saying you’d like dinner when what you really want is dessert, or that you have a dog when it’s actually a large rat chihuahua.

  8. People who refer to baseball caps as hats have probably never worn a proper hat, so they must be excused for their ignorance. One looks stylish while wearing a hat; one keeps the sun out of one’s eyes or hides one’s bloodshot eyes from a hangover with a cap.

    And yet, many proper hats do also serve the keeping-the-sun-off purpose, so I understand the potential confusion.

  9. Hm… The more I look at this, the more I think that hat and cap are both subsets of “headcovering” but that cap might not be a subset of hat. I’m looking at hat stores and have seen a number which say they sell “hats, caps, and berets.” This seems to imply that professionals consider hats and caps to be different things.

  10. A cap is something you put on top of an oil well to stop it from leaking. I don’t think a hat would do the job.

  11. A ball cap is a subset of “hat”, which is a subest of “head covering” I can’t Venn Diagram here, which my geeky self strongly wishes to do, but “ball cap”, “gimme cap” (referring to a cap given out as a promotional item) and “trucker hat” are part of the same “billed cap, informal” subset of “hat”, while “stocking cap/knit cap/ski cap” fall into the “unbilled cap, informal” subset.

    Meanwhile, there are a lot more types of hats, which term by itself should imply something more formal, though some might be considered silly.

    And “head coverings” include scarves, bandannas, do-rags, HeadSweats, veils, and the like.

    But not visors. Visors aren’t head coverings, seeing as how they don’t cover anything to speak of. Nor are they hats, nor caps. Visors exist in their own, independent and lonely circle on the Venn Diagram, though they might fit into the “pointless articles of apparel” superset.

    I have a variety of hats (generic term) for a variety of occasions. Broad-brimmed sun-blocking hats. Numerous car-related gimme caps, including one battered example I wear when working as a racetrack turn marshal. One Detroit Tigers ball cap purchased after I moved to Houston. An Indiana Jones-replica fedora (would that I could afford the hand-made authentic one!).

    Mary, I think your “Hats, Caps, and Berets” store is using “hats” in the subset sense in the sign, rather than as the superset “Hats”. Hair-splitting (no pun intended), perhaps.

  12. As long as he removes it when he goes indoors, I’d let him call it a hat. It’s a spirit of the law thing.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s a proper hat, but athletic gear along the lines of a sports bra. My Southern mother decreed that anyone who wears a baseball cap remove it indoors, no matter if the wearer was male or female, and enforces this in her classroom.

    And a shout out to Bonnet on NW 11th, too – a great selection of women’s hats and a small but nice selection for men. No Ducks caps, though.

  13. Speaking as someone who designed and built a lot of tooling related to that oil well this year, the item used to finally contain the well before it could be formally capped was called a “Top Hat Assembly”.

    And “capped” in this context isn’t from the haberdashery side of the definition, but the bottling side of the definition. πŸ™‚

  14. I agree with others that a baseball cap is a type of hat. However, to many people it is not the prototypical hat. This means that if you ask for a hat or a hat store, you might not get a baseball cap or place that sells them. For men, I think fedoras, stetsons, and wool hats to keep warm in winter when I think of hats. But some people might think baseball caps.

    It’s like if I need a coffee table and I ask for a table. The coffee table is a type of table, but most people will think I’m asking about a dining room or kitchen table.

  15. A “Ducks baseball cap hat” is not a hat. It is a University of Oregon sports propaganda tool.

    Thinking about other caps, I recall that a cadet or stewardess might have a cap, and that they might be brimless. To forestall protestations that Jackie O made pillbox hats popular, I reply that they had little veils and spangles attached. (Humorous pause to imagine UO Duck fans tossing veiled pillbox hats into the air during a touchdown.)

    To conclude, in my opinion, if it has a full brim (or veil), or if it looks like something Vedec Winn Adami or Guinan would wear on their heads, it is a hat (or possibly a fabric model of the Australian Opera House).

    If it has no brim (as in beany) or only a bill (as in baseball), it is a cap.

  16. And then again, I never think in terms of “hats” at all… but then, the Marine Corps taught me that the proper word was “cover.”

    We did have caps, though, but only of the “watch” variety.

  17. Rob may have an opinion. He often wears beret, sometimes a baseball cap, and on at least one occasion a top hat!

  18. As a person who wears hats every day, including some very nice and very expensive hats, I have to respond to some of the above.

    As a scientist, I agree with the Venn diagram approach. Superset “head coverings”, major subset “hats”, smaller subsets within hats “caps, ballcaps, berets, fedoras, porkpie, cowboy”.

    Note that I own a Stetson — it is NOT a cowboy hat. Thus Stetsons are not all cowboy hats and vice versa.

    I reject the notion that someone who calls a ballcap a hat has never worn a real hat, since it is not true in my case.

    As for removing a hat while indoors, you have to define indoors. My criteria is based on whether is it reasonably possible to touch the ceiling. If not, then the role of (any) hat as a head covering is still valid. Still, I think it was Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry who would not wear his trademark hat inside the Astrodome, because it was “indoors”. Of course it can rain inside a big enclosed dome, which further muddies the waters, so to speak.

    Finally, I tell my students that they see me in a hat every day in lecture for two reasons: (1) to remind them that the brains of their calculators is under their hat, not in the soulless block of plastic; (2) because I need the brim to block the overhead fluorescent lights, whose 60Hz/120Hz flashing rates I am sensitive to.

    Thanks for letting me play!

    Dr. Phil

  19. Perhaps the word “hat” has become diluted and expanded to cover a wider category of headcoverings that it did originally.

    Consider these sentences by way of example.
    “Are you going to wear a hat or a cap?”
    “Are you going to wear a hat or a headcovering?”

    In the first instance we are clearly talking about two different styles of headcovering. The second instance is weirdly redundant.

  20. I consulted my 169 pound mastiff Courage, whose favorite game in the whole wide world is stealing hats from people’s heads and running away with him. He indicated that whatever you call it–hat, cap, scarf, took–they are all equally fun for stealing and hiding under the table and growling when your victim tries to get it back. Hope this helps.

  21. > I’m looking at hat stores and have seen a number which say they sell
    > β€œhats, caps, and berets.” This seems to imply that professionals
    > consider hats and caps to be different things.

    Or, if such looking was done online, it could mean that the stores are using keywords for search engine optimization, regardless of whether they are the same or not.

    In my 1971 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the first definition of hat is:
    A covering for the head; in recent use, generally distinguished from other head-gear, as a man’s cap (or bonnet) and a woman’s bonnet, by having a more or less horizontal brim all round the hemisperical, conical, or cylindrical part which covers the head. (But cylindrical ‘hats’ without brims are worn by some Orientals.)

    And, the fourth definition of cap, which appears to be the most relevant to this discussion:
    A head-dress of men and boys, commonly applied to every kind of ordinary male head-dress which is not called a ‘hat’, from which it is distinguished by not having a brim, and by being usually of some soft material; also to a number of official, professional, and special head-dresses.

    As for the beret:
    A round flat woolen cap worn by the Basque peasantry; also, a clerical biretta, and cap named from it.

    So, at least according to the 1971 OED, hats and caps are distinct, but berets are a form of cap.

  22. I think the confusion is because it seems like there are two definitions for “hat”. There’s the “shaped article of clothing that covers the head” definition, which can be expanded to include caps and there is the specific subset of that which is limited to hats that have a brim (instead of a visor like a baseball cap).

    Another example of this that come to mind are more of a brand name kind of thing “coke vs. Coke (TM)” in the South, for example, though that isn’t as clear cut. Probably what we have is a case where, say you were at the store and you ask for a chair, and someone shows you a folding chair. Your response would be “no, I want a real chair”. It’s not that what they were showing you wasn’t a chair, it’s that it wasn’t close enough to the standard “seat for one person with four legs and a back” that you want. The same would go for asking for a “real hat” when shown a baseball cap.

  23. I am a soon-to-be 52 year old male, and all my life, anything I’ve worn on my head to protect it from the elements was/is called a hat (I’ve never, and never will, worn a hat for style purposes—how pretentious is THAT?!). Sure, it’s called a baseball’cap’, but it’s a hat—because it covers my ‘head’. And please don’t argue, ‘So if you run into the rain holding a garbage bag over your head, that’s a hat?’ No. Hats are an item of clothing, made specifically for wearing on the head.

      1. No. A turban is a turban. It is a piece of cloth wrapped around the head, not a designed fashion item stitched together to sit on the head.

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