Hats are back, in a big way. BCBG Max Azaria and Tommy Hilfiger embraced the 90s revival by sending colourful bucket hats down the catwalk in their respective SS16 shows, while fedoras featured in collections by DSquared2 and Diesel, and Gucci showcased pillar box and pom-pom designs.
But in the midst of all this eye-catching headwear, the beanie hat stands out for its sheer air of laid-back insouciance. Much more than just a practical woolly hat, beanies have played a key sartorial role in a number of cutting-edge movements throughout the last century. From slam poets to grunge royalty, knit beanies provide the perfect visual shorthand for a youthful attitude of rebellious disaffection.
The beatnik beanie
The beanie-beret hybrid reigned supreme in the beatnik world of smoke-filled lounges, heavy eyeliner and polo neck jumpers. These black beanies were worn at artfully casual lopsided angles, and accessorised with a healthy dose of cynicism towards the prevalent mainstream culture.
Of course, once something is championed as non-commercial anti-fashion by a subculture, it doesn’t take long for it to be picked up as high fashion. Ali MacGraw even wore her floral crocheted version to the 1971 Oscars. Eugenia Kim hats give this look a contemporary spin, with knit beanie-berets featuring multicoloured pompoms and playful animal ears.
The reggae beanie
Reggae was one of Jamaica’s hottest exports of the late 1960s, alongside dreadlocks, baggy clothing and the knit beanie (bigger and slouchier than ever before). It’s certainly hard to picture Bob Marley without his signature beanie hat in the emblematic colours of red, yellow and green. Not just a stylish piece of headwear, these colours each symbolise aspects of Ethiopian culture, black civil rights and the Rastafarian religion.
Reggae style has also had a huge influence on contemporary American hip-hop and RnB, in terms of both sound and vision. Think Lauryn Hill pairing her red beanie with a cropped denim jacket and a Bob Marley tee at a German music festival in 1999. More recently, Missy Elliot and a coterie of backing dancers wore matching '97 Biggie' black beanie hats in the video for her 2015 single 'WTF', in tribute to Biggie Smalls' 1997 passing.
The grunge beanie
Unlike their earlier counterparts, 90s kids lacked a cause or sense of revolution. The rawness of bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden spoke to a disillusioned generation, with the related fashions reflecting this apathetic outlook. The knit beanie would become as inextricably linked with our perception of 90s grunge as the first few chords of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and babydoll dresses.
Marc Jacobs was one of the first designers to recognise the inherent power in this aesthetic, devoting his SS93 collection for Perry Ellis to the look. In fact, he was arguably even ahead of his time, as the now-legendary show was met with a less than enthusiastic response – the label dropped Jacobs and killed the collection. So what were the critics so offended by? Models wore plaid shirts, half-undone buttoned slip dresses, chunky Dr Martens boots and artfully dishevelled beanie hats.
The boho beanie
At around the same time that Sienna Miller was inspiring a boho army into tassel waistcoats and floral dresses, the beanie hat snuck back onto the fashion radar. This time it was used to signal the post-hippy hippy. Gladiator sandals, cheesecloth blouses and piles of bangles and rings (not unlike the scene-stealing offerings at Aurélie Bidermann) were paired with designer beanie hats and a cascade of tousled hair.
The Olsen twins were particular devotees of the style. Mary-Kate reached for her red beanie on a 2006 trip to Paris, matching it with round Chanel sunglasses, a slouchy grey coat and – of course – fresh-from-the-waves beachy hair. Like Ali McGraw in the 70s, Mary-Kate also isn't afraid to use her beanie to punctuate more formal ensembles either, later wearing it with a sleek black off-shoulder dress.
The beanie hat today
It’s safe to say that the knit beanie has stood the test of time. As a versatile piece, it’s hard to beat. Beanies are great for trans-seasonal dressing and adding a laid-back edge to outfits. The good news? From Missoni to Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci to Marc Jacobs, beanies are appearing more embellished and haute than ever before.
Moncler does super-soft, classic ribbed styles in a neutral colour palette of navy, olive green and grey. For something with a little dash of humour, look to the cartoonish creations by Warm-ME. Up your beanie hat game for cocktail hour with a sophisticated netted beanie from Silver Spoon Attire, as recently worn by Rihanna. The possibilities are almost endless – hats off to that.