Anthropology / Everything Human

The Way Trump Wears His Hat


The Way Trump Wears His Hat

The Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, is a self-proclaimed billionaire and (apparently) a successful businessman. Yet he claims to be a champion of the disenfranchised working class. How does he do that? One way is by donning a baseball cap with the phrase “Make America Great Again” on the front.

Ignoring the slogan, though, I’d like to draw attention to the way he wears his hat. The bill is always in the front, pulled down to his eyebrows, and the base of the hat parallels the ground, with the back of the hat higher than the midpoint of the back of his head.

Donald Trump baseball cap - A baseball cap can say a lot about someone, including the person’s social identity and status. How Trump wears his signature hat, for example, communicates a certain message to appeal to voters.

A baseball cap can indicate a lot about someone, including the person’s social identity and status. How Trump wears his signature hat, for example, communicates a certain message to appeal to voters. Scott Heppell/Associated Press

As an anthropologist, I’ve long wanted to conduct a simple experiment. It would look something like this:

I need a sample of 100 people representing a cross-section of America. (Perhaps I can do this experiment on my next trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles, that great leveler of American society.)

I will put standard-issue New York Yankees baseball caps on everyone in the room. I will then prohibit them from removing the hats, or even adjusting them.

While I am somewhat interested in people’s reaction to the logo, I am more interested in how people react to the placement and orientation of the hat itself. Indeed, I suggest that the hats could be devoid of logos and the results of my experiment would still have meaning.

In the first round of the experiment, I will put the caps on in the standard, historical, apparently most-functional way: with the bill centered in the front. I will then record how each of the 100 people reacts. I suspect some people will be just fine, but a majority will be very uncomfortable.

In the second round, I will put the caps on everyone in the room with the bills turned backward, angled down over the neck, such that the back of the cap is open high across the forehead. I will record how people react. Again, I suspect some people will be just fine; a majority will be very uncomfortable.

In the third round, I will put the caps on everyone in the room with the bills turned sideways and to the right. (One could also turn them to the left, but let’s not go overboard.)  I strongly suspect that a small and different set of people will now be comfortable; the vast majority will be very, very uncomfortable.

Finally, in round four, I will allow everyone to wear the caps in whatever way they find most comfortable. I posit that everyone, except that small slice of humanity who never wears baseball caps at all, will now be comfortable. Why? They can finally wear the caps in a way that communicates their own perceived self-identity.

At the risk of oversimplification, I offer a few predictions about the reactions of each group.

Older people, and particularly men and women who once served in the military, the police, or who played a lot of baseball, will be most comfortable in round one, wearing their caps à la Trump, with bills forward, low, and curved. For this group, the bill is still functional as a shade and the insignia is an important part of the cap because it serves as a communicative device to establish social identity and status. It identifies one’s tribe.

Donald Trump baseball cap - For those who came of age in the late 1980s through the 1990s, it is much more common to wear caps backwards, facing the side, or with a flat rim—ridding the hat of its original function.

For those who grew up in the late 1980s through the 1990s, it is much more common to wear caps backwards, facing the side, or with a flat rim—ridding the hat of its original function. Jason Pier in DC/Flickr

The next oldest group of people, those who came of age in the late 1980s and 1990s, will be most comfortable wearing the caps backward, in round two. The bill’s function as a shade and the insignia are less meaningful to this group than to the older people. The point, rather, is countercultural. Ironically, this group thumbs its nose at societal norms while maintaining access to the institutions that create and maintain those norms.

The youngest people in the room, as well as those who were raised on the coasts or more urban areas, will be most comfortable with the bill turned either right or left. They are not at all comfortable with the bill turned backward, and certainly not with the bill facing frontward. They work to keep the bill as flat as possible. The bill is not used as a shade device. They may leave the manufacturer’s tag or sticker on the hat. Again, the point of the display is to establish social identity and communicate countercultural tendencies; the logo is not necessarily important.

How does all of this apply to Donald Trump?

Trump has enjoyed a life of privilege and protection from the day he was born. He is most comfortable traveling in a world of celebrity, convenience, and luxury. He can afford the most expensive clothes, food, and cars. Nevertheless, his campaign wants to simply portray him as a man of the people—by having him wear a baseball cap. Using basic anthropological techniques, we see that the way he wears his hat is, in a communicative sense, at least as important as the bombastic “Make America Great Again” slogan on the front.

Trump’s fashion sense is inherently conservative. He almost always appears in public wearing a blue blazer—the standard-issue uniform of his tribe, the business “elite.” With no apparent sense of contradiction or irony, he then uses a baseball cap to project an identity that immediately appeals only to a small and diminishing subset of the American populace and electorate. But it is an effective way to communicate with that tribe and it is clearly the way he feels most comfortable—or at least that is the image he’s selling.

On November 8, we’ll find out how well it worked.

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  • Rocky Racoon

    That was a long rambling diatribe devoid of significance.

  • Miguel

    I’m a middle aged white male (liberal) and if you put a “baseball” hat with a New York logo on my head in any position I’d rip the goddamned thing off and throw it away.
    That said, why not point out that the hat obviously doesn’t fit or sit right on his head – and the only other time he’s ever worn one is in a ground level box at a (#*×@%) Yankees game. Not a man of the people – of any age or gender.

  • Stacy Hackner

    I’m a liberal academic millennial with no military, police, or sport associations. When I wear a baseball hat, it’s pointed forward for sun protection. I’m more comfortable in a floppy sun hat or fedora, which indicate my profession…

  • John Platko

    You might want to google “images of trump playing golf” – there may be a more simple explanation for the hat – oh I better spell it out – he’s used to wearing that kind of hat and has for a long time because he plays a lot of golf – apparently he’s pretty good at it too.

  • Sarah Bryan

    You learn a lot too not just from the direction of the bill, but from how far down the hat is pulled–which is partly a product of the style of baseball cap. Older, rural white men are more likely to favor the high-crown style of cap, like Trump’s, and wear them sort of hugging the crown of the head around the temples but not pulled all the way down. I imagine this is because they’re traditionally work hats, and it’s cooler to wear them perched rather than snug. Millennial rural white men are likelier to wear the lower-crown-profile, more rounded caps, the shape favored by millennial urban and suburban white men, usually tugged down on the head. (Then there are the high-crown “trucker” caps that some liberal millennials wear ironically, but that’s a different culture.) Focusing here on how white men, rather than men of other races and ethnicities, wear their caps, because they’re the people Trump was targeting. He said a lot about who his key demographic is by choosing the high-crown cap as a campaign symbol. But I think it’s significant too that he wore his hat pulled down to the eyebrows–more in the style of a boss than someone who might be working for the boss, or someone who’d be golfing or yachting rather than farming or trucking. If you want to market yourself to older, rural, working-class white guys and make them think that you’re just a more financially successful version of them, that’s a good way to do it. Plus folks can’t see your eyes to tell whether you’re lying to them.

  • RoseMarie Mucklin

    I have an intense dislike of the baseball hat; but still voted for Trump because he had a better plan for the country than Clinton.

  • Bethe Hagens

    You hooked me with this article when it appeared about a month ago, and I started watching the crowds at the Trump rallies. I don’t know whether the position of the hat made all that much difference. I saw many of the younger men wearing their caps backwards. Post-election, I haven’t seen a cap on his head. At first I thought he was wearing his cap on bad hair days. Now I think he was just flaunting the convention that proper people don’t wear hats indoors except at church. Very crafty.