"I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can," Jay-Z famously proclaimed in 2009’s “Empire State of Mind.” The song is a love letter to his hometown where he speaks about the city, its people, its attractions, and its inherent personality. Despite all of the vivid imagery and memories evoked in the song, what stands out to most is that singular line. . Not so much the part about the New York Yankees, but instead the iconic Yankees hat. More specifically, the New Era 59Fifty. At Dutch Label Shop, we know that what to some may appear to be a simple accessory is so much more. , There is a masterful amount of technique that goes into making such an iconic staple, and an equally iconic history from its early origins to its contemporary appeal.
Hank Aaron & Willie Mays
New Era has been making caps for Major League Baseball since 1934; starting with caps for the Cleveland Indians. For several decades New Era was the underdog of the burgeoning baseball cap industry, competing with other companies, most of which were leading sporting goods manufacturers. The 59Fifty officially made its debut on the baseball diamond in 1954, but 59Fifty on-field caps would not become available to the general public until 1978. The 59Fifty would undergo many changes over the years while baseball and New Era experimented with the hat's functionality and features. In the 1970s and 1980s, nylon fabrics and leather sweatbands were some of the changes that would phase out. The under visor that had always been green traditionally, slowly switching to grey for all Major League Baseball teams.
Jay-Z performing at the 2009 World Series in a 59Fifty New York Yankees hat
With New Era becoming only one of two suppliers for the MLB, New Era understood the value of good branding, with the "Diamond Collection." label featured on the hat’s sweatband moving on. Starting in 1992 the MLB on-field caps would all carry the Batter logo on the rear of the hats; the following year New Era became the exclusive provider for Major League Baseball. In 1996, New Era began raising the embroidered logos on the 59Fifty. For the 1996 MLB World Series, the 59Fifty for both Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees included the World Series logo on the hat's right side. Around this time, the hats began their journey towards iconic status off the field. Later that year, acclaimed film director Spike Lee would ask for the first 59Fifty cap made that was not an official team color, a red New York Yankees cap.
Unbeknownst to Spike Lee he would be the catalyst for the meteoric rise of the 59Fifty in fashion and hip hop. Spike’s request from New Era was a bold demand, not only did he want to change the color of the Yankees hat, his reasoning was to make it red and white to pair with his Nike Air Jordan, the signature shoe of Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan. This would weave the caps into popular culture forever. Notable photographer Jonathan Mannion, who has captured countless artists, musicians, and other notable figures, praises the influence of the 59Fifty. So much so that it's used in some of his most notable works, including Jay-z’s Black Album cover. The Yankee hat would not be the only hat to make its presence felt; a host of other fitted hats would be just as important. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Nas, and Drake have been seen sporting the hats of the cities they call home. Toronto native Drake even had a special edition of the Blue Jays cap donning his OVO logo in 2013.
Soon teams began to experiment with black fabric under the visors to help with the sun's glare and black sweatbands to make them appear less sweat-stained. New Era changed from The "Diamond Collection" to the Authentic Collection and the 59Fifty changed significantly with the new branding. The material changed from wool to polyester, and all teams were now using black fabric under the visor and black sweatbands. As of 2016, the 59Fifty added the New Era flag logo on the cap on the hat's left side just above the bottom edge. By 2017 all MLB 59Fifty Authentic Collection hats now include the New Era flag logo and the team insignia and batter logo.
The next time you see a Yankees cap take a second to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making it, whether it be for fashion or sport, purpose or statement, a way to keep the sun out of your eyes or complete those days' outfit, the 59Fifty is a sewist's dream. From the multiple embroideries to the stitches that keep the six panels together for the perfect crown. The durability and execution are in the details. Great form and a sweatband that showcases 3 labels and is just as comfortable as one can hope for, from the Dutch Label Shop hat enthusiast and daily 59Fifty wearer, do yourself a favor as we return to sports and get yourself a small piece of history. Show love to your city, favorite color, or just get a hat you genuinely like. Be sure that the next hat purchase is a 59Fifty.