Newsboy caps are the ultimate hat of the people. They symbolize hard work, solidarity, and did we mention they’re incredibly stylish? So who are these newsboys anyway, and how did the newsboy cap get its name?
The newsboy cap got its name from the newspaper sellers on the streets of New York in the 19th century. Newsies were poor, homeless children selling papers to earn money. Like the British flat cap, this hat has roots in revolution, strike, and the labor class. It is now an icon of working people.
Extra! Extra! Read all about the origin of the name “newsboy cap,” the story of New York newsboys, how it differs from the British flat cap, and why these hats are historically significant – especially to the working class.
Origins of the Name
As you may have guessed, the name of the newsboy cap comes from the New York newspaper sellers who commonly wore it back into the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When standing on the street corner or walking house to house, this was the hat of choice to get the job done.
These caps were perfectly utilitarian as their wool makeup lent itself well to withstand the coastal climate’s cold temperatures.
It wasn’t just newspaper boys who were donning the cap, though, but rather the entire working class. As newsies, who were predominantly kids, struggled with their living conditions and lack of money, these hats symbolized struggle and solidarity among all laborers. Their history holds tight roots to flat caps, which we will talk about shortly.
The upper class soon joined in on the fashion trend as well when they participated in a variety of leisurely hobbies. While the demographic of newsboy caps transcended paper sellers, the name stuck.
About the Newsboy
Common depictions of the newsboy that we see in movies are far different from their realities. For example, did you ever wonder why they were selling papers on the streets while all the other children were heading to school?
It’s because they were living in poverty. These terribly poor, homeless kids sold papers for work but only made around 30 cents daily. Thousands of newsboys suffered on the streets of practically begging for their papers to be sold in New York. Most slept on the streets while others found shelter in lobbies, under stairways, and any other location they could find.
1899 saw groups of newsboys striking against certain papers who paid worse than others. This ignited other newspapers to provide extensive news coverage on the strike participants and their demands. The event was so historical that a Disney movie and Broadway show were created after it — Newsies. Eventually, improved child-protection practices made the lives of newsboys a bit better.
It makes sense that these children are the namesake of a hat of the people. What could encompass the idea of working-class solidarity like a group of kids fighting against their exploitation? The legacy of these strikers continues to live on.
Historical Significance of the Flat Cap
Before the term “newsboy cap” got coined and the hat gained popularity in America, the British flat cap was mass-produced for economic reasons. While the two hats differ slightly, their origins share the same roots.
Hat of the British Working Class
In 1571, the government in England was looking for a way to increase the sales of wool, the backbone of their trade economy. To do this, they legislated that on every holiday and Sunday, all non-noble men over the age of six must wear a wool flat cap. Those who did not comply with the new law would have to pay a fine instead.
Leaving the people without much choice, the sale of these hats boomed, stimulating the wool industry as the government had intended. Though the law only lasted 26 years, the flat cap maintained its popularity with the people. As the legislation targeted laboring individuals, the flat cap became a staple of the working class’s identity.
The hat became so highly associated with the laboring class that when Russian Communist Party founder and Bolshevik Revolution leader Vladimir Lenin swapped his silk homburg hat out for this tweed cap, it was a grand political statement. As the hat of the people, Lenin’s appearance wearing the flat cap was iconic: it symbolized he was, in fact, there to fight for the working class.
Lenin’s attire was so influential that Scottish Labour Party member James Keir Hardie donned the hat himself in the House of Commons. Hardie’s actions, though seemingly insignificant, were highly political. Dressing in average workday clothing, when it was expected of parliamentary workers to adorn silk hats, was the ultimate statement that his loyalty was with the people. This move was so controversial that he was highly ridiculed for it.
Despite its roots, the flat cap became an accessory of the upper-class as well. However, they wore ones out of material more expensive than wool. The hat was the perfect accessory for games of golf, hunting, or other leisurely activities. Soon, the flat cap would become a universal trend.
Italy and Turkey followed suit as the hat rose to popularity in the 19th century. It grew to become a practical fashion statement regardless of class. When it made its way to America, the cap took on some slight changes and became the newsboy cap. Here, schoolchildren and young men were regularly adopting the hat as well. Regardless of the outfit, this accessory paired well with it.
These days, the flat cap is much less a sign of class than it once was – and is definitely not the result of legislation – but a timeless accessory that blends classic with modern. Today, you’ll find flat caps picking up traction again as they’re donned by celebrities like David Beckham, Harry Styles, and even Prince William.
Are the Newsboy and Flat Cap Actually the Same?
Well, no. Technically not. However, their origin stories remain the same. Think of the newsboy cap as a slight variation under the umbrella that is the flat cap. Similarly, the newsboy cap is often thought of as the American version of the British flat cap.
Both hats are typically made from tweed, a rounded top with a brim, and are low profile. The newsboy and flat cap’s basic structure are essentially the same, but they hold some technical differences.
The newsboy cap has a looser fit than the flat cap. Its silhouette appears rounder with an almost puffy look. Some would even describe the newsboy cap as baggy – a trait you would never use to describe a flat cap (hence the name).
While not only aesthetically appearing differently, the two styles of hat are actually constructed differently as well. Newsboy hats are composed of eight different sections of fabric attached in the middle with a fabric-covered button.
Flat caps, on the other hand, are suited better for colder climates. You’ll notice that these hats have a sleeker, more uniform appearance, as opposed to the segments of the newsboy hat. The look of these caps is sturdier and smoother than its counterpart.
The newsboy cap got its name from the newspaper vendors who were typically seen wearing this hat style. Similarly to the flat cap, these accessories are icons of the working class.
Newsies, typically kids of New York, famously gathered in an organized strike to be paid a fair(er) wage. The name of these hats pays homage to these children.
Its fluffy appearance has led some to speculate that Super Mario’s hat is modelled on a baker hat. Read more here.