Cycle caps: hip or hideous fashion accessory?

A recent article described a Moschino men's fashion show where models hit the runway wearing $450 cycle caps.

The story went on to discuss the rising popularity of cycle caps amongst Brooklyn's hipsters as a form of street wear, even if they don't own a bike, concluding that their beauty lies in their ugliness.

This attribute is generally beyond dispute, lending wearers a certain Pee-Wee Herman goofiness. However the caps (never hats) certainly weren't a fashion statement when they first appeared on cyclists' heads in the early 20th century.

A quick re-cap

Cycle caps – or la casquette – were designed to keep the sun out of a rider's eyes and soak up a bit of sweat. At the time you could have any colour you wanted, as long as it was white. Later, the design was streamlined by the Italians and sponsor logos added. The hats were collected by ardent fans as souvenirs and worn by pro racers such as the great Miguel Indurain, whose white Banesto cap was almost as legendary as he.

The decline of the cap in the sport of cycling began when the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) made helmets mandatory for amateur racers in 1991 and professionals in 2003. Nowadays, they are still sometimes seen on the winner's podium, but more often than not they have been usurped by the ubiquitous baseball cap.

They are not the best looking piece of headwear on the market, but they evoke a tradition.

Luc Wiesman

Bearded American hipsters appear to be leading the renaissance to establish the cycling cap as the must-have fashion item to be seen in at the local craft brew bar.

It wouldn't be the first time cycle caps have had been considered 'cool'. Wesley Snipes bolstered their popularity when he wore a Colnago cap in the 1992 film White Men Can't Jump, inspiring clubbers across the world to adopt the look.

Will we see the same thing here in the hipster 'burbs of Australia?

Caps down under

Cycling has become "incredibly cool in terms of apparel", says Luc Wiesman, founder and editor-in-chief of men's style publication . "Especially through companies such as ,  and , so it makes sense that the caps are an extension of that.

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"But can I see a day when Aussie men might wear them to a barbecue? Only if they have ridden a bike there.

"They are not the best looking piece of headwear on the market, but they evoke a tradition and people will forgo good style for being part of that tradition.

"I personally wouldn't wear one – they make you look a little 'simple' – but if I was a Lycra lizard I probably would."

Rapha is a London-based sportswear and lifestyle brand focused on road bicycle racing. The company has a large range of cycle caps available, the latest release being a $50 Tom Simpson cap, celebrating the English rider's 1965 World Championship win.

Rapha Australian and New Zealand marketing manager Nadine O'Connor says she doesn't mind cycling caps – as long as they are associated with cycling. "As a cycling aesthete, the only thing more important to riding a bike is looking good doing it," she says. "Do I find a cycling cap attractive on a man? Yes, when worn in the context of a cycling culture."

Which seems to echo the words of former pro rider and author Tom Southam when asked about the role of cycling caps in the 21st century. "The cycling cap needs to be actually ridden in, with purpose, to be kept alive. Despite looking so cool, it wasn't just designed for posing."

Cap collector

Gary Anderson, group executive sales and marketing manager for ISIS Group Australia and a member of  (Australian Cycling Executives), has a collection of more than a 100 cycle caps. His favourite is a collaboration between British designer Paul Smith and Rapha. "It fits really well and it's quite stylish," Anderson says.

Anderson has sourced his collection from all over the world, usually via eBay. "I think the most I paid was $75 for a limited edition cap," he says. "Some of the brands I have include , , and . Generally the Italian ones are the best made."

He wears his caps underneath his helmet in summer to prevent the sun burning his scalp through the vents.

Would he wear a cap off the bike? "I did that once at a Tour Down Under event held in an Adelaide bar last January. Stuart O'Grady's brother was there and he gave me a bit of a hard time about it.

"Now I adhere to rule Number 22 from the  (a humorous cycle blog by Frank Strack); cycling caps can be worn under helmets, but never when not riding, no matter how hip you think you look."