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Back to Brown: Hats, hats, hats

When diving into all of the reasons to bring back the brown, it's important to start from the top and work your way down. Hats, specifically baseball caps, have long been the most iconic part of the sport's aesthetic.

The baseball hat has been the single most important uniform piece of a team's identity, both on and off the field. Since the 1940s’ introduction of a more cohesive "Brooklyn style" configuration of the baseball hat, their design lends the most opportunity for branding, fashion, merchandising, and team representation. As a staple of the sports industry, the form of the modern baseball hat has been lent to every brand imaginable.

It’s no question that a team's hat-- it's design, palette, logo-- are all incredibly important to the team's brand identity. Yankees hats, Boston hats, Dodgers hats; you'll see them littering the heads of crowds no matter where you are in the country (even outside the States). But what's just as important is you'll occasionally find the obscure, alternate hat, and hats of less popular teams scattered around.

Some baseball fans have experienced it: Walking up to somebody wearing a throwback Brewers hat, or an old Angels hat, and going "Hey, how 'bout those [insert team name], think they've got a chance at making the postseason?" only to get the anticlimactic response "Oh I don't watch baseball, I just like the hat."

The three biggest offenders of blandness: Padres, Brewers, Rays. Three clubs with uniform identity issues, three clubs currently using only a neutral navy contrasted with white (save the "wheat" symbol from Milwaukee.) For the Padres, this can be avoided.

While scanning a hat rack in San Diego it's clear to see: Red dominates the viewer's eye from it's natural contrast. Blacks and whites fall into the background, oranges speckle the lines of hats, and teams taking advantage of their secondary colors (Braves, Indians, Rockies) have no issue standing out. The A's ride the advantage of being the only green team, and join the Pirates embracing their yellow. From this small sample size of a hat rack at Lids, it's clear to see which teams strive on their colorway. What color is the Padres hat that sticks out the most on that rack?

To be fair, if the Padres were to tint the primary brown to the darker hue we're all used to it wouldn't pop out nearly as much; but that's not something the A's or Pirates have to worry about when embracing their bright secondary yellow. With the Padres' "sand" as their current secondary option, you might as well make it a neutral gray. But let's not give the organization that idea.

The Friar's Hat Stash

It's hard to talk about hats and not seek council in somebody whose hobby is centered around collecting them. Gaslamp Ball's resident SD Hat Guy further extrapolates on what other teams have going for them in the baseball hat game, the problems a color change can arise, and what the Padres should be taking advantage of:

What is most noticable about the Padres' hats when compared to other teams; and what do these teams have going well for them that the Padres don't?

When comparing the Padres home cap against everyone else in the MLB, colorway and success say it all: The Padres haven't been successful enough as of late to bring more people to represent their merchandise, and the colorway alone isn't as iconic as other team's colorways. Past history and success play a role in iconic colorways, which is exactly why the Bring Back The Brown movement has gained considerable traction (this is also why teams like the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers haven't changed colorways at all in their histories).

What are the Padres doing right with their current hat options, and what could they be taking advantage of?

The Padres have done something right in their cap options: They have an iconic logo. Save for a font change in 1985 and a minor serif change in the beginning of the millennium, the Padres have kept the same interlocking SD logo since their inception in 1969, and have not strayed from it with any crazy redesigns (hello, Toronto and Houston). The interlocking SD is widely recognizable by fans and casual observers alike, and the Padres have done well in keeping it around throughout their history. I personally believe the Padres could take some advantage of using the Swinging Friar logo, perhaps as an alternate cap. Many of my favorite caps have the Swinging Friar on the front, and I think he would make an excellent alternate cap for some home games and to help increase the Padres' marketability.

What would the best reason be to go back to the primary brown palette?

The best reason why the Padres should go back to the brown is, in my mind, simple: It's iconic. No one else in the league features a brown colorway. When the Padres were introduced in 1969, they came in wearing brown. The distinctiveness of the brown is unique to the Padres, and the brown would lend itself to being distinct to Padres merchandise (and caps).

What reasons, if any, would the Padres have to avoid brown as their primary color?

Brown, simply, is brown. Brown is not eye-catching, and it can be drab. These have been the primary knocks regarding the Bring Back The Brown movement. Brown on its own is not an exciting color, and should the Padres choose to utilize it...what era do they choose, and should they incorporate the orange? Infighting amongst brown fans with regards to what uniform the Padres should reference has left the BBTB campaign looking like something of a call for change without any actual direction as far as uniform or caps go.

SD Hat Guy's top 5 MLB hats:

  1. Atlanta Braves: Colorway alone puts the Braves at the top spot. The navy crown, red brim is an iconic colorway alone for a baseball cap, and the Braves put their modern colorway and logo on the map with their success in the 90s. Their caps found homes on the heads of rappers and celebrities wanting to represent the ATL.
  2. Philadelphia Phillies: Even though I don't care for the Phillies as a team, their colorway choices throughout their history have been excellent. I'm particularly enamored with their maroon colorway, with the blue crown/red brim coming in at second.
  3. Toronto Blue Jays: I've always been a big fan of the Blue Jays logo (save for their mid-2000 remodel). It's unique and ties into the team's location. Their colorway is also clean, and the team went through a lot of unique looks throughout their existence without necessarily changing colors.
  4. Houston Astros: I'm only referencing the Astros now because of their remodel back into their classic H with a star behind it. Their throwback Colt .45s logo is even better, even if it is discouraged in modern use. I didn't particularly care for their 2000s colors, and they make the list solely because of the older navy/orange/white (It's like the Padres had this colorway before, right?)
  5. Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles make the back of the list on the strength of their collection of logos.The classic bird is a really neat logo. It's also particularly cool that the Orioles went back to the cartoon Oriole for their regular logo, showing that some retro change can be good (right, Padres?)

An amateur run of research through online power rankings of the MLB's currently-worn hats always features San Diego's neutral navy blue and white in the bottom five. The reason for its low ranking commonly implies in descriptions that the style reflects on the team's poor performance as "a plain hat for a bad team" coupled with a "boring uniform," as well as being "uninspired." Pitchers&Poets put it best:

The Padres have slowly sapped all personality from their uniforms over the last few years, and the hats are no exception. These [Padres] hats have the classic logo, which is decent, but it’s colorless; there’s no blood pumping through its veins. The only bit of spark comes from the military connection, and the camo design is bold, but it’s ruined by the fat-edged treatment of the logo, and the same sort of visual flatness.

Overall the core hat designs that seem to populate the top tens of power rankings and internet sales alike offer three simple things: representation of a famous city and/or successful and historic franchise, a stylish accessory to compliment an outfit's palette, or a design that is creative and/or memorable.

The current top selling New Era baseball hats:

  1. New York Yankees
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. Los Angeles Dodgers

Three of the biggest names in baseball and- wait what? The Baltimore Orioles? The team that had an actual vectored image of a tiny bird on their hats five years ago? That was until they returned to their 1960-1980's Original Cartoon Bird hat emblem, donned orange uniforms once again, and until the switch back to the cartoon bird the Orioles were in a deep spiral of failure. After making the switch to "return to retro" they pulled out of a four-year last-place streak, are selling a lot of hats despite an AL Championship loss. More hats than the team they lost to.

Success is crucial, but a great-looking hat will take you far.

The Giants and Royals are nowhere to be found in the best sellers list; and even if we go back to the 2011 New Era sales records the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals barely scrape the bottom of the list, with the Texas Rangers completely missing in action. So what is it about a simple bright color with a classic logo that captivates hat-wearers?

The top ten in 2011 was as follows:

  1. New York Yankees
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. Boston Red Sox
  4. Cincinnati Reds
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers
  6. Chicago White Sox
  7. Pittsburgh Pirates
  8. Philadelphia Phillies
  9. San Francisco Giants
  10. St. Louis Cardinals

When breaking the 2011 list down, some are obvious best-sellers and some require more consideration. The Yankees being the most overt; their stylized "NY" design is bigger than the team and baseball as a whole. The same can be said for the Dodgers' interlocking "LA," and Boston's very-simple sharp "B", all representing the biggest metropolis' in the United States. San Diego doesn't pack the populous, but it does have a well-established logo.

On hat racks the Giants hold on to a sharp contrasting colorway, as do the Pirates. In addition, the Reds (who clearly stand out on the hat rack pictured above,) Cardinals, and Phillies all confide in an intense primary red. Meanwhile the Dodgers stand out with their solid primary blue. Lining up a brown against a row of blues, blacks, and reds is an obvious difference, but also has the chance of blending in if not appropriated with a good complementary color.

The Braves embrace the neutral navy blue by tinting their bills a deep red to play in contrast with their otherwise simple white-on-dark layout. Simple red-white-and-blue color play. The same simplicity could be said for the White Sox by giving exception and sticking to a black-and-white scheme but instead providing a creatively crafted lettering of the "Sox" logo to compensate for the lack of color.

Consider all of these simple-yet-classic designs, and then take a look at the Pirates' black and yellow, which, other than being the inspiration for a Wiz Khalifa song, has the unique property of being one of the only teams to incorporate yellow heavily into their palette. It also stays consistent as part of the city of Pittsburgh's black and yellow solidarity across all of their professional sport uniforms. If anything is to be learned about hats; it's that if your city doesn't crack a 5 million population on the census then creative simplicity and/or vivid colors with unique branding goes a long way.

When it comes down to it; the team's interlocking white fat-contoured "SD" and painfully plain neutral navy blue can't compete with other hats when a dull beige sand is it's compliment. If it wants to stand out and if it wants to have  an identity in a league of already well-established blues, something has to change. Especially when there are so many other fashion-friendly options with dark neutral colors and white logos, and so many other franchises and cities' hats more "worth" wearing to the casual fan.

Probably the only time in Padres history where our modern uniform design has gathered any attention.

To close on an elaboration of SD Hat Guy's points; if your colorway isn't already built on success it's important you use a different resource to stand out in the market. White-on-blue makes sense, but the way the Padres implement it makes it look like the generic corn flakes hat of the MLB cereal aisle.

Brown (or tan) should be a staple in anybody's wardrobe as a neutral color, and that especially works well with sports uniforms. Fashionably, neutral colors (like brown) are timeless and don't go out of style, so being dated to the 60's won't apply to brown on its own. Lastly, whichever secondary color the Padres might choose is guaranteed to work due to brown's flexibility in the color spectrum.

The Friars organization has so much to work with when considering the color brown. Historical value, brand identity, and fashion accessibility; they just need to finally take advantage of it.

This is the first installment of a series looking to fully analyze why the Friars should bring back the brown.

Expect a complete breakdown on a brown palette from me next. I'll be going over the best brown colorway options, as well as the full fashion benefits of being a brown colored team in 2015.

Thanks to Tim, the one and only SD Hat Guy, for the pictures and expert noggin'-gear analysis.