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Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, February 15, 2000

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
At Hat Zone, Ala Moana Center, customer Clifton Teshima
looks at Japanese kanji hats.

Heads up on
a new cap trend

Baseball caps with kanji logos
are a hot item among the teen jet set

Sampling, buying guide, care hints

By Betty Shimabukuro


REASONS to wear a baseball cap:

A. It keeps the sun out of your eyes.
B. You don't have to comb your hair.
C. No one can tell you're losing your hair.
D. Fashion statement. Without one you may as well be naked.

Today we are concerned with group D, people who happily spend upward of $20 to wear a product made of wool in Hawaii's sun, who have at least, say, six hats in regular use.

Not for this discussion are hats with adjustable plastic bands in the back and "I (heart) my poodle" on the front, bought for $5.99 at a discount store. We're talking essential fashion headwear -- a $3 billion annual business driven largely by teen-aged boys.

The latest trend embraced by this high school crowd: The kanji hat, which displays team spirit in Japanese. For example, the University of Hawaii hat -- green, with an orange symbol on the front that means island.

For the most part, the calligraphy represents a team mascot. For the Nittany Lions of Penn State, it's the kanji for cat; for University of Florida, an alligator; for the Spartans of Michigan State, samurai (well, that's the closest they could get). For others, like Hawaii, other criteria come into play. Rice University (the Owls) is represented by the kanji for rice.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Hat Zone Hawaii manager Mark King sports two New York
Yankees caps, the traditional on his head and the
Japanese kanji in his hand.

Hats for professional teams are often marked by stylized symbols that are supposed to be phonetic representations of the initial letter. Prime example is the Yankee hat, which started this trend with a white-on-black character that stands for the letter Y.

"I think one of the reasons they did so well is they're so completely different," says Mark King, manager at Hat Zone in Ala Moana.

Major League Baseball is a staid organization, fashion-wise, and teams seldom revamp their logos or colors, King says. Pro football teams may change designs by the year, but "baseball is the mainstay of any cap store."

The official Yankee hat has looked the same for decades, he said, until the coming of that stylized Y about a year ago. The hat took off and the kanji rage soon followed.

What sets off a trend? In this age, you never know. A red-and-white Yankee cap was a non-seller until a member of the band Limp Bizkit wore one in a music video. Now it's hot (claim to fame: King says the original hat was purchased at his Hat Zone).

High-end caps like these can be found at sporting good and athletic shoe stores, but the widest selection is available at two specialty shops - Hat Zone in Ala Moana (the largest), and Lids, in Pearlridge. Both are national chains. Hat Zone has 20 stores and Lids has a whopping 368.

Lids sells more than 10 million hats a year, according to its official biography, and there are plans to open 150 new stores annually over the next five years.

Founder Ben Fischman was a college student and chronic cap-wearer who decided retailers were-n't making it easy enough to buy caps. He designed stores with plenty of variety and inventory, where the hats were out there for the trying, not kept behind a counter.

That's what you get at Hat Zone or Lids. King's Hat Zone opened two years ago in June. "We opened up the day before Father's Day and I didn't even know what hit us. We were smoked."

The next trend, King predicts, will be custom-made kanji hats. He makes them at Hat Zone and already has a large number of characters stored in his computer. He started with the characters for truth, beauty, wealth, happiness and love, but customers have built on the idea with family names, crests, even non-Japanese names spelled out syllable-by-syllable in katakana, the Japanese alphabet for foreign words.

To cap it off, the cost is $5, added onto a $14.99 fitted hat. You'd be getting away cheaper than buying a ready-made hat. And you get to score one for the home team.

Cap sampling

Bullet 59/50 series: Made by New Era, these are the official hats of Major League Baseball and are marked "authentic" inside. They are 100 percent wool and are the same caps worn on the field by pro ball players. Football teams also have 59/50 caps.

Bullet Custom caps: Like "authentic" hats, but in colors other than those the teams wear. They're marked "genuine merchandise" to indicate the maker is licensed to reproduce the team logo.

Bullet Spring training caps: Also "authentic," but made of a polyester mesh that's lighter and cooler. Used by pro teams for batting practice and at training camp.

Bullet Kanji caps: Major maker is Zephyr and the focus is on college teams. The front character usually represents the school mascot. These are also licensed products; the actual team logo is often printed on the back of the cap.

Buying guide

Bullet Sizes: Take a tape measure and wrap it around your head. The circumference is your hat size. Sizes are in 1/8-inch increments. (Many caps are still adjustable, though.)

Bullet Prices: For college caps, about $22. Pro teams, about $25. Some specialty caps go up to $30.

Bullet Proper curvature: The brim should not be straight-across, but curved around your face. You do this yourself, by hand, or with an elasticized cap curver - another $5.

Care and feeding

Bullet Dry cleaning: This is the manufacturer's recommendation for wool caps. Going rate is about $6.

Bullet Or, risk it: Throw it in the washing machine -cold water, no detergent - or in the top rack of the dishwasher - again, no detergent. A plastic frame called a Cap Buddy (about $4) helps hold the shape. Air dry.

Bullet Will it shrink? Possibly a little, even if it's not wool. But many cap-wearers say you can wet the hat and let it dry on your head and you'll get the size back.

Bullet Spot cleaning: Use watered down Simple Green or other detergents. Lids sells a cleaner called Perfect Solution for $4.99.

Bullet Sweat protection: Washable sweatbands, at $3.99. are sold to slip inside caps at Hat Zone.

Online kanji dictionary

Jeffrey's Japanese<->English Dictionary Server is a free Web site that will generate a graphic of the kanji (if one exists) corresponding to a word you type in Japanese or English. The main server is at; if it is busy, try its mirror site:

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