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Tiny Beanies Have a Long History. Here's Why You Need One

More than simply meme fodder, folded beanies carry on a long legacy of ear exposure.


Beanies are meant to keep your head warm. They cover the crown and blanket your ears, blocking out wind and snow while keeping in the heat your head releases. But when smaller beanies took over, especially in skateboarding circles, many wondered why they were wearing their hats this way, with their ears exposed. As it turns out, it's no new phenomenon. In fact, the practice dates back to the 19th century.

Fisherman Beanie History

Worn first in Europe and then in the US, beanies worn above the ears were commonplace amongst the ranks of Navy crews both American and abroad. The English are said to have worn "watch caps" — rolled beanies worn above or right at the ears — in war as early as 1854.

Then there was Jacques Cousteau, the pioneering French ocean diver, who was also a navyman himself. He popularized a red one, a symbol his son explained displayed his respect for the sea. (One might've guessed blue, but whatever.) Then came Steve Zissou, a fictional rendition of the renowned diver played Bill Murray. Admittedly, the movie made both bigger, meaning Cousteau and Zissou. They became pop culture icons, albeit of different varieties (non-fiction vs fiction).

But between Cousteau's first crusades and Wes Anderson's cinema were generations of men given these style hats during military service. First it was navymen, then the Army adopted a similar style. Watch caps, as they were called, are worn differently than fisherman beanies, though, even if it's simply a matter of folding, not actual build. Fisherman beanies are actually made with less fabric, meaning if you unfold it, it'll barely cover your ears, let alone your entire face. Some watch caps, like Carhartt's classic beanie, would roll down over your chin.

Tiny Beanies Hit the Internet

But even though Carhartt's Watch Cap is as inconspicuous as it gets, it became the center of a meme storm targeted toward men that wore them rolled up super high, exposing both ears, barely hanging onto the head it was tasked with keeping warm. Tiny beanies became the official uniform of fuccbois everywhere, the finishing touch to an outfit comprising wide-fit chinos, a raggedy vintage tee, thrashed Chuck Taylors and a gallery wall-like collection of permanent tattoos.

They got a bad rep, and fast. How you wore your beanie suddenly said a lot about you. But nowadays, even if the meme persists, I think the panic about folded (or rolled) beanies has passed, and I think you can wear yours however you please, as long as it looks intentional. I generally think super, super oversized beanies are still out, so you're safer going small anyway.

How to Buy a Fisherman Beanie

Look for a beanie that isn't too big. A beanie that's too big to begin with will prove difficult to fold over again, making it hard to get it up over your ears without creating a semi-wide brim. Seek out a beanie labeled as "Fisherman" or "Mini" or "Rolled." Descriptors like this are giveaways about size.

How to Style a Fisherman Beanie

Originally, fishermen would flip their beanies up when they hit the shore, where the wind wasn't as harsh. It was their way of letting off steam. Now, it's just cool to do it, even if your ears are cold. Don't let your beanie sit too high on your head, though. It should wrap around your occipital bone and tightly around your forehead — ears out.

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