Matt Heath: Summer’s comin’ – get out your baseball caps, cheese cutters and bucket hats


The Kiwi Summer requires a lot of lotion and a hat. That’s why the Matt and Jerry Breakfast Show on Radio Hauraki ran a headgear poll last week.

We asked our millions of listeners a simple question: If New Zealand was allowed just four types of hat what would they be?

After thousands of votes, the four pillars of Kiwi headwear were deemed: The Baseball Cap, the Bucket Hat, the Straw Hat and the Cheese Cutter. No beanie, no floppy hat, bonnet, hard hat or novelty sombrero – the latter being a favourite of mine. No one has a bad time in a novelty sombrero.

Kiwis love baseball hats. Even the cops. Last week NZ Police confirmed more than $600,000 has been budgeted for frontline staff baseball hats.

Why is this weird peaked head covering so popular when our summer sport is cricket? The answer lies in old New York.

Baseball was invented around 1800 but the hat didn’t appear till 1860. The Brooklyn Dodgers (later the LA Dodgers) turned up at the start of that season in matching woollen hats with leather peaks.

Up until that point, baseball players wore all kinds of sun protection. There were guys in bowlers, top hats, berets, Sherlock Holmes dear stalker hats and Napoleon Tricorne hats. Some wore three musketeer numbers with a feather in the side. It was a visual nightmare.

The first uniformed baseball hats were even worse. The players looked like they were reenacting the American Civil War a year before it started.

Luckily New Era designed the ’59Fifty’ in 1954, and it became the official cap of Major League Baseball.

Forty-seven years later it was New Zealand’s most popular headgear too.

Still, very few of the thousands you see walking around with LA on their heads realise they are supporting the Dodgers. I am a huge fan and often approach hat wearers with great chat like “Do you think they’ll retain Kershaw? I know he’s past his best but he’s still an asset to any rotation and I just can’t see him playing in any other uniform”. I get blank looks.

The truth is most New Zealanders don’t love baseball hats because of the sport, we like the way they keep the sun out of our eyes.

The origin of the bucket hat is harder to track. Humans have been using material in a bucket shape to cover their heads for at least 3000 years.

We do know the towelling bucket hat reached its peak in New Zealand in the mid-80s. Take a look at any summertime Eden Park footage from the era. Everyone’s wearing a towelling bucket hat, some soiled jockeys and nothing else.

Nothing says New Zealand summer like a novelty straw hat from a hardware store. The most famous wearer was a small shirtless British boy who yelled “Smart talk my uncle again, swear to god, the cheek of you. I’ll knock your brains out” at a woman on Takapuna beach in January 2019.

His family had left a bunch of baby wipes and beers on Takapuna beach and for a whole month, the biggest story in the country was the “unruly traveller family” and their flimflams. We were a happier, more innocent nation back then. No one could have predicted the disease, violence and disaster about to hit.

A cheese cutter is a rounded cap with a small stiff brim in front. In most parts of the world, they are flat caps; the Welch call it a dai, the Scottish a bonnet. For some reason, we call it a cheese cutter.

In recent years, Peaky Blinders has pushed the popularity of this distinguished lid through the roof.

Kiwis who look great in a cheese cutter include Karl Te Nana, Scotty J Stevenson, Craig McMillion and Jason Hoyte.

Baseball cap, bucket hat, straw hat, novelty sombrero, foam dome, toilet seat fascinator or cheese cutter – whatever you do this summer, do it with something on your head. Slip, slop, slap.

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