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It wasn’t always like this, but nowadays when baseball fanatics choose their caps, it usually comes down to a choice of New Era vs. Flexfit models. Their fitted and elastic types of ball caps have proved ultra-popular, each for differing reasons.
Both brands have a variety of products, but in terms of baseball hats it’s really about your preference for the fit. That is, do you prefer an elastic headband which can be looser or provide more “give”; or, a fitted cap which means you buy that size and it’s not adjustable, but the headband can be more durable? New Era caps have been worn by Major League Baseball players for some time now; but at the lower levels, some players prefer the stretchy and softer feel of a Flexfit cap.
Both have found niches away from baseball, New Era with its 59Fifty brand’s attraction for hip-hop fans and pop fashion; Flexfit as a model of choice for customized embroidery like company logos or youth sports team names.
Let’s take a look at some top models by both New Era and Flexfit.
While many people might think all baseball hats are the same, in reality it’s quite untrue. Some feel better on your head, some allow air to move more freely and thus let heat escape from your head to keep cooler, others have the right to have the logo of MLB teams on them. For New Era and Flexfit caps, here are the key differences:
If you insist on a hat looking like those worn by Major League players, you’ll have to go with New Era since it’s the exclusive cap of the MLB, and the hat adorned by top-level baseball players in America.
Many serious baseball fans scoff at adjustable or elastic-to-fit caps. The pros wear hats fitted exactly to their hat size, whether it’s a small 6¾, or a Barry Bonds-esque 8+. However, some baseball fans don’t like that fitted caps can shrink over time due to sweat and moisture, limiting their lifespan.
As stated above, some fitted hats can prove uncomfortable over time because the headband can only shrink (and not expand naturally), leaving little wiggle room to make them bigger. (See bottom for expansion tips). Hats with elastic headbands adjust to head sizes; the only drawback there is when the elastic stretches out too much over time and fails to return to the regular, initial size ~ kind of like old rubber bands stretched out too much.
While New Era fitted caps can be purchased plain to allow personalized embroidery on them, Flexfit caps are known for allowing this. Printing and embroidery businesses are so keenly aware that they specifically mention Flexfit caps in their marketing.
Without choosing a top model, following are examples from each brand to highlight differences.
New Era Classic Fitted
We’ll start with the classic, which you see most often atop MLB players’ heads: the New Era 59FIFTY Fitted Cap. The 59FIFTY (See bottom to learn where the name came from) is popular for many reasons, among them diehard baseball fans, and popular culture.
The brand’s trademark sticker itself, on the bill of new caps, became fashion statements when hip-hop artists and street culture fashionistas began wearing their 59FIFTYs without peeling off the sticker. It was a statement that they were wearing the top-of-the-line ballcap.
While the caps have a fitted closure, New Era added a moisture-wicking sweatband to pull sweat and water away from your forehead; and bolstered the front of the crown to better hold its shape. As New Era states in its promotional language, “A cap doesn’t need all the bells and whistles to fit what you’re looking for. A simple design is all you need to make a statement.”
What makes Flexfit caps stand out ~ and actually propelled the brand to the very top in baseball cap sales ~ is the company’s technology that allowed an elastic headband while maintaining the integrity of the rest of the cap’s soft top covering.
Previously, non-fitted caps were adjustable by the plastic “snap-back” mechanism in the back, which all youth baseball players are familiar with. Flexfit’s technology allowed their baseball caps to look like they were fitted like those we see on TV, but without the hole and plastic in the rear which can make caps look amateurish.
This is a solid, broad example of a classic Flexfit cap, before any customization. One thing to notice with un-customized caps by New Era and Flexfit is the later versions are much more affordable. The company strives for caps that keep a consistent shape whether worn primarily on the field, or off.
New Era’s Stretch Fit
This is not to say all New Era models are firmly fitted. Of course the long-established company made a foray into models with stretchy headbands. It’s designed to be a replica of the official on-field caps worn by MLB players, only with a stretch-fit headband.
And the 100% polyester cap, which is “one size fits most,” has proved plenty popular, especially those with MLB team logos. The price of these is lower than the classic fitted New Era caps, but still not as low as most Flexfit models.
Taking advantage of its MLB licensing, New Era adds a team logo in front, and an alternate team logo in the rear ~ along with its little flag emblem on the left side. The sweatband is made to absorb moisture, and this styling keeps the backside entirely closed.
Flexfit Wooly Combed Twill Cap
So New Era came out with some “stretch fit” models. Ergo, Flexfit can produce models with nice combed twill to make their exteriors look like those the pros wear. For this model they even added “fitted” into the headline, but know that this is still an elastic one-size-fits-all cap.
Which brings up an important delineation with caps from any manufacturer: aside from the headbands, pay attention to the material used for the exterior of the dome. Some are mesh, like trucker’s caps, which allow cool airflow inside. Others, like this, can be a more solid fabric that can look nice and last longer, but prove sweat-inducing in the sun.
Still, this Flexfit “fitted” model runs lower in price than most New Era models, and could prove to last about as long.
Here is a very general summary of what to expect when comparing baseball hats from either company:
- New Era classic fitted caps can last longer than most any baseball cap. They’re engineered to take punishment from MLB games, and are amazingly resilient to neglect and misuse.
- Flexfit caps are usually more affordable, and broadly more comfortable to wear at least along the headband, which not only is elastic, its fabric is usually very soft also.
- New Era fitted caps can shrink with time if exposed to moisture often (including sweat).
- Headbands of Flexfit caps can be overly stretched over time, making them permanently loose.
- Neither type of cap does well with washing in water. Tread carefully to use moist towels to clean dirt and sweat stains. Fully submerging can reduce the lifespan of these products.
Question: How would one expand the life of a shrinking fitted baseball cap?
Answer: By gently pulling at the headband to stretch the fabric and maybe pop a seam or two. To do it:
- Place the cap over a knee, with the bill facing away from your belly.
- Hold the edges of the headband’s left and right sides, behind the bill (do not pull the bill).
- Gently but firmly pull the cap toward your abdomen, using your knee to hold it in place.
- Pull for 5 or 10 seconds each, then try on the cap to see if any difference is noticed.
- If after many tries the headband does not seem to stretch, perhaps pull harder until you hear a “pop” or two, then quickly release. That’s the sound of a thread or two breaking along the headband, which can release tension and make the headband a tad larger.
- NOTE: This is only a trick to use on very old or well-worn fitted caps; and after doing this too much, the exterior sides could split in place, or the bill could start separating, marking the near end of the cap’s usefulness.
- NOTE 2: Some players buy their fitted caps at a slightly larger size, maybe up ⅛ or ¼, to compensate for shrinkage later. Fitted caps can be worn a little loosely; they just get problematic when they get tight.
Q.: What’s up with the 59FIFTY name?
A.: It refers to the model’s original catalog number, 5950, dating way back to 1954. Still, 59FIFTY caps were not made available to the general public until 1978. Finally in 1993, New Era was inked to exclusively supply official on-field caps for Major League Baseball players.
Flexfit, on the other hand, was named for the intent of the technology: to create a closed-back, adjustable and ultimately comfortable version to the fitted baseball hats that began greatly growing in popularity in the 1990s. Flexfit introduced the patented stretch Flexfit Technology in 1994, and it made a huge impact on the headwear industry.