If T-shirts are the foundation of promo apparel, hats are the icing on the brandable cake. More than two-thirds of consumers own a promo cap, and just one lid averages over 3,400 impressions out in the world, making hats a highly visible and useful investment for any brand.

At a lower price point than most garments, headwear also provides a more accessible entry point into promo wearables, budget-wise.

“We really believe that headwear is recession-proof,” says Jenny Straub, director of strategic partnerships with Arkansas-based supplier Outdoor Cap, which marked 45 years in business in 2022. “If your budget doesn’t allow for a golf shirt… you could choose a hat or cap, and that’s going to be less expensive – but I’ve still given you something personal, and you still feel just as special.”

Hats simplify ordering and distribution, since most are one-size-fits-all, and with the wide variety available, it won’t be hard to find the right hat for the occasion. Plus, if a supplier is short on stock, customers can choose from so many options that they might end up with something even better than what they originally had in mind.

Trends come and go, but the need for quality, comfort and style endures. To craft a promotional hat people will want to wear, comfort is a must. Quality also matters, because you want a hat that will last.

“Your cap has to look good and feel good,” Straub says. “You can’t give out a cap that someone’s just going to throw in the back of their closet.”

Aim for fit, function and flair to create a hat that will not only be worn but become a favorite.

“We talk about ‘windshield caps’ a lot – that favored cap that person is going to wear every day,” says Straub. “That’s what they throw in their windshield [on the dashboard] so they have it when they’re going to go into the store or head to church or wherever.”

Decorate To Differentiate

When it comes to style, get creative with decoration to set a basic trucker cap or beanie apart and make it a stylish choice to be worn again and again.

“The decorating is almost as important as the cap itself,” says Mike Nakajima, a sales executive with Mega Cap, a California-based supplier. “Retail quality and the right decorating technique are both essential to create a final quality product.”

Gone are the days of slapping a logo on the front of a cap or beanie and calling it a day. With so many decoration options, it can be daunting to choose. Consider a new twist on traditional embroidery, like 3D, reverse 3D or sublimation. Patches, also a tried-and-true favorite, come in a number of different materials and can be permanently affixed or swapped and supplemented on a cap with hook-and-loop patches. Printed seam tape is another decorative option for a fun surprise inside.

Outdoor Cap manufactures headwear for retail brands as well as the promo products industry, so they have a sneak peek at what’s coming. Look to the outdoor market, especially surf and skate, for clues about what’s trending, says Ben Roberts, head of marketing for Outdoor Cap. Currently, he sees ropes, perforation (using die cuts or lasers) and generic camouflage patterns as hot embellishments.

“Patches are still a red-hot item for any interested customer,” he adds. “They look great, and they are easy to make high-quality and detailed, especially if you use a sublimation technique, so we’re seeing a lot of that. Leather or faux leather patches are also huge.”

Roberts also believes that direct embroidery will always be popular as a classic cap decoration.

“Caps have this kind of Americana mystique to them, whether it’s the attachment with baseball or something else, but they always have this kind of heritage feel thing going on that embroidery really lends itself to,” he says.

Straub adds that clever placement can make all the difference in decorating, because front and center has become just one of many options for branding.

“You don’t have to have your brand blaring at the very front of your cap to really know that people believe in what you’re wearing,” she says. “In fact, when we do a cap for my strategic accounts, we definitely suggest to put it off to the side.”

The idea, she adds, is to spark curiosity in the viewer to ask the wearer about what’s on the hat: “Because it’s kind of elusive, you don’t see exactly what it is, so people will ask.”


3 Hot Headwear Styles For 2023

All the hat styles available can lead to analysis paralysis when it comes to choosing a product. Here are three styles sure to put your clients’ brands on top:

1. Truckers Rule

The humble trucker hat – a structured cap with fabric front panels and mesh rear panels – remains king.

“Everybody wants some sort of modern trucker cap. It’s gotten into every single market,” says Straub. “Every type of customer buys it. It’s not just for the landscaper or the construction worker.”

Vogue reported plenty of sophisticated caps featured in fall runway shows: “From Gucci to Coach to Burberry, the all-American baseball cap was the dominant headgear on the catwalks.”

Again, creativity is key, and the structure of trucker hats provides a great canvas for multiple decoration techniques, including printing and embroidery on the mesh back panels in addition to the standard front crown area.

“The trucker hats always feel a little bit cleaner,” says Roberts, “so they end up lending themselves to being a nice vessel for any brand that comes along that needs to have a good-looking, sharp cap.”

2. Poms: The Bigger, The Better

Fluffy accessories are in, according to Vogue, and the bigger the better. Look at the knit caps available and you’ll see poms the size of your fist.

“Poms have become really important right now because the bigger the pom, the better the cap,” says Straub. “We’re noticing that trend all across fashion and retail.”

Straub says she sees knit hats worn as fashion accessories now, regardless of the weather, and by all genders.

“You can look at some of the rock stars, and they’re constantly wearing a knit cap,” she says, “so then all of the other people want to copy off of those musicians. We’ve even seen it on the West Coast when it’s 85 degrees.”

3. Fun (With Protection) In The Sun

Bucket hats are still hugely popular with consumers, although they tend to be a bit pricier than caps, due to the materials and time needed for construction. Boonies and wide-brimmed straw beach hats (aka lifeguard hats), which provide sun protection during outdoor activities, are also popular.

Nakajima has seen a boost in demand for lifeguard hats, not only from companies looking for promo giveaways but also those wanting to outfit their outdoor workers.

“We have seen an increase in all our straw headwear, but an unusual jump in our lifeguard straw hats,” he says. “Most are branded with a variety of patches for promotional use, but also for companies who want to provide their outdoor workers with protection from the sun. Some styles are available with a stock underbill decorated fabric lining for an added pop of color and an additional layer of sun protection.”

Although these three styles are trending now, the baseball-style billed cap and its variations (dad, trucker, etc.) are still tops – and there are tons of great options for promo headwear. Here are a few to consider:

 

The OC771 Ultimate Trucker Cap provides a comfortable fit and sharp-looking finish ready for a variety of decorative branding elements. Available in 60 color combinations (slate/navy/gray shown). Most colorways are cotton twill fronts, heathered are synthetic linen, and the others are cotton linen.
Outdoor Cap / PPAI 213485, S10 / www.outdoorcap.com 

 

For an unstructured “dad hat,” the Port & Company Brushed Twill Low Profile Cap offers a classic look and lightweight feel in 100% brushed cotton twill with a self-fabric slide closure. Available in 13 colors (royal shown).
SanMar / PPAI 110788, S16 / www.sanmar.com

 

The OC806 Oversized Pom Watch Cap “was popular right from the get-go,” says Straub. This stylish and warm acrylic knit beanie is equipped with an oversized pom on top and features a 3-inch cuff for decorating. Available in five colors (midnight blue shown).
Outdoor Cap / PPAI 213485, S10 / www.outdoorcap.com

 


Give a nod to streetwear style with this acrylic Slouch Beanie, which can be worn slouched (as shown) or rolled/cuffed. Available in five colors (charcoal shown).  
Ivory Headwear / PPAI 319600, S4 / www.ivoryheadwear.com

 

Provide a little shade with a Lifeguard Straw Hat with inner elastic sweatband, perfect for working outdoors, a day at the beach, by the pool, gardening, etc. The brim measures 4.5 inches with optional fabric lining underneath for added sun protection.
Mega Cap / PPAI 223859, S5 / www.megacapinc.com

 


Thanks to Y2K nostalgia and countless TikTok videos, bucket hats are everywhere. Put your client’s brands on top with a 60% Recycled Crosshatch Cotton Bucket Hat. Available in 15 colors (shown in beryl green) and sizes M-L.
Mega Cap / PPAI 223859, S5 / www.megacapinc.com

 

For serious sun protection, check out this Recycled PET Boonie Hat, which contains the equivalent of two 16-oz. water bottles and features an adjustable chin cord. Available in navy (shown) or black.
IMAGEN Brands / PPAI 114197, S10 / www.IMAGENBrands.com