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What Are Skully Hats?

By Marco Sumayao
Updated May 21, 2024
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Skully hats, also known as skullies, skull caps, and beanies, are brimless hats designed to hug the skull and keep the head warm. These hats can be knitted or crocheted using wool or cotton yarn, as these materials achieve a snug, close fit. The look was first associated with blue collar workers and sailors who needed to keep their heads warm without the distraction of a brim. In contemporary fashion, skully hats are an indispensable part of casual urban wear. Certain styles have also been appropriated as sartorial symbols by various urban subcultures.

The earliest versions of these hats were worn by women in the 12th or 13th centuries. They were made of embroidered velvet, taffeta, or satin and worn over a head veil. Men and women both wore black velvet skull caps in the 16th century, but women later went on to trim theirs with lace and fur throughout the 19th century. At around this time, knitted skull caps served a practical purpose for dockworkers, welders, and other blue collar workers. Skully hats kept the hair out of the eyes and protected the head from the cold during chilly days.

In the 1990s, the popularization of cold weather sports like snowboarding and the grunge clothing trend catapulted skully hats into the mainstream fashion. The modern skull cap is made of fleece or other synthetic fabrics that remove moisture, coming in various designs. Woven hats that resembled tobogganing caps also became popular among athletes who participated in snowboarding and other winter sports. These hats were made of chunky wool and served the practical purpose of keeping body heat trapped rather than a sartorial statement.

The 1990s also saw the appropriation of skully hats by urban skateboarders. They started calling the caps "beanies" and, like many other street slang terms, the name stuck. Beanies came in various shapes, sizes, and colors, but the most distinct feature they had was a patch, logo, or brand name woven where the brim is supposed to be in conventional hats. The visibility of the brand was important, as skaters preferred matching their beanies to their boards or skate shoes. In fact, almost all manufacturers of skate shoes have skully hats with colors and styles that match.

When big-name rap artists started wearing skully hats, the beanie became a popular accessory in the hip-hop community. Since hip-hop fashion is largely influenced by sportswear trends, the beanies they wore often came from skate brands. Sometimes their hats would carry statements like "thug life" instead of a sportswear logo.

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Discussion Comments
By Izzy78 — On Jul 04, 2012

It is amazing to me all the different names for the skull hat depending on where you are in the world.

Where I grew up, everyone called them stocking caps. Once they started getting more popular in the 90s and early 2000s, I started hearing them called beanies more often. I still don't hear a lot of people that I know call them skull caps. I usually think of that more as a smaller, tighter fitting hat made out of nylon or something.

I lived up in New York for a couple years later on. In that area, I hear a lot of people call them tuques. Apparently, that is what the hats are known as in Canada. Another name that I heard recently is a watch cap. I'm not sure where that one originated, but that is the name that my friend uses for them.

By titans62 — On Jul 03, 2012

@kentuckycat - I guess it just depends on where you get the hat from. The ones I own don't really have a prominent logo or anything, but there is at least some type of emblem there. It wouldn't do the company much good if people couldn't figure out where to get a hat that they liked.

I also like looking back at the way skaters' fashion has changed with the skully cap. They started off with the standard knit hats. Once those started to get popular, they went ahead and started wearing the thinner types that had the skating logos on them. Finally, a lot of people started wearing those, so it was no longer cool for them. Now, I see a lot of skaters who wear the same type of hat but with a brim like a hat.

Even the past couple of years, though, I have seen a lot of people who weren't skaters wearing the brimmed skull caps, so I guess it is a matter of time before they move on to the new thing.

By kentuckycat — On Jul 03, 2012

@jmc88 - I remember the stocking caps you are talking about. The ones that they make today are much more comfortable. I have a few different ones that I wear depending on which coat I am wearing (and which one I happen to find first).

I really like the fleece ones that they make now. They aren't quite as warm as the cotton ones, but they are very comfortable to wear. The fleece is very soft, and the texture makes it not slide around and mess up your hair like some of the others can do.

I don't know that many beanie hats still have the skating logos on them anymore, though. It seems like most of the ones I own and the ones that I see other people wearing are just different colors with no clear logo.

By jmc88 — On Jul 02, 2012

It is very interesting how something that started off being a practical way to keep your head warm several hundred years ago is now a major fashion statement for a lot of people.

I remember even when I was young that everyone wore stocking caps during the winter when it was cold. Now, I see people wearing them around in the summer. I think that would end up being extremely hot.

The thing I always hated was that the things we always used to wear were the knit hats made out of wool or heavy cotton. They were excellent at keeping your head warm but got extremely itchy after a while. I remember they would never stay straight on my head, either, so I would end up with horrible hat hair when I took it off.

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