Casquette: in praise of the cotton cap
“It’s very rare to see a cotton cap outside of the cycling world,” says Andy Storey of Prendas Ciclismo. “I’ve seen one, weirdly enough, in a club, or sometimes at a music festival, but when you do see a cap you know you’ve spotted one of your own.”
No other item of clothing is as intrinsically linked to road cycling as the cotton cap, nor has any item of on-bike apparel been as resistant to rampaging innovation. “We think the humble cap is something worth celebrating,” says Storey, and Prendas Ciclismo will be doing just that at the Rouleur Classic on November 1-3.
Storey and Mick Tarrant, who founded Prendas in 1996, know a thing or two about cotton caps; the online retailer stocks 150 designs. “Some days, when we look at the orders going out of the door, cotton caps make up a huge percentage of our business,” says Storey.
The cap is a symbol of a bygone era: of Merckx, Gimondi and De Vlaeminck; six-speed cassettes, downtube shifters and a time when shorts were short. The casquette sits front and centre in some of cycling’s most iconic images; style and suffering, often gloriously combined with effortless panache.
Prendas will showcase 20 such images from legendary photographer John Pierce in a #capsnothats Hall of Fame at the Rouleur Classic.
Pierce has covered 51 Tours de France from 1967, the year Tom Simpson died on Mont Ventoux, through to the 2018 edition, when Geraint Thomas ensured the maillot jaune remained on the back of a British rider for the sixth time in seven years.
“John has a tremendous archive of pro riders wearing cotton caps and most of it isn’t digitised,” says Storey. “Occasionally he’ll send us one and we’re like, ‘Blimey, that’s incredible, John. Where have you been hiding these?’”
Read: John Pierce, the photographer who has covered 50 Tours de France
The Hall of Fame will celebrate some of the riders who, quite simply, looked great in a cotton cap.
“There’s one that really sticks out,” says Storey. “It’s a portrait of Eddy Merckx, taken by John in Plymouth when the Tour visited the UK in ‘74. There’s another of Jalabert in the green jersey when he was riding for ONCE.”
Greg LeMond is another rider to earn a spot in the gallery, but Storey also apportions some of the blame for the modern trend to wear baseball caps on the podium to the three-time Tour de France winner.
“He wore that bloody awful pink Coors baseball cap almost permanently,” Storey says. “I can’t think back to anyone else around that era who was wearing a baseball cap, everyone else was in cotton caps. That was the turning point.”
Read: Philippa York column – Remembering the day LeMond beat Fignon by 8 seconds
He’s only half-joking. There was a time in the 1990s when hardshell helmets arrived and it looked like the cotton cap might disappear. “It’s enjoyed a resurgence since then,” says Storey. “The Quick Step boys often wear caps and Cav is a disciple. Lance looked good in a cap, too.”
Prendas Ciclismo will also use the Rouleur Classic to showcase iconic cap designs, from authentic, team issue casquettes to modern replicas. The collection will span decades but, excusing modern niceties like antibacterial tape, the physical design has largely remained. That points to one of the reasons behind the cotton cap’s resistance to time or technology: it does the job.
“For me, being follically challenged, the cotton cap is a simple but really useful bit of kit,” jokes Storey, who rides from Prendas HQ in Poole, Dorset, out into the Purbeck Hills.
“I don’t tend to wear one in the summer, but from around now through to March, a cap under the helmet keeps the wind off the head without getting too warm and, because the cotton is thin, it doesn’t affect the fit of the helmet much. Peak up or down, depending on whether it’s raining. Job done.”
Job done indeed. Long live the cotton cap.