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Propeller beanie, once popular among children and university freshmen.

A beanie is a brimless cap, that was popular amongst school age boys from the 19th century to the early 1940s or later. Beanies are typically made of wool felt and either have a small embellished visor or, more commonly, no visor at all. At present in most of the English-speaking world "beanie" refers to the knitted woolen hat otherwise known as a tuque.

Beanies are commonly worn during the winter and other colder seasons to keep one's head warm. The construction of beanies varies. They can be structured from triangular sections of twill, leather or felt, joined by a button at the crown and seamed together around the sides. Less often, like a yarmulke, the cap is simply a flat circle of cloth with a section cut out to the center and then sewn into a three-dimensional shape. A "technical beanie" is thin and seamless for comfortable use with a helmet, thus is popular among cyclists.[citation needed]

Beanies are often constructed from yarn, using knitting or crochet techniques. While the beanie is considered a fairly humble piece of clothing, it has been elevated to the status of regional art in Alice Springs, Australia- which is claimed by some to be the Beanie Capital of the world.

More detailed information on beanies including some information on the propeller beanie is available on Historical Boys' Clothing.



The term is said to derive from a type of headgear worn in some medieval universities; the yellow hats ("bejaunus," that is, "yellowbill" later "beanus," a term used for both the hats and the new students) evolved into the college beanies of later years. [1]

In Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, the term "beanie" may also be applied to a knit cap known as a Tuque. Other terms for this headgear include watch cap, stocking cap, toboggan, skull cap, skully, or ski cap. They are also called woolen or wooly hats, or bobble hats if they are topped with a pompom, which is common.


One popular style of the beanie during the early half of the twentieth century was a skullcap made of four or six felt panels sewn together to form the cap. The panels were often composed of two or more different colors to make them novel. This type of beanie was also very popular with college fraternities as they would often incorporate school colors into the beanie.

in a 19th c. illustration of Alice in Wonderland by Sir John Tenniel, Tweedledum and Tweedldee wear beanies.

Another style of beanie was a formed and pressed wool hat with a flipped up brim that formed a band around the bottom of the cap. The band would often have a decorative repeating zig-zag or scalloped pattern cut around the edge. It was also quite common for schoolboys to adorn their beanies with buttons and pins.


A larger variant of the skullcap such as the Jewish kippah or yarmulke, the beanie historically was a working hat associated with blue collar laborers, welders, mechanics, and other tradesmen who needed to keep their hair back but for whom a brim would be an unnecessary obstruction.[citation needed] Beanies do sometimes have a very small brim, less than an inch deep, around the brow front. The baseball cap evolved from this kind of beanie, with the addition of a brim to block the sun.

Beanies were popular among schoolchildren in the early to mid-20th century.

These were simple beanies, either with or without a brim, usually with an insignia of the institution and often with the class year, and usually made of wool. It was usually required that students wear these beanies at all times when they were on campus for the entire freshman year. At some institutions there was often a contest in the fall, such as an athletic competition between the freshman and sophomore classes, the winning of which would relieve that year's freshman class from having to wear the stigmatizing beanie. With the social changes of the 1960’s, these traditions were abandoned, often by the simple refusal of whole classes to wear the beanie.

In the late 1940s, science fiction fanzine artist Ray Nelson (himself still in high school) adopted the use of the propeller beanie as emblematic shorthand for science fiction fandom, in self-mockery of the popular image of fans as childish and concerned with ephemera (i.e., science fiction); references to it are ironically now used to identify old-fashioned fans, as opposed to more modern fans of media SF. The propeller beanie increased in popular use through comics, and eventually made its way onto the character of Beany Boy of "Beany and Cecil." Today, computer savvy and other technically proficient people are sometimes pejoratively referred to as propellerheads thanks to the one-time popularity of the propeller beanie[2]

By the mid 1940s, beanies fell out of popularity as a hat in favor of cotton visored caps like the baseball cap although in the 1950s and possibly beyond, they were worn by college freshmen and various fraternities as a form of mild hazing.[3]

In the early 1990s, the beanie saw a reemergence in popularity due to the "grunge" clothing trend as well as the popularization of snowboarding and other cold weather sports activities. The modern beanie is usually made of fleece, or special synthetic material that wicks moisture away. Woven versions, resembling tobogganing caps, are also popular sportswear accessories for winter sports—such as snowboarding.


  1. ^ Black Greek 101: the culture, customs, and challenges of Black fraternities. Walter M. Kimbrough, Fairleigh Dickinson University PRess 2003 p. 38
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster definition of propellerhead
  3. ^ Excerpt from "The GI Bill", by Michael D. Haydock Mentions the practice of requiring freshmen to wear beanies (or "dinks") at Lehigh University. Recollections found on-line also mention Franklin & Marshall, Gettysburg and Rutgers Colleges, etc.

External links

Smith, S. E.. "What is a beanie?." wiseGeek.

Outfit your Beanie with Beanie Hats



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