Google “how to dress like a movie director,” and the top hit will be the following video:
After briefly distinguishing between the laidback attire of Steven Spielberg (T-shirt and jeans) and the formal suit style of Christopher Nolan, the minute-long clip stresses, above all, comfortable footwear. Noticeably absent from this handy “advice” on how to dress the part of a filmmaker: A hat. It’s well documented that directors, frequently behind the camera and thus not exactly on the frontlines of Hollywood glamor, tend to make some questionable fashion choices from the neck up. Quentin Tarantino wore a horrendous bucket hat on the set of Kill Bill. While filming Nebraska, Alexander Payne went with a ushanka (a Russian fur hat) to combat the cold, harsh Nebraskan weather. And as far back as D.W. Griffith through Robert Altman, the Coen Brothers, and Ava Duvernay, variations on the cowboy hat have been a staple in movie set headgear.
But perhaps the most instantly recognizable image of today’s filmmakers is a simple, if somewhat mystifying one: a blank baseball cap.
…George Lucas, on the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom in 1984:
and Steven Spielberg:
Even before Spielberg’s legendary cap, there was John Huston, directing The Misfits:
… And, unsurprisingly, Gene Kelly (who was a huge baseball fan), here directing Hello Dolly:
Ron Howard, one of the quintessential baseball hat wearing-filmmakers today, has told ESPN that the reason for his “ubiquitous” caps precedes his notable baldness: “It’s great because you can see well through the camera lens without the brim of your hat bumping into the camera. The efficiency of it is why the cap, as well as the down vest, is a director’s signature uniform.”
Hollywood has become so overrun with these hats that in 2012, when former Calvin Klein public relations director and talent agent Josh Reed launched the lifestyle brand Gents, the line included a plain baseball hat called a “Director’s Cap.” So the question remains: why is the director’s cap so often blank? Why no team affiliations or funky logos? How did this sartorial cipher take over movie sets across America?
We reached out to Reed for insight. The inspiration came to him while working as a talent agent for celebrities, he explained: “They’d tell me … they get sent all of these free clothes, but they can never find a classic baseball hat.” “None of the [fashion] houses really focused on that,” he said. (The baseball cap, he explains, is also ideal for celebrities and filmmakers who want to keep a low profile while out in public.) His inspiration “was the classic image of that director in the perfectly fitted black cap.” Reed says the cap has been his consistent top-selling item, regardless of the season. “Every guy wants to wear a nice baseball hat when going out to dinner,” he says.
But the simplicity also may have a more logistical explanation: In order to avoid potential conflict with a movie’s sponsorship deals, it’s better to go with a non-branded hat on set.
At $48, the Director’s Cap is a drop in the bucket for the likes of George Lucas. In case you yourself are an aspiring filmmaker with limited funds to spare, though, you do have other options. For instance: This blank black baseball cap will make you into an instant Spielberg clone, and it’ll only cost you $2.50.