Until, say, March 2020, wearing a crochet hat on one’s head could signify a few different things. It could mean that you had recently shaved your head due to a lice outbreak at your elementary school, and needed to keep your noggin warm in the interim. It could mean you were forced into wearing one at summer camp to prevent sunburn. Or perhaps you wore a crochet hat because you went to Hampshire College, and along with cultivating a kombucha scoby, that’s just what people did there. It was not the kind of hat you’d see on, say, Bella Hadid, or a slightly anonymous Italian Instagram influencer who somehow has a million Instagram followers. Until, of course, it was: For the past year, the crocheted bucket has been everywhere, and not just on preteens. What changed? Two words: free time.
Over the darkest, deepest stretch of the pandemic—from roughly March 2020 to…now—Instagram was flooded with people getting into all sorts of DIY hobbies, like bird watching and sourdough bread baking. People also got into stringing pony beads together to make funky jewelry. They learned how to knit, and to weave. A select few learned how to crochet, and crochet accounts quickly began to crop up all over Instagram, advertising handmade hats in all sorts of weird colors and shapes.
There was some precedent for all this. The crochet hat trend actually started a few weeks before the pandemic, when Emily Dawn Long, a designer and former celebrity stylist, debuted her Hat Called Wanda on Instagram. The hat, which you can mold into all sorts of shapes (bucket, “Pharrell,” and more), comes in earth tones, with a simple, eye-catching dotted pattern. It gives off a sort of ’90s Blossom vibe, but feels contemporary—it’s the kind of piece that looks especially good when styled with a pair of light-washed jeans and a big button-up shirt. Long’s inspiration for the hat, she explained, came from a vintage prototype she thrifted a few years back, which she got compliments on constantly. She decided to collaborate with the knitwear designer Maria Dora to put it into production, and by February of 2020, you could buy one. It was a success almost instantly. “The hat just took off,” she told me.
Soon after Long’s hats began trending, other designers, like It’s Memorial Day, began to sell very similar pieces on Instagram. It’s Memorial Day’s Delsy Gouw learned how to crochet as a child, she told me, and picked it up again during the pandemic as a way to keep her hands busy. She started off making crocheted bags for her friends, and then began to make hats and bra tops. She took color inspiration from the packages that came to her apartment during the pandemic, like purple-and-white FedEx boxes and orange canisters of medicine. Making crochet goods for her friends eventually garnered so much interest that Gouw quit her job to pursue her side hustle. “I realized that this crochet thing could be a full-time thing,” she said. “It was no longer: I was making hats on the side. I could do it full-time.”
Long and Gouw aren’t alone. Alice Sofia Navarin of Rat Hat makes hers in loud, Rainbow Brite neons; they sometimes feature hearts, moons, and suns. In addition to making crochet bucket hats, Navarin also makes Gummo-inspired bunny hats and little balaclavas for cold weather. The husband-and-wife duo STORY mfg also make a few different crochet hats. Their most popular one features little black snails. It’s probably best worn gardening, but will certainly work for drinking wine in a park.
The fancy quarantine crochet hat is strikingly genderless. More than that, it’s the opposite of sexy, one of those pieces that look inherently virginal. They’re all over the place. In the little enclave of Brooklyn that I live in, I’ve seen teens wearing crochet hats. When I’ve ventured into lower Manhattan, I’ve seen them on scenesters of all stripes, skulking down Canal Street, probably while also wearing some baggy jeans. And of course, they’re all over social media. Just look at the tagged photos on any of these designers’ accounts, and you’ll see countless people, young and old, across all genders, wearing these nefarious, and chic, hats. When I reached out to a few people who have joined the trend, they cited functionality and nostalgia as primary drivers. Emma, a 23-year-old who lives in Orange County, owns hats from It’s Memorial Day and Emily Dawn Long. Sun protection is important to Emma, and they believe that if they are going to splurge on a fashion item, it needs to have a purpose. Lindsey, who works as a publicist for emerging designers, has a few Emily Dawn Long hats, and he likes the way they reflect a utilitarian quality he’s embracing in his personal style.
That cheeky throwback hats are trending at all says a lot about where fashion is going. People care about practicality and are thinking more than ever about where their clothing comes from and how it was made. Crochet hats fit pretty neatly into that narrative, right alongside quilted Bode jackets, upcycled Marine Serre jeans, the “Gorpcore” multiverse, and Zoomers getting into fights about “thrift-store gentrification” on TikTok. In that sense, the humble crochet hat speaks to a larger moment in fashion as the pandemic begins to end. A sustainably made crochet hat worn on the beach this summer is about the most stylish way possible to ward off sunburn.
Unless, of course, you buy a crochet hat for a different, more personal reason. Silas, who is 24 and works in the nonprofit sector, also likes the trend and has picked up a hat of their own. It reminds them, they said, of the time they “had lice consistently for, like, two years.”