Why Is a Knit Cap Also Called a Beanie?

man in beanie

(3-min read)

In a turn of unlikely fashion trends, knit caps have transcended seasons and become a favorite hat regardless of weather conditions. Some of you may be saying, “I don’t know about that.” The rest of you may be saying, “what the heck is a knit cap?” That confusion is likely because of the name many have attributed to this style of headgear—the beanie.

“Why is a knit cap called a beanie?”

Like many articles of clothing with names originating from slang terminology, the origins of the name of the beanie are shrouded in mystery. Some claim that the name originates from a medieval headgear to others tracing the etymological roots to American universities in the first half of the 20th century. Let’s explore some of these theories.

Theory 1: The Bean

If we take a look back at some of the earlier cousins of the modern beanie, we find skullcaps sewn together with several cloth panels. To keep these caps from eventually coming apart at the crown with wear, skullcap creators and manufacturers would install a button or rivet at the very top. This button or rivet is still in existence on most modern billed ballcaps. These buttons or rivets were approximately the size and shape of a bean, which led some to call the unbilled predecessor of the modern ballcap and knit cap a “beanie.”

Theory 2: The Beanus/Dink

freshmen beanies
Freshmen at Dartmouth University, 1952.

Though college hazing is mostly frowned upon now, it was once commonplace throughout every fraternity in the United States—if not the world. Dating back to medieval university life, the freshman would be made to wear special skullcaps at all times to denote their status as such. Such hats were known as a “beanus”, being that the head was commonly referred to as one’s “bean.” To facilitate relatively innocent hazing and to initiate new classmates to campus life, these new students would need to be recognizable as such. Such rules were actually voted into effect by the students of Penn State in 1906 to be mandatory for all freshmen wear such hats—though, in this case, the hat was known as a “dink.” College freshmen were required to wear a particular dink/beanie at all times and could be called upon to answer questions about the history of Penn State at any given moment. They were also required to tip their “dinks” at upperclassmen as they passed. This custom was prevalent on college campuses all over the United States for the first half of the 20th century.

Thankfully, the beanie has taken on a more positive connotation in modern fashion. In addition to its extremely comfortable fit, beanies are also terrific for displaying organizational emblems, slogans, or company logos.