The bucket hat re-rebirth

Worn at award shows, on magazine covers, and everywhere in between.

Pantsula dance crews wear it. Paddington Bear wore it. At this point, bucket hats are more than a trend; they are becoming a staple in closets everywhere regardless of the season.

Words by Neo Khanyile

The bucket hat. Paddington Bear wore it. Pantsula dance crews wear it. At this point, bucket hats are more than a trend; they are becoming a staple in closets everywhere regardless of the season. They’re worn at award shows, on magazine covers, and everywhere in between.

What is it?

The bucket hat is wide-brimmed usually made of heavy-duty cotton or denim and often features two metal eyelets on either side. This humble hat is back to being an in-demand fashion article, seeing a renaissance since its last domination in the late 90s. Over the past few years, it’s evolved from ironic comeback trend to fashion mainstay.

To understand how it reachesd this level of notoriety, it’s important to take a brief look at its history: The hat is said to have first originated in the early 1900s and was typically worn by fishermen and farmers in Ireland. Originally made out of wool, the bucket hat was made to be practical: keeping the wearer dry in wet weather, or protecting them from the sun. It had a stint as military wear in the 40s and made appearances on American TV in the 60s. 

The hat’s biggest renaissance came in the 80s and 90s, when the hip-hop community adopted and popularised the bucket hat – most notably, the furry Kangol hat, famously worn by the likes of LL Cool J and Run-DMC.

The bucket hat all but disappeared in the 2000s. That’s until the late 2010s saw the resurgence of the phenomenon: the hat was increasingly seen on fashion runways as well as street-style blogs. The about-turn on bucket hats can also be attributed to celebrity and pop culture. The minute Rihanna and K-pop artists BTS started rocking bucket hats, there was no turning back, really.

Ispoti

The iconic hat, known as ispoti in South Africa, was probably most popular in and synonymous with the pantsula subculture. The spoti’s association with pantsula culture can be traced back to the 80s, as the high-energy pantsula dance spread through SA’s townships as a form of expression. At the time, the pantsula dress code was preppier, with collared shirts, formal shoes, and dancers in matching outfits for performances. As time went by, the style became decidedly less formal and favoured Dickies’ pants with the much-loved Converse All-Star. Soft fabric spotis became in vogue and dancers incorporated the hat in their dance routines – throwing it in the air, dropping it, and catching it in as part of their choreography.

In the mid-90s, kwaito group like the legendary Trompies and Alaska became the poster boys of the pantsula subculture as they were known for dressing up in this style. The term ‘bucket hat’ has somewhat consumed ‘ispoti’, which for a long time was a noted, celebrated symbol of urban township culture. 

The popularity of 90s streetwear in the late 2010s is also key to understanding why the hat has once again become omnipresent in local and global contexts. The revival of 90s sports-luxe would be incomplete without the bucket hat, and in the 2010s, SA hip-hop made significant inroads into the mainstream while taking advantage of nostalgic 90s kwaito sounds and lyrics – and by extension, fashion.

How to wear it

Once an obscure accessory, bucket hats now come in a remarkable array of styles. There are casual cotton bucket hats, denim bucket hats, nylon bucket hats, designer-monogrammed ultra-luxe bucket hats, as well as bright and textured statement pieces.

The bucket hat is an undoubtedly versatile product. It is equally polarising. For some, they are just for floppy things dads wear fishing and babies wear to keep the sun at bay. For others, they are the cherry on top of a fit. It’s great for festival and outdoor wear as it’s both protective and stylish: the T-shirt-and-jeans fit is suddenly infinitely cooler with this addition. Another dope aspect is that you can wear a bucket hat at any time of year without feeling too hot or too cold. The trend of reversible bucket hats, meanwhile, has given wearers the 2-for-1 option when it comes to budget and styling.

Whatever feelings you may have about the bucket hat, there’s no denying it’s an overwhelmingly easy way to instantly elevate and improve an outfit. Wearing one is also a super-easy way to hide bad hair days. In all, they’re a slyly workable and versatile accessory disguised as a trendy fashion item.