A beanie is a type of snug cap, usually brimless, which comes in two primary variations: a woven form, and a knitted one. In some part of the world, a woven beanie is still known as a beanie or skull cap, while a knitted beanie is referred to as a watch cap or sailor's cap. Depending on where you are, using the term “beanie” to refer to a knitted cap may be inaccurate. Whatever you call them, beanies of both types are common on the heads of people with certain religious affiliations, skiers, and youth.
The likely origin of the term beanie lies in the slang term “bean” for head, which is used in many English speaking nations. The classic woven skull cap was the original beanie, in addition to being the earliest hat. Archaeologists have found bodies buried with snug skull caps made from velvet, linen, cotton, and other textiles on almost every continent, but particularly in cold regions, as the beanie would have protected the head. The Jewish yarmulke is a form of beanie, as is the white cap worn by officiants in the Catholic Church.
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The woven beanie probably entered popular culture because of laborers, who would wear the snug, protective hat to insulate their heads from grease and other occupational hazards while keeping their hair out of the way. In many cases, a brimmed cap would have gotten in the way, but a beanie kept sweat out of the eyes and provided basic head protection. Youth and children adopted the beanie, which was also wildly popular in the American collegiate community until the 1950s. Many colleges required their freshmen to wear beanies as part of their initiation into the academic community, and to set freshmen aside from other students.
In the 1940s, a science fiction author named Ray Nelson added a propeller to a woven beanie, and the silly result was worn to a science fiction convention. The propeller beanie took off in the nerd community, and many geek supply stores carry an assortment of propeller beanies for all occasions. In recognition of the brief and rather odd fad, geeks are sometimes called “propeller heads.”
The knitted beanie is also known as a stocking or ski cap, and is made to be stretchy, comfortable, and warm. People who participate in outdoor sports appreciate knitted beanies because they insulate the head, and also compact down to a convenient pocket size if the weather warms up. Knitted beanies can be found in an assortment of colors and decorated with a variety of logos, just like their woven counterparts.