Aamir Khan wears one. So does Preity Zinta. And now the new kid on the entertainment block, a would-be singer called Vinit, is being identified as much by his vocal chords as the piece of stitched cloth on his head. Suddenly, the humble cap — worn all these years mainly as a guard against the sun — is becoming a fashion statement.
From film stars to cricketers to wannabe luminaries, the cap is everybody's favourite accessory these days. The old baseball cap is being refurbished to suit all types. And since the public follows any style endorsed by a celebrity — remember the Chinese-collared 'Guru' shirts popularised by Rajesh Khanna and the spiky hair style by Aamir Khan's character in Dil Chahta Hai — shops are brimming over with different kinds of caps.
"Caps have made a significant comeback from being on the fringes of fashion trends," says Ratan Singh, owner of the 7 Eleven shop in Calcutta's Vardaan Market. "We are not complaining at all. In fact, foreseeing an increased demand after Rang De Basanti's popularity, we have stocked up on caps," he says.
If The Rising had Aamir Khan showing off his tresses and an impressive moustache, Rang De Basanti showcases a blue cap on his head. And for a generation hung up on the word "cool," the cap suggests all that is hip. It has style, but isn't elaborate. It's unisex. It's trendy. And some even believe that a cap can be lucky.
Vinit, one of the finalists in Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, the ever-popular music reality show on Zee TV, is better known as the "guy with the cap". Teenagers have been going crazy over him, women vote for him in hundreds of thousands and staid old aunties have adopted him as a son. And the show's organisers would like its viewers to believe that, behind his popularity, there is a magical cap at work. Vinit believes that "the cap has proved to be lucky" and says he always wears it while singing.
There have been other famous patrons of the cap from showbiz. Take music director Himesh Reshammiya, who swears by his cap, or singer Kunal Ganjawala, who is often seen wearing a cap. Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Khan have been donning a cap. And Preity Zinta is a fond cap wearer.
The cinema, of course, has always had a great influence on the apparel business. In the 1960s, Dev Anand's beret was quite a fashion statement. In the late 1980s, Salman Khan popularised the "friendship cap" in Maine Pyar Kiya. And then Aamir Khan gave the cap a new meaning when, as a happy-go-lucky tapori, he wore it in Rangeela. "But the market for caps is very fickle," says Badal Sharma of Denim Magic in Vardaan Market. "When a movie does well there's an increasing demand for that specific type. Hence we stock caps, gauging public demand," he says.
A cap has its advantages. One, it doesn't cost the earth — a cheap one is available for Rs 100. Two, it can go with anything — jeans, skirts or bermudas. Three, colours are not a problem. Four, it can take care of a bad-hair day. And five, age or status is no bar. So while youngsters are perennial customers, even smart executives don't shy away from wearing caps.
Says Sankar Debnath, a Calcutta-based system officer, "I wear them everywhere. I like the minimal look of single-coloured caps. I prefer denim or cords. And my favourite is one with a logo of the Chicago Bulls."
There are all kinds of caps — baseball caps, beanies, ski caps, monkey caps and Gandhi caps, to name just a few. Says fashion designer Sharbari Datta: "Caps have always been popular in different times. For instance, the khadi movement spawned the Gandhi cap. The popularity varies, depending on the fashion trend at the moment."
Caps come in all prices and colours. An expensive one can cost up to Rs 450. "The difference in price is due to the quality of the fabric used," explains Sharma.
The one spot where caps are more visible than ever is, of course, the cap market of Calcutta — the street-side shops opposite the Nakhoda Mosque on Chitpur Road. Brilliantly coloured caps dazzle the eye, as customers — the old and the young, men and women — rummage for the cap they are in search of.
The head gear, clearly, is here to stay. And that, as some would say, is a feather in its cap.