Pinch Hit: Hacking the 59Fifty

Tuesday, August 14 2007 @ 10:06 PM EDT

Contributed by: Matthew E

Intrepid correspondent Robert Romano has provided this excellent Pinch Hit about the care and feeding of the polyester baseball cap. You can't get this kind of information just anywhere.

Like many of you, I like to wear official MLB gear, including New Era's line of baseball caps. In particular, the 59Fifty. As many have already noticed, the 2007 edition of the hat is made of polyester, in contrast to its wool predecessors. It used to be sufficient to rinse the hat with warm-to-hot water, and then simply put it on as it dried and shrank to the shape of your head. This wonít work with polyester. Apparently, one of the reasons for switching to polyester was to prevent shrinkage. However, for fans who do not have big heads, and who do not want their official hat to sit tall on their heads, and consequently have a need to break their hats in, the new design is a disaster. Traditional methods for breaking in ball caps will not do, and I had to do some experimentation to break in the new polyester hat.

Well, fear not, fans. After doing some investigation online, I discovered that to shrink polyester fabric, you need to heat it to over 81 degrees Celsius (177 degrees Fahrenheit) but under 230 degrees Celsius (446 degrees Fahrenheit), as this is when the fabric melts.

There are two ways to do this at your house. Either a) cook the hat in your oven at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit or b) boil it. But donít do that right away! You have to prepare the hat to prevent side effects. Follow these steps in order:

1) Wash the hat with a small amount of laundry detergent in the sink. Donít put it in the washer/dryer! The washer/dryer would shred your hat to bits. The reason you need to wash it is that the hats have excess dye which will bleed into white fabric when wet, and you're going to need to get the hat wet numerous times in this process. So, wash your hat in the sink until most or all of the excess dye has dripped out of it.

2) Preheat your oven to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

3) Take a hot shower - as hot as you can make it without scalding yourself - with the hat on. Here, you're trying to get the hat to conform to the shape of your head. Try gripping it tightly so the inside mesh begins to bend backwards. You may need to experiment a bit in the mirror to see how you want it shaped while the hat is soaking wet. This will give you an idea of how to hold it tightly in the shower. After about 10 minutes of holding it - while it's on with the hot water running - to the shape you want it to be, your oven should be hot enough to cook your hat.

4) Put the hat in the oven immediately. Don't worry, this won't melt it. The hat is 100% polyester, and as long as you keep it below 446 degrees Fahrenheit, it won't melt. That's why I recommend about 300 degrees Fahrenheit, a sufficient temperature to shrink the fabric and yet not do any damage. Leave it in the oven until itís dry.

5) Take the hat out of the oven, let it cool off for a few minutes, and try it on. If it fits the way you like, then you're done. If not, you still need to shrink it some more. Read on.

6) Get a large pot and fill it with water, enough to submerge the hat in. On the stove, bring the water to a rolling boil. Once the water's boiling, put the hat in. Leave it there for about 10 to 15 minutes. If you notice the water turning a reddish or any other color, donít panic; that's just more excess dye bleeding out. If, when you take the hat out, the dye has bled into the white fabric of the hat, wash it immediately (as you did in Step 1), as you do not want the dye to stain the white fabric.

7) Get back in the shower, with the hat on, with hot water, as in Step 3. Hold it in the shape you want it to be again. Do this for about 10 minutes or so.

8) Put it back in the oven at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit to dry it off. When it's dry, take it out, let it cool, and try it on.

9) Repeat these steps until you can get it to shrink sufficiently to the shape of your head.

10) Leave the hat on for an hour or two and work on the brim to get it to the shape you want.

Remember that you need to heat polyester to over 177 degrees Fahrenheit in order to get it to shrink, so getting it to partially shrink and then wearing it hoping the rest of it will break in over time will not work. This is much more tedious than breaking in any of your previous wool hats, but it will work with time and patience.

I suspect, because of the difficulty in breaking in the new polyester hats, that this may be the last time New Era uses polyester. However, polyester does have advantages over wool: it doesnít smell like a wet dog when you get it wet and it's more durable. So, if you have the patience to break in your new hat, it could wind up being a longer-lasting alternative to the traditional wool hat, and you'll be able to wear it around your girlfriend or wife without her turning her nose up in disgust.

Thatís how I broke in my polyester hat, but there may be better methods out there that you discover as you're working on it. If you find any, please post them here.