Sunshine Puts Beanies in a Whirl

By Catherine Gunther (The Baltimore Sun, 3/25/1980)

Richard Hammond, co-owner of a shop on Read street, models solar beanie. (Sun Photo, J. Pat Carter)

In the Fifties and Sixties, every child who watched television had to have a set of Mickey Mouse ears or a Beanie propeller cap. Some lucky kids got both.

Yet while Mickey Mouse’s ears lived on with the help of Disneyland, Disney World, and after-school reruns, Beanie-boy’s fanciful headgear seemed to have gone the way of Silly Putty and the hula-hoop.

But now the Beanie cap is back, though quite transformed. The skullcap has been replaced by a yellow plastic construction hat, and the wind-driven propeller has been made doubly energy efficient: It’s powered by a photovoltaic sun cell.

Ed Welch, proprietor of the Leather Underground — the Read street store that carries the $17.50 hats — grinned at the window display case in which three impractical testimonials to renewable energy spun away in the early afternoon sunlight. It’s hard to believe that he went to a gift show in New York City looking for these hats, but he did.

A woman wearing a propeller-topped, solar-powered helmet walked into Mr. Welch’s shop one week before he was to leave for the Big Apple. After that, he said, “I was looking for them. But I didn’t find any until the last day of the show.”

The hats have been in his store for a week now, and Mr. Welch said he’s sold three so far. He expects sales to increase when the weather gets better.

“I think it’s kind of a social comment,” he said. “I agree with going back to natural things. Solar energy will happen in the future — or at least I hope it does.”

Any future popularity of the “beanies,” however, may be more due to fashion than to energy consciousness. Mr. Welch says he doesn’t really know why the yellow helmet formula was adopted by Up In The Air, the Los Angeles-based company that makes the hats, but a glance at the cast of the Village People may supply an answer.

Perhaps Up In The Air is counting more on the gay male fashion chic — as evinced by the construction worker fad — than on energy awareness as a sales factor for its new headgear. A small leaflet that comes with the purchase of a hat capitalizes on its omni-sexual sales power:

“Hello! I’m a solar powered beanie. The sun turns me on… Take me home, put me on, and let’s go for a spin… we’ll have a sun-national time!”

Whatever crowd the hat is supposed to sell to, its simple fancy — by virtue of the propeller — will probably appeal.

One afternoon a group of businessmen in three-piece suits stopped to gawk at the solar caps. It’s a good bet they were unaware of the underground construction chic.

If an answering machine can be taken as any indication, Up In The Air is equally unaware:

“Hello,” the machine says, “Marlene is Up In The Air, and when she comes down I’ll tell her that you called. And she’ll probably call you back, because she listens to me.”

It’s tempting to wonder who else Marlene listens to. According to her company, the days of hard-hats who cherished the flag are gone. The combination of solar power and propellers can only infer that if Beanie-boy were alive today, he’d vote for Jerry Brown. Maybe Cecil would be his running mate.

This entry was posted in 1980s, Baltimorons, Kitsch, Pranks and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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