The Joys of Modern Life 48. The Baseball Cap

THERE CAN be few sartorial signifiers that carry a more embarrassing message than the baseball cap. It's strange to remember that this unflattering headgear was once only recognisable to readers of Peanuts cartoons.

Now, if Labour's broadcast for the European Elections is anything to go by, the baseball cap has the power to affect the way we vote. At least, Tony Blair must think so, or why else would Labour spin doctors have chosen to flash a tragic image of William Hague on screen, grinning beneath the visor of a cap with the dangerous slogan "Hague". Never mind the Tory leader's thoughts on the euro, how could you possibly put a cross in the box for a political party run by someone so desperately seeking street cred? Things could have been worse. They could have used the photo of William slurping groovily from a coconut shell at the Notting Hill Carnival - the first public sighting of the offending headgear. Or they could have flashed up the rear view, which bears the militant slogan "A fresh future".

Lest we forget, baseball caps were scorchingly hip once, for about 15 seconds, in 1987. They were pulled out of the American sports stadium and into clubs and catwalks by rappers such as Public Enemy, Run DMC and L L Cool J. Their caps appropriated the logos of teams such as the LA Lakers, and replaced them with snarling slogans like "Commie", "Nigger" and "Bitch".

British whites who had been to see too many Spike Lee movies began wearing the caps, now supplied by Nike and Reebok. These were generally the same kinds of people who told you earnestly that "being black is a state of mind, man".

In the last 10 years, the caps have become synonymous with youth culture. Designers from Tommy Hilfiger to Agnes b have produced expensive versions, and superannuated stars wear them to go jogging or cover up their receding hairlines. Perhaps the Conservative Party should take a leaf out of the theme restaurant Planet Hollywood's marketing department and design their own baseball cap. What could be more subversive than walking around with the slogan "Tory" written on your head?