Dad Hats at the LAABF

Words: Sam Wittwer
Images: Emmett Methven

March 03 2017

In just five years, the Los Angeles outpost of Printed Matter’s annual Art Book Fair has already earned a reputation as the chill companion to its East Coast counterpart. Perhaps it’s the weather, or the additional space (the notoriously crowded PS1 variation in New York seems prone to fire from the body heat alone), or maybe it’s the legalization of marijuana. Yeah, it’s probably that.

Stationed in The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Downtown LA, last weekend’s fair played host to over 300 vendors, encompassing independent publishers, artists and collectors from around the world. With an estimated 39,000 visitors, it was by far its biggest showing yet. Among the crowds of bookish attendees were familiar faces from last year’s showcase in Queens, and plenty of new friends—from the Provo-based Actual Source to hometown-hero Nicole Killian and her latest Issues (v2). While we were stoked to catch up with some of our favorite indie-publishers, and stock our bookshelves with enough material to last us until next year, we couldn’t help but notice that the graphic prints once reserved for posters and zines had made their way north. We’re talking about Dad Hats, and we sent photographer Emmett Methven to capture some of the best the LAABF had to offer. 

The “Dad Hat,” once reserved for suburban soccer fields and the craniums of the most endearingly goofy of fathers, has become a cultural icon that doesn’t discriminate against parental status. The universally accepted description of the Dad Hat outlines a five or six-paneled baseball cap; generally worn in, with a curved brim and embroidered details. It’s pervasiveness—both at the book fair and beyond—may have something to do with the low cost of production. To be fair, you could also blame it on the ubiquity of the meme. It seems like every recognizable character from Crying Jordan to That Boi has been memorialized on the caps of cool kids nationwide. Fast, cheap and plentiful are the currency of most value to the kind of creative the art book fair attracts, and dad hats are a perfect companion to ink stained jeans and totes weighed down by signed and oh-so-rare books, prints and zines. 

In terms of trend, the book fair provides an echo chamber of references referencing references and inside jokes that sometimes seem so niche that it’s likely no one beside the wearer would truly understand. But in a world where even the most obscure story can be known by millions—a little obscurity, and even straight up nonsensicalness—can be a welcome change. 

The crowds at the LAABF, as diverse as they are fervent, are perfectly primed to embrace the Dad Hat and all of its glorious lack of potential. From a favorite bento joint to a brash political statement, the full range of dad hats is on display LAABF. Our motto? If it’s good enough for dads, it’s good enough for us. Paternity test not required.