“Is’pottie”, the iconic hat that, in South Africa, is probably most synonymous with the pantsula subculture has been the subject of debate across social media lately thanks to the huge “bucket hat” trend.
I-spottie remains a prominent symbol of urban township culture but everywhere you look, from the streets of trendy Braamfontein to Cape Town’s hipster havens like Kloof Street, ‘cool kids’ are wearing bucket hats. At this year’s SA Fashion Week spring-summer collections, designer Shaldon Kopman’s models in his Jonathan D menswear show wore bucket hats, presumably to pay homage to the pantsula subculture that the designer often references, albeit in a subtle manner.
Bucket hat, as a term seems to have all but swallowed up the spottie but some insist the term is foreign to South Africa, insisting that “ispottie” should take precedence in the description of the trendy hat.
Streetwear label Butan Wear recently changed their twitter name to “iSpottie” and sell their bucket hats online under this name.
Says the brand’s marketing manager Sandile Samuels: “The whole bucket hat thing is American. Some of us have been wearing this hat since we were kids and it has always been called ispottie.”
The bucket hat is wide-brimmed and is usually made of heavy-duty cotton or denim. Like the spottie it often features two metal eyelets on either sides but stylist Bee Diamondhead argues that the two are only similar and aren’t the same thing.
“Ispottie has a shorter circumference than the traditional bucket hat,” she argues. “It’s trendy right now because urban 90s wear is very popular. This is also where the sports-luxe trend comes in. Rappers in the 90s loved wearing basketball clothing with their bucket hats to the club; it’s all from that era.”
“I think the whole name thing is not too relevant. I-spottie was a big part of our kwaito and pantsula culture which was also huge in the 90s, so of course we are going to feel some type of way about it.”
Trends observer and writer Milisuthando Bongela agrees with Diamondhead. “There’s a difference in shape. The spottie is more triangular with a shorter brim while the bucket hat is round at the top, with a particularly longer and frillier brim. But I can see why people compare them,” she explains.
With that said, Bongela recognises Samuel’s argument saying local context should be noted where it applies. “Humans always covet new things to see themselves through, new ways of being and foreign things are usually considered better because they represent this novel view.”
While many ‘cool kids’ have embraced the bucket hat, those who didn’t do so with the spottie are now wearing it because of its similarity to the bucket hat and the fashion trends trajectory. “It’s suddenly acceptable because a new cultural context has been created and sold to them above and beyond the context they know the item within,” Bongela says.
The spottie’s relation to pantsula culture can most probably be traced back to the 80s when the subculture was spreading like wildfire across the country’s townships as a form of expression. The high energy dance form that forms part of it originates in the townships of Johannesburg a few decades ago. At the time, the pantsula dress code was more preppy- with collared shirts and formal shoes- and dancers wore matching outfits for performances. As time went by, the style became lee formal and favoured Dickies’ pants with the much-loved Converse All-Star tekkies. Soft fabric spottie hats became di rigueur and dancers were known to incorporate the hat in their dance technique, dropping it and catching it in a choreographed manner.
In the mid-90s, kwaito music bands like the legendary Trompies and Alaska became the poster boys of the pantsula subculture as they were known for dressing up in this style.
With the spottie and bucket hat often being confused, the local cultural context and the influence of pantsula culture can often be forgotten with hip-hop perhaps claiming that influence and this is simply because of America’s dominance in global popular culture.
“South African pop culture is just as susceptible to global American influence as the rest of the world is. The fact that the cool guys in Braamfontein and Cape Town couldn’t see the value in those hats until they were told by Hypebeast, means that the pop culture narrative is very much influenced by the extremely powerful taste shaping machine that is American pop culture.”
For Butan Wear’s Samuels, the bucket hat craze is something temporary just like any other fashion trend. “You can’t deny that it’s a super trend,” he says. “It’s so hot right now but it is being consumed by trend followers but there will be those who will keep wearing i-spottie long after the trend dies down.”
This blog post was an article originally published in the Sunday Independent's LIFE on Sunday, November 16, 2014.