Why Do Politicians Always Wear Baseball Caps During Natural Disasters?

Office of Florida Governor Rick Scott
If Florida Gov. Rick Scott is wearing his blue U.S. Navy hat, it's probably time to seek shelter. He pulls it on pretty much only when disaster is nigh. Once the National Hurricane Center begins warning that a storm is heading toward Florida, the blue brimmed beauty magically materializes on the top of his head. He never mentions it. It's just there, covering his waxy turtle head, and we're supposed to act like we don't notice.

The same goes for virtually every politician in Florida and the United States: When disaster is about to strike, baseball caps appear atop politicians' heads like mushrooms after a rain. Miami saw this firsthand last week, when Hurricane Irma chewed up the state: All of a sudden, people who were previously not Hat People had hats on. Overnight. Without mentioning why or where they all came from. What gives?
There's certainly an aspect of utility to the Disaster Cap: You're outside more often when prepping for a hurricane and need something to keep the sun and rain out of your eyes. But for many politicians, Scott especially, the Disaster Hat is an act of performative folksiness, much like the ginned-up, Halloween-esque cowboy outfits Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush wore on vacation to make themselves seem like regular people — rather than those lizard-like bastards who indiscriminately bomb Cambodia.

The hats also just give off the impression that politicians have been working in the sun all day, even though many of them haven't:

Funny thing is, most of the press briefings and TV bits where the hats appear also occur indoors, away from the elements.

Do the hats make people look tougher? Braver? More resolute? Does it make them look like firefighters? Do female politicians feel the same way?

There's an entire political wardrobe shift that comes during a storm: Gray and navy suits are out, while windbreakers, polo shirts, T-shirts, and even flannel (in the Florida summer!) are in. Presidents do this, governors do it, everyone does it.

It's the timing that's important. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner seems to have thrown on a hat only for photo ops during Hurricane Harvey and in the days after the storm hit. Now, during the late stages of the cleanup phase, his head is bare once more:
The habit extends pretty much around the world: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears with a hat when he wants to seem tough sometimes.

The concept is even parodied in Japanese film: In the latest, 2016 installment of the Godzilla film franchise, titled Godzilla: Resurgence in America, the Japanese prime minister demands his aides bring him "his uniform" to address the public during a disaster, which in the film's case is an apocalypse brought on by giant monsters. The prime minister then dons a search-and-rescue jacket while he tries to tell the public everything is OK and they will not be eaten by an evil reptile that lives in the sea. (Guess what happens.)

As a rule, politicians don't wear hats — they're on TV all the time, and they never, ever have hats on, until everyone, all at once, suddenly covers their heads in unison, like there's some sort of lid directive from above that regular people don't know about.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava tells New Times that local police and fire-rescue employees often hand out hats bearing their logo for photo ops and encourage elected officials to wear them in support. "This one came from Fire Rescue," Cava said via text, after New Times sent a photo of her in a hat and asked where it came from. "They challenged us to wear it during a press briefing! I didn't go to a briefing after that so I didn't have a chance. But I would have, to show solidarity and support for the extraordinary efforts of our first-responders. Some are better at promotion than others :)."

Cava can be seen in a hat in the background of this photo, where fellow Commissioner Rebeca Sosa is also wearing one without explanation:
The push from local first responders certainly explains why so many officials this week had police- and fire-themed caps on all of a sudden:
But that only raises more questions: Do police and fire departments have tons of hats lying around in case of disasters? Do the caps come from unions? Or do taxpayers pay for them? Did first responders start the trend, or were elected officials wearing Disaster Hats first and then fire-rescue teams took advantage of the free ad space?

This doesn't explain every instance. County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, on the right in the royal-blue polo in the above photo, appears to be wearing a generic pro-police hat, and other politicians randomly show up on TV in hats they clearly brought from home.

Governor Scott's hat habits raise the most questions. He always wears the same U.S. Navy cap (he's a Navy veteran) in times of crisis. It's a mystery exactly when he decides to don it — is there a protocol for this? Does he have a written policy? Is there ever a fight over whether a situation is bad enough to wear the cap? What about economic disasters? Does the Navy tell him to do this? Most likely, he's just wearing the cap to remind people that he's a military vet and you should therefore listen to his advice.

City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell spent the leadup to Irma sans hat. But in the last few days, even he began popping up in photos wearing a cap:
After New Times texted Russell a photo of himself, he said the choice was merely a practical one. "Less wind resistance and more bad-hair days," he responded.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.