The Seed Cap Fad at WIU in the 1970s

Fashions in clothing have always fascinated me, especially women’s fashions. I look at some of those fancy clothes on TV and in magazines, and I am nonplussed because I never see anyone I know wearing them. Such clothes are apparently for the wealthy folk, the crème de la crème, the upper crust: the Marxian epitome of bourgeoisie luxury. 

In my college classes the only avant-garde fashion statement I saw was when a female student came to class in a see-through blouse and no under garments. “Saints preserve us,” I whispered softly to myself.

I know this will sound a bit strange, but I pretended she was fully clothed; and, fortunately, she never came to class that way again. Male students in the class gawked at her; however, I was not going to let her rattle my cage. I suspect that a friend had dared her to do a semi-Lady Godiva act because she proved to be an excellent student. She certainly did not need to call attention to herself by flaunting her pulchritude. 

But in the 1970s a thoroughly democratic male fad at Western Illinois University captured my attention. Male students from Chicago suddenly started wearing seed caps that were normally worn by area farmers.

These were students who had never set foot in a cornfield or filled a hog feeder. Why did they start wearing seed caps? It was a complete mystery to my colleagues and me. I think it started spontaneously when one student put on a seed cap and others quickly followed. 

 Then students swarmed over campus and spilled into classrooms wearing all kinds of seed caps: DeKalb, Pioneer, Purina, and many others. Perhaps they were inspired by a popular song of the times: “Let’s Go Down to the Cafe and Count Seed Caps.” 

Unlike the fad of wearing a baseball cap backward, the seed cap was always worn with the bill forward, and for a good reason. If the bill was pulled down over the eyes, the student could sleep in class undetected. Some professors caught on quickly and established a policy that seed caps had to be removed during class. That served to make the seed caps even more popular. The hassle factor, I guess. 

The best seed cap story I can tell involved a colleague who was also a good friend. Ken was an enthusiastic teacher with a pronounced flair for the dramatic. At the drop of a seed cap, he could give you a detailed plot summary of a movie he had seen, often making his summary more exciting than the movie. More than once I have gone to a movie and left disappointed because of his misleading plot summary. But he did put me onto some fine movies. 

Ken and I would have long discussions about teaching literature, and I certainly learned a great deal from him. He took pride in his teaching, and he did it well. He believed that literature should be enjoyed, and his teaching inspired students to love reading good literature. 

Ken was scheduled to teach for the first time a new course developed by the English department for law enforcement majors. It would count for three hours toward the major. He was rather apprehensive about the students who would enroll in the course. 

After Ken had met the class on the first day, he stopped by my office for coffee and a brief visit. 

“What was your impression of the students in your Literature of Crime and Detection class?” I asked, genuinely interested.

“Gee, I don’t know,” Ken replied. “I looked up and the back row was wall-to-wall seed caps.