One discussion that keeps coming up between baseball cap enthusiasts is the difference between New Era's USA-made and Chinese-made caps. The 2011 season saw all minor league teams wearing on-field caps made in China, and even some major league caps are being made in China, mostly special events caps. Ironically, from 2010 to 2012 the patriotic "stars & stripes" caps were exclusively Chinese-made. After receiving complaints, patriotic caps were made in the USA again starting in 2013. The spring training/batting practice/occasional regular game "Diamond Era" caps are also being made in China, with exception of the patriotic DE caps.
The differences between USA-made and Chinese-made caps are many. I have been told that New Era has received many complaints about Chinese-made caps regarding quality. I will go over the most noticeable differences and compare photos of USA-made and Chinese-made caps.
My example will be the Stockton Ports (Level-A California League Oakland A's affiliate) home cap from the 2011 season. The USA-made cap is my personal cap that I wear, the Chinese-made cap was game used in 2011 by Rashun Dixon, brother of Anthony Dixon of the San Francisco 49ers. Dixon gave it to a boy that I mentor and take with me to games.
The first thing I noticed is the difference in 100% polyester fabric. USA caps have more of a wool feel. Chinese caps feel more like felt or even almost like velvet, as opposed to USA fabric which has more of a traditional wool texture. Chinese caps also tend to have a larger fit than USA caps. When it comes to the visual differences, the first difference is the size of the crown. The larger crown of the Chinese cap has received many complaints, with some describing them looking like Elmer Fudd's hat.
USA-made on left, Chinese-made cap on right.
The next difference is the stitching. Look at the stitching on the visors. USA-made caps have larger holes between the stitches, Chinese caps (usually) have barely noticeable holes. Chinese-made caps also have thicker stitching on the eyelets.
USA-made cap stitching
Chinese-made cap stitching
Next we have the inside. Although there doesn't look like anything is different, the buckram behind the front panels is much stiffer on Chinese-made caps, almost hard plastic-like. The taping is flatter and not as rippled as USA-made caps, and the silver bottom of the button is flat on Chinese-made caps rather than curved.
Inside of the USA-made cap
Inside of the Chinese-made cap
Behind the sweatband, the white "size strip" that keeps the sweatband and crown connected is different. USA-made caps have had this type of strip since 2007 with the introduction of 100% polyerster on-field caps. Chinese-made caps have the crosshatch-patterned fuse seen on USA-made caps in 2006 and before.
Other differences are that the sweatbands are sewn together behind the center New Era tag, whereas the Chinese cap sweatbands are attached off-center behind the size tag. The Chinese visors have a strong rubber smell when new and are also much more stiff and tend to crease in places when you attempt to curve it. Some Chinese caps even have visors that are smaller than normal. A typical New Era visor is 7 3/4 inches in width, while some Chinese caps have a 7 1/4 inch visor.
While on the subject of Chinese caps, I have spoken with the people responsible for ordering Minor League caps about the differences between Chinese and USA made caps. They have to me that New Era offers incentives to order Chinese-made caps, such as higher quantities for lower prices. However, I've noticed that Minor League teams often get a mix of USA and Chinese stock throughout the season depending on how many caps they order and how soon they need them.
How do you feel about Chinese-made on-field caps versus USA-made on-field caps? Can you tell a difference? Is there anything you notice that I didn't mention? Does it matter? I'd love to hear your feedback.