As the lifelong owner of a big ol' head, it's my belief that the beanie is the pinnacle of hat design. They're a cosy and comforting way to add a shot of colour to an outfit while protecting exposed ears from the elements, and the simplicity of design makes them relatively immune to the ephemeral ebbs and fickle flows of fashion.
N.B. For the rest of this article, I'm going to use the words "beanie" and "watch cap" pretty interchangeably - arguably the difference is a bit more loose fabric at the top of a beanie for a slouchier fit, but the end result is sufficiently similar that I can't be bothered to keep track. If you want to argue this point please leave a long comment below which I shall ignore.
Given that a beanie is fundamentally a pretty simple garment, they have a low price floor - acrylic ones can easily be picked up for less than £5. For a while, I've been interested in finding a beanie that gives the optimum fit, materials, styling and construction quality.
Stylistically, I wanted a cap that didn't have a pointed peak at the top or a lot of excess, saggy material, in a soft but cosy material, with a versatile colour palette.
About 5 years ago I hit on Drake's version, a brand which I'm sure needs no introduction. I picked up one of their Donegal merino models in a beige colourway and enjoyed the fit so much that I ended up picking up a maroon, blue and dark grey version (pictured above - the dark grey looks a bit green from the photos).
They've all seen a decent amount of wear, except for the blue which is a bit too light a shade to be very useful - navy is handy, but the shade here less so.
The Drake's model is relatively generously proportioned and is long enough that it can be worn with a single roll that sits about halfway up the head, or a double roll that just covers the ears. This length was helpful for me at the time I bought them, as I often used the beanie as a sleep aid to pull over my eyes on a commute to ignore any pregnant women who needed a seat (joking, honest).
They served me very well, but in 2018 I spotted a post on Permanent Style about a new watch cap model. It's a noticeably closer and shorter fit - for my head proportions it covers the tops of my ear even worn as low as possible. It's clearly more of a cap than a hat.
I initially ordered the PS model in navy, but have since bought it in all the other colourways they offer - grey, cream and a rather vivid Steve Zissou red.
The PS Watch Cap is cashmere rather than the merino wool of Drake's models (though they do also have cashmere available). I was concerned cashmere might lose its shape relatively quickly, as beanies do go through a lot of tugging and pulling during wear, but this concern has proven largely unwarranted. During the first few wears I was a bit unsatisfied with the PS cap - it felt too short and squeezed my head - but it quickly relaxed to my head shape and is now super comfortable.
The PS model has tack stitches holding the single "roll" in place, which are absent from the Drake's model. So you have rather less freedom about how exactly to wear it, but I've found the look of the PS model to be superior. It's made by Johnston's of Elgin, a pretty well-known maker of cashmere goods.
Below are all of the Drake's and PS models compared:
Neither of the models reviewed here are cheap products - the Drake's ones retail for about £60, the PS ones for about £85 including VAT. Nor is it really a like for like comparison as the Drake's cashmere models are more expensive still at £175.
I won't insult your intelligence by pretending any of this is cheap for a beanie, but they are a product I wear pretty much every day for extended periods, and the comfort and styling make a lot of difference versus a cheaper version. On balance, both products have their use cases, but I have a strong personal preference for the PS ones.