How A “Scumbag” Meme–And Massive Marketing Opportunity–Was Born

Ubiquitous on the web, but elusive in real life–that’s the reality for the Internet’s most famous hat: a wheat-brown, “A-Tooth” style New Era Red Sox cap, otherwise known as the “scumbag hat.”

The scumbag hat derives from one the Internet’s most popular memes, Scumbag Steve, which first started appearing online in January 2011 as a way for people to vent about that one freeloading friend who everyone seems to know—the one who bums cigarettes, backs out of agreed-upon bets, and who definitely used to be that kid who circled Waldo in the Where’s Waldo books when you were growing up.

What started as a meme centered on re-posting images of 16-year-old Blake Boston (who by all accounts is actually a very nice guy in real life) wearing a fur coat and a tacky hat has evolved into a full-fledged phenomenon over the last three years. You can now shame anyone or anything online by just slapping a “scumbag hat” on them. There’s even a convenient “Add Scumbag Hat” button online that lets you do so.

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There’s Scumbag Teacher to criticize unfair and unprepared teachers, Scumbag Brain to call you out on you questionable logic, Scumbag Body to point out things like how your body sinks when you’re drowning but floats when you’re dead, and even a Scumbag Fly to complain about how flies never want to cooperate when you’re trying to shoo them out a wide-open door.

The funny thing, however, is that the hat that’s ever-present online is an extremely rare commodity in real life.

Andy Barth, General Manager at Hatland.com, one of the New Era’s largest online retailers, recently told Unfiltered that New Era generally produces quantities based on the orders they’ve received from retailers by certain cutoff dates and that there are minimums that need to be met for a style to be sent to production. He estimated less than 1,000 of the Red Sox hat spotlighted in the meme were ever made.

Barth said that the number of units that Hatland ordered from that group “just sat and sat until we started selling them randomly. Little did we know that that’s where this demand was from.”

The initial demand for the style was so tepid that the hat’s most famous owner, Blake Boston, says that his “mother thinks she bought it in a Marshall’s because no one wanted it originally.”

Oh, how Internet fame can change everything. What was once an undesired outcast of a cap might become more rare and valuable than those Beanie Babies and baseball cards that you have socked away in your parents’ attic.

Boston has turned down offers of tens of thousands of dollars for his hat in the past, and has repeatedly insisted that it’s not for sale. He’s attended events at SXSW and appeared publicly elsewhere and has a fun time doing so.

“Wherever I go in the Scumbag Steve persona, people either ask to wear or touch it. They sometimes just look freaked and amazed by its actual existence,” said Boston. “I’ve never seen the hat on anyone else in real life.”

Boston, who copyrighted his infamous picture, unfortunately doesn’t see a dime from the company who uses his name and likeness to sell the knockoff on eBay. He also sees no proceeds from the many apps that let users plaster the hat onto images or game characters.

If there’s ever a time to go digging through your old clothes, you should go check to see if you happen to have a first-edition “Scumbag Steve hat” just in case they return to the market in droves.

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How A “Scumbag” Meme–And Massive Marketing Opportunity–Was Born