NEW ORLEANS -- It has been called the newsboy, the Jay Gatsby, the Big Apple, the Ivy, the eight-panel, even the Lundberg Stetson.

But the classic flat cap, popular with 19th-century longshoremen and 21st-century celebrities, should be known these days simply as the Brad Pitt.

The heartthrob humanitarian and his cap seem to be inseparable.

He donned a heathered newsboy with jeans and a T-shirt for a recent news conference in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward. He wore a flat cap with a full-length coat for a walk on the red carpet at the "Beowulf" premiere. He grabbed a gray topper for a bike ride around the French Quarter with Angelina Jolie and the kids.

For interviews on "Larry King Live" and the "Today" show, the cap was back. On the "Charlie Rose" show, there it was again.

Of late, Pitt's been making more than a sartorial statement with his many hats. His signature newsboy went on sale last month to raise money for Make It Right, his charitable green-housing initiative in the Lower Ninth Ward. The look was so popular the caps have sold out.

With Pitt's endorsement, the newsboy cap's cool factor has soared. Once associated more with the racetrack crowd, the hats are now common at places where the cool kids hang.

The look seems to call out for comments like "Hey, guvna," "What's up, Cap?" and "Hello, old sport."

From elite to everyman

Every few years, the style makes a comeback, slipping in and out of the pop culture periscope. While the baseball cap seems to personify the democratic ideal (presidents to postal workers wear them), the flat cap equally shares the image of the elite and everyman.

It has been favored by tweedy old Brits in knickers and high boots and dock hands in sooty dungarees and steel toes.

Golfers in the 1920s took to the shape, matching it with knee-highs and pullovers for a jaunt around the greens.

In the '80s and '90s, the cap went to the heads of rappers and jillions of hip-hop kids in clubs. In 1997, Samuel Jackson exuded cool in his Kangol turned backward in "Jackie Brown."

Paul Meyer of Meyer the Hatter, one of New Orleans' oldest hat shops, said the flat cap is a perennial seller at his store. "It's more of a dress cap than a baseball cap," he said, "and it's a little retro, a classic look."

It comes in a variety of fabrics, from wool to leather to summer-weight blends. Customers of all ages take to the cap, Meyer said.

That's because the shape flatters many faces, said Diane Feen, editor of Hat Life, a headwear industry publication that highlights fashion trends at

The sheer scope of the newsboy's appeal is rather head-turning. Few accessories have curried favor with such an assortment of stars as comedian Dave Chappelle and actor Daniel Craig, rapper Notorious B.I.G. and AC/DC singer Brian Johnson.

Even the gals have gotten into the look, with Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna and Britney Spears spotted in newsboys. Spears wore one to cover her freshly shorn noggin.

Perhaps the secret to the cap's popularity is its many permutations. The eight-panel, also known as the Jay Gatsby, comes with a fuller top and a snap-button closure. The Big Apple is the same hat, only with a more floppy shape. Other models are flatter, sitting lower and tighter on the head.

Attitude seems to dictate the angle for sporting such a cap. Robert Redford wore his white linen version at brow level in Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 classic "The Great Gatsby."

Rapper 50 Cent prefers his with a slight tilt.

The flat cap also travels well, Feen said.

"Years ago, our fathers and grandfathers wore hats, and they would take them off and put them on a table or hat rack in places," she said. "But today, if you go to the movies or a restaurant, you have to worry about where to put it. With this cap, you can fold it and just stick it into your pocket. It's perfect for today."