Superman wears spectacles as part of his secret identity as Clark Kent, and the Marvel superheroes opt for baseball caps, hoodies, and sunglasses when they want to keep a low profile. In You, whenever Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) puts his cap on, you know he's got one thing on his mind: a heavy dose of stalking with maybe a dash of murder.
In each case, the light disguise is meant to act as a way for these characters to move about the world unseen, which is asking audiences to suspend their disbelief in a major way.
Warning: Spoilers for Season 2 of You within.
There are different levels of nitpicking the plausibility of storylines and costume choices regardless of genre. We are more likely to accept matters of superhuman strength than a person wearing a hat and instantly blending into a crowd. For characters like Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), a ball cap is a way to avoid detection to protect their lives, but Joe is using this accessory for more nefarious means.
"What, because of hats and sunglasses? That's not a disguise, Hank. We look like ourselves at a baseball game," Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) snarks in Ant-Man and the Wasp when Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) insists that no one will recognize them. It's a thinly veiled joke at the expense of movies like Captain America and the Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3, which resorted to this spy starter kit to conceal their identity. Even Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) wears the official baseball cap disguise in Captain Marvel after Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tells her she looks like "somebody's disaffected niece" in her Nine Inch Nails tee. "Does announcing your identity on clothing help with the covert part of your job?" Carol quips when she notices the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo.
Scott does make a good point, though. If you are trying to stay invisible wearing a hat, a sports venue is probably your best bet. So when Joe attacks Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell) while she is out for a run in the park in Season 1 of You, the sports apparel is an obvious choice to keep him camouflaged. Most people are not necessarily going to think a guy in a dark baseball cap is up to no good while out jogging; however, if they were to get a glimpse of his razor-sharp cheekbones and delectable curly locks, that handsome image is far more memorable. The curse of a conventionally good-looking face is one that Joe must endure — as well as obscure — if he wants to get away with all his crimes.
Wearing a hat enables Joe to protect his identity, and the Netflix drama plays into aspects of his attractive qualities not only to endear him to audiences but also to make him appear non-threatening (even if we know what he is capable of). In doing so, it pushes the boundaries of how much Joe can get away with while also asking the audience to question why we are rooting for him to succeed. The baseball cap reduces his greatest first impression asset — aka his face — but he doesn't want to be seen. If he did, he would be wearing a fedora, and no one wants that.
One of You's strengths is its self-awareness, and the second season has continued to break down the "nice guy" trope via Joe's appealing characteristics — murder and stalking aside. Despite all that he has done and the ever-increasing body count, there are still points in which I actively didn't want him to fail. He is very bad at committing crimes, and yet the only time he has been arrested was for having sex outdoors. Maybe if he had been wearing his baseball cap, he wouldn't have been caught with his pants down.
His ability to remain unseen while sitting in close proximity to those he is eavesdropping on also plays into this aspect of winking at the audience. It might seem like he should belong in the MCU with what appears to be superhuman hearing and a penchant for a light disguise that turns him invisible, but this covert look is part of the Stalker 101 handbook. Joe's initial hat choice in the pilot is a bold red shade, which is not a good color to blend into a crowd — plus there are also unfortunate political connotations he probably wants to avoid. Suspending our disbelief is one thing, but sticking a siren color on his head is a whole separate issue. Plus, the brim of that original hat looks like it has been nibbled at by moths, which could be part of his perceived Brooklyn hipster vibe but doesn't exactly scream low-profile. Steve Rogers would never.
In the following scene, Joe switches to a more subtle blue version: no logos, no fuss. However, he also wears it while sitting at a bar in a nice restaurant, which is enough to draw attention. Malls and the park are one thing, but this doesn't exactly blend Joe into his fancy surroundings. He is also close enough to hear what Beck (Elizabeth Lail) and her friends are discussing while somehow not drawing their gaze. This is an indictment of how self-absorbed they are when hanging out together, something Joe is banking on.
He also pulls the "spying on the friends of his crush" trick in the Season 2 episode "Just the Tip" when he bails on the original lunch introduction because he is dealing with the small matter of a finger that has been cut off — yes, you read that correctly, his pinky is being held as collateral. However, he does have time to swing by and eavesdrop, and the baseball cap doesn't look so out of place in this Los Angeles outdoor eatery. Unlike the New York restaurant, there is plenty of foliage for him to hide behind.
You is not a subtle show, but the baseball cap of implausible invisibility has become a signature item in the Joe Goldberg bag of tricks — but if you are still having trouble with this covert factor, then you are not alone. Badgley was asked about the cap in a recent interview with InStyle, and he understands the quandary. "Trust me, as an actor, I find it very challenging to sometimes suspend my disbelief when you're forced into a position that is just in the literal sense of the word incredible," he said. "That's the interesting thing about this show — it works."
The somewhat heightened element of Joe's story offers some wiggle room with how much they can get away with. You is not just breaking down tropes and archetypes of relationships and acts of horror, it's also leaning into them. Of course, Joe isn't a superhero, but the divided public and private aspects of his personality and actions do fall into a similar desire to remain hidden in plain sight. This accessory isn't going to make someone unseen, but it is costume shorthand for remaining incognito. Whether you are a superhero or a stalker, the best option for staying invisible is a plain baseball cap. Just don't expect the audience to ever fully believe this as a disguise choice.