Call it a military fashion statement -- that je ne sais quoi of a cap with the name of your ship or your allegiance emblazoned on it. USS Nimitz. USS Comfort. Top Gun.

Mary Beth Cox calls it "a barometer of patriotism." She's the proprietor of the Arlington and Fairfax Ship's Hatch shops, which carry nautical items and seas of caps inscribed with ship names or Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Air Force insignia. And she says the barometer is high "because of what we're involved in right now."

The big seller: the Persian Gulf hat, with "Desert Shield" embroidered in gold thread. Cox estimates she's sold about 600 since Iraq invaded Kuwait.

"Two women came into my Fairfax store the other day and said they sent the hat to their brother, and now his four roommates want them."

But military people aren't the only ones who go for the $9.99 hats. Channel 4 news anchor Jim Vance ordered several with USS Vance on them. Colleague Susan Kidd owns several USS Kidds. And George Bush now owns six versions -- although Cox sent all of them unsolicited. Each time Bush has sent one of his thank-you notes in return. ("You've done it again. My cap collection is becoming first-rate thanks to you," said one.)

"It's a way of saying, 'I'm an American, and I'm proud of being an American,' " says Cox, who buys only from U.S.-based suppliers.

"I am not going to compromise these hats."