In the early 20th century and all the way up to the 1960s, a man would rarely be seen outdoors without a hat. During this period the Fedora was very popular, but what is a Fedora hat?
Now we may think of a fedora as a formal hat. However, in the early 20th century formal hats were stiff like the top hat, homburg or bowler. The fedora would have been worn more by the working class or lower to middle classes. Although it goes in and out of the mainstream, the fedora was and will remain one of the most stylish hats ever worn.
So what are fedoras made of and what does a fedora look like? Well, a Fedora hat is generally made out of felt. It has a wide brim and the crown is indented and pitched. There is usually a ribbon hatband with or without a flat bow. It can be made in any colour but historically black, grey and dark brown have been most popular.
It is a style of hat that is often confused with a trilby. However, the trilby has a smaller brim that is normally moulded in a different way.
And why is a fedora called a fedora? The fedora first appeared in 1882 as a female hat. That particular year there was the first production of a play by French author Victorien Sardou named “Fédora”. He wrote the part of Princess Fédora Romanoff, a title role, for then famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. In it, she wore a center-creased, soft brimmed hat. The hat was soon a popular fashion for women, especially for women’s-rights activists.
After 1924, when Prince Edward, The Prince of Wales at the time, started to wear the hat as an alternative to the stiff Homburg hat. The Homburg was popular at the time but the prince preferred to wear softer more comfortable clothing and accessories. As the prince was a fashion leader the fedoras were adopted by men and became part of their fashion replacing bowler hats, flat caps and top hats. It was primarily worn in urban areas for protection from bad weather and for aesthetic reasons. Orthodox Jews also adopted the black fedora hat in the first decades of the 20th century and wore them as a part of their daily wear, which many Jewish people still do today.
The height of the fedora’s popularity was from the mid-1920s which is why it is often associated with Prohibition and gangsters. In the 1940s and 1950s noir films popularized fedora hats even more and its popularity lasted until the late 1950s when informal clothing became more widespread. It returned in the mid-1970s and again in 1980s and in 2000s. Fedora and trilby hats were so fashionable because of their style and because of their practicality. They didn’t obscure the view while driving the car and were not as big as top hats so they could be worn in public transport. They could also be stored by folding without losing its shape. But the main reason for the constant returning of the fedora to fashion should be looked for in media and its influence on people. In the 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood brought back fedora by making movies in which fedora hat was a repeating icon of manliness and mystery, worn by such names as Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra on the stage. In the seventies, it was Indiana Jones that who brought another revival of the fedora to the silver screen.
In later years many artists such as Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Brittany Spears wore fedoras in their live appearances and kept it in fashion.
Fedora hats for men were the key hat of choice during the 1940s. One of the main hat companies was Knox: above are two great advertisements of the time. Stylistically the main difference between hats of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was how they were worn. Most hats were worn tilted to one side. Hat brims took on many shapes with the back brim curved upwards being the one common feature among many styles of men's forties hats for sale. The width of the brim was quite wide in the early ’40s and again at the very end of the decade with the middle year reducing a little. The material was also lighter weight and softer which was not only more comfortable to wear but also reduced the cost of material making them more affordable after the war.
A typical men's fedora will have a snap brim, which allows the wearer to shape it. Due to the hat being soft the wearer can mould and shape the hat just how they desire. There is not such a highly defined shape of the hat. A mens wide brim fedora now normally measures around 2.5" but brim widths are available is sizes smaller or bigger. The crown height can also vary, the crown profile may be curved, flat or on a downward angle.
The brim edge can be finished in 3 or 4 ways.
1. A raw cut edge
2. A folded edge. This is where the edge is tucked underneath the brim edge and sewn into place.
3. A ribbon edge. Normally a grosgrain ribbon has been sewn over the edge to finish.
4. Cavenagh Edge. This is not available as machines and skills to produce such a finish no longer exist. In fact, we couldn't find one to show on this blog! So if this is the finish you desire it would have to be a vintage fedora.