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 quite a formal hat. However, in the early 20th century formal hats were stiff like the top hat, boater, 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 mainstream fashion, the fedora was and will remain one of the most stylish and versatile hats ever worn.
So what are the key style elements of a fedora and what are they constructed from? It has a wide brim and the crown has an indented central or bashes towards the front. There is usually a grosgrain ribbon hatband with a flat bow. It can be made in any shade of fur or wool felt but historically black, grey and dark brown would have been most common. Rabbit or beaver felt are considered to be the best quality of felt for fedora hats
It is a style of hat that is often confused with a trilby. However, the trilby has a smaller brim at the front that is molded in a different way. The crown creases or bashes are also different.
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 Victorian 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 started to wear the hat as an alternative to the stiff Homburg hat which was popular at the time but the Prince of Wales, as he was at the time preferred to wear softer more comfortable clothing and accessories. As the prince was a fashion icon 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 a 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 their 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 movies the Fedora had was promoted as an accessory of mystery and manliness. Worn by big names such as Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant or Frank Sinatra. In the seventies, it was Indiana Jones that who brought another revival of the fedora to the silver screen.
In recent years the classic Fedora has remained a staple winter fashion accessory by being worn by male and female celebs.
Fedora hats were the hat of choice during the 1940s. They coordinated well with forties fashion. One of the key 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. During the forties they were worn forward and often tilted to one side. Flexible snap brims allow the wearer to shape it for example, tilt it up at the back. The width of the brim was quite wide in the early ’40s and again at the very end of the decade , reducing slightly during the middle years. The material was also lighter weight and softer which was not only more comfortable to wear but also reduced the cost of materials making them more affordable post war.
The brim edge can be finished in several ways.
1. A raw cut edge where the edge of the brim is neatly cut and left in it's raw state.
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 encase it.
4. Cavanagh Edge. This is a reinforced edge that does not have any visible stitching. It's a timely procedure require special skills and machinery so is rarely seen in a modern reproduction hat. So if you set your heart on a Cavanagh edge Fedora you need to source true vintage.
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