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A history of the fedora hat

2

November 4, 2014 by Ville Raivio

The fedora is a soft felt hat with a wide brim, a deep dimple at the middle of the crown, and small dimples on both sides of the crown’s front. The brim circles the crown, the ribbon decorates the brim, and most quality fedoras also have a band that can be attached to the buttonhole on coat lapels. This way the hat won’t flutter into the ground should a strong gust whip outside. The man in the lookout for an individual look can bend his brim askew or customise the crown’s shape to his heart’s content. The fedora hat is named after the play Fédora, first shown in 1882. The French dramaturgist Victorien Sardou wrote his play especially for the legendary Sarah Bernhardt, whose role was the title one as the princess Fédora.

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In the play she indeed wore a soft felt hat with a strong dimple in the crown, and the brim turned up markedly, and this the audiences took to. Bernhardt was otherwise a well-known wearer of men’s clothes long before copyists like Marlene Dietrich. Inspired by the strong Bernhardt, suffragettes took the fedora as their own and wore this headgear on both sides of the Atlantic beginning from the last stages of the 19th century. This genderised joy lasted for a few decades before men took the fedora by horde and power as their own, and the prior hat styles lost their appeal before this new, softer one.

Compared to the popular top hat of yore, the fedora was cheap and warm headwear that could be conveniently folded into smaller space, and as it was also lower it was better suited to motoring. Thus it ousted the top hat, the hard homburg and the rock-hard bowler hat at the last by the 1920s. The fedora differs from the very similar-looking trilby due to its wider brim, and for this reason it also best suits the man wide in face. The finest versions were made from fur or beaver and rabbit felt, the cheaper ones from lambswool felt. Fur felt is still better quality as it flexes more, is warmer to wear and keeps its form when wet.

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The reader likely best knows the fedora from countless films made until the 1950s. The Great Loosening, or the abandoning of the formal culture of dress, began in the next decade and so the fedora was switched to a grand hairstyle or any other headgear that had no stench of the past. Still, this hat has partly stayed alive thanks to Hollywood, actors, musicians and bald men. It protects the head well and sets the wearer apart from a wide sea of beanies, and Indiana Jones, for one, couldn’t be imagined in any other apparel. Without the fedora all mafia films would be but pale mirages.

The felt hat is the warmest headwear a man can choose. Warmth from the head is stored into the crown, and natural hair insulates well and warms the noggin even more. Ears are naked, to be sure, but rare is the man who has lost his own to wind or frost. The fedora is very soft and flexible, so it can be handily folded into a bag, say, when stepping in. Fur felt models also return to their shape when the bent hat is raised up once more. In hat semantics, the fedora has always been a suit accessory and clearly more formal than a flat cap, but takes second place after the homburg due to softness. The bowler and top hat are another things entirely, for the former has nearly disappeared from all places, and the latter is formalwear. The man contemplating fedoras best think twice as this apparel has become a rare sight — and like all rare things it looks peculiar. If the verdict is in favour of the fedora, this trusty garment will keep its benefactor warm and stylish year to year.


2 comments »

  1. Ville Raivio says:

    Greetings, guest.

    The sources I used for this piece were mainly American. It is difficult to measure the permeability of a garment as mere sales statistics only show sold pieces, not the extent of their use. I still hold that hats were dealt their final deathblow in the ’70s as this is what my sources tell me, and old images show a marked difference in hats between the 1960s and latter days.

  2. guest says:

    The article says that the fedora stayed alive until the 1960s. This may be true of the USA, but in the UK young men had started to abandon the hat as everyday wear before the mid 1930s.

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