A hundred years ago, no man of style or status would leave the house without wearing a hat. In today’s guide, we’ll take a closer look at the iconic fedora hat, its legacy, how to wear it today and where to get the perfect fedora for your tastes.
A fedora actually isn’t one specific kind of hat; it’s a basic set of characteristics that can then be turned in hundreds, if not thousands, of variations on the style. Over the years, history has shown us the appeal and versatility of the fedora, ranging from the wide-brim gangster hats of the 1920’s to the narrower, more modern fedora favored by crooner Frank Sinatra in the 1950s and 60s. Even though hats are no longer a wardrobe staple that every man owns, a classic yet unstuffy fedora still has a distinct place in the closet of the dapper gentleman who wants to stand out from the crowd.
What is a Fedora Hat?
This is far from a simple question. The modern-day use of the term “fedora” is far different than its historical use. Colloquially, many people use the term fedora to describe any men’s felt hat, and that reflects on both the decline of hat wearing among men in general and the consolidation of hat styles that are still worn today.
A fedora, which is also known as a snap brim, is any soft felt hat with an indented crown approximately 4-6″ in height and a soft brim 2-4″ wide. Though the crown is typically “pinched” into a point at the intersection of the top and the sides of the crown on the front of the hat, one of the hallmarks of the fedora is that it can be shaped, creased, sized or bent in an infinite number of combinations based on the wearer’s preference. The main variations on the fedora style are:
- Crown. The crown, or the very top surface of the hat, can be shaped in many ways, including a diamond and center crease; the most classic look for a fedora is the teardrop crown
- Brim. The brim of a fedora can be finished with multiple different widths, finishes, and positions. The edge of the brim can be raw (simply cut and left unfinished), sewn, trimmed with ribbon, or finished with the “Cavanagh edge”, which is a special hand-felted edge that adds strength to the final brim without stitching it. The Cavanagh edge is no longer produced and hence it is only available on vintage fedoras. A fedora’s brim can be worn angled down, up, or most commonly up in the back and down in the front; adjusting the brim to the wearer’s taste earned it the nickname of “snap brim”
- Pinch. The location and the sharpness or softness of the pinch can vary
- Material. Felt, a material constructed of compressed, matted fibers, is the material of choice. It can be derived from a number of sources, such as rabbit, cashmere, or wool.
- Decoration. Fedoras typically come with a fabric or ribbon band that sits just above the brim. Some fedoras may also feature a feather as decoration, usually positioned over the bow of the ribbon.
This basic definition has held through most of the 20th century. The fedora shape has also been applied to different hats, such as a woven straw Panama hat because it is such a classic and desirable style.
History of the Fedora Hat
At the turn of the century, hat wearing was required of every gentleman and dress codes strictly dictated the appropriate headwear for each social situation. A gentleman of stature would have a rotating collection of hats that likely included a top hat, a bowler hat, a Homburg, a Lord’s hat, and flat caps in addition to a soft felt hat.
The term “fedora” first emerged in the early 1890s, when it was connected with a play titled Fédora in which the famous cross-dressing actress Sarah Bernhardt wore a creased, soft felted hat. Until the point, soft felt hats were mostly worn by lower- and middle-class men who likely owned only one hat that needed to be multi-purpose. Just after the turn of the century, a snippet of Success Magazine declared the fedora to be a country hat, which signified that it was more casual in nature. The Homburg still dominated as the formal felt hat of choice for the upper classes (think Winston Churchill), but in 1924, the Prince of Wales was spotted wearing a fedora. As always, the prince had tremendous influence over the style of the day, and his influence catapulted the fedora into the mainstream. Coupled with a shortage of shellac for stiff hats during the war and the changing tide of fashion in the 1920’s in a more casual direction, the fedora was poised to become the hat of choice for men for the next 4 decades.
During these years, the fedora’s flexible characteristics allowed it to be altered into any number of shape, crown, color, brim, material, and decoration combinations. Due to the nearly endless possible variations on the hat, fedora ads rarely call the hat by this name, but rather a model name created by the hat maker. For example, by 1940, more than 2 million men had bought a Stetson “Playboy” hat, a line which was made up mostly of variations on the fedora.
By and large, the fedora is a hat that enjoyed most of its common use and popularity in the middle of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1920’s, when men’s classic style was approaching its heyday, the fedora was becoming an irrevocable fashion icon for gangsters like Al Capone and Hollywood characters film stars like Humphrey Bogart. Only upper class and aristocratic men maintained loyalty to the old system of a different hat for each occasion; for the average man, the fedora was an all-occasion workhorse that men wore for formal and informal occasions alike.
The popularity of the fedora soared in the 1920s, peaked in the 40’s, and began declining in the 1950’s and 60’s. When JFK famously forwent wearing a hat to take his Oath of Office, the hat industry was said to have been dealt a fatal blow from which it would never recover. Narrow-brimmed fedoras and trilbies (a fedora with a very short brim) dominated the last decade of the hat’s popularity before giving way to the hatless, long hair based trends of the 1970’s.
In the 1980’s, the fedora hat experienced a surprising revival due almost single-handedly to one fictional character: the adventurer-archeologist Indiana Jones. The trilogy of Jones movies was set in the 1930’s, and Indy’s character was written as an homage to the action heroes of that bygone era, so it makes sense that he would wear a brown snap-brim fedora. In fact, Harrison Ford’s iconic performance is so connected with the fedora that it has become one of the hat’s most defining fashion history moments.
During the same decade, the fedora was reinterpreted as a thoroughly modern accessory by pop star Michael Jackson, who favored it in stark shades of black and white. Despite MJ’s style influence, the fedora today remains a hat that is still associated with dapper, rakish gentlemen who like to dress well. If you own and wear one true felt hat, this should be the one you choose.
How To Wear a Fedora Hat
So how exactly do you pull off a fedora? That depends on a number of factors.
First of all, what kind of look are you going for? If you want to pull off Michael Jackson’s edgy look or Johnny Depp’s scruffy-1930’s-meets-hipster look, you’ve come to the wrong place. In our opinion, the fedora looks best when it is paired with well-cut, classic menswear that has a certain degree of formality. Take a look at some old pictures from the heyday of hat wearing: most men pair them with a suit and a tie, which holds the fedora firmly in the category of more formal attire.
Since a hat makes a bold statement (you’re likely to be the only one wearing one!), you also have to pay close attention to the rest of your ensemble as the hat will draw more attention to your style. Here are a couple tips for wearing a fedora so you look great:
- A fedora looks best when paired with a jacket. By jacket, we mean a sports coat, suit jacket, blazer or overcoat. Since the fedora remains a more formal accessory by modern day terms, as a rule of thumb, it’s best to pair it with a jacket of some kind to form a complete look that is seasonally appropriate. That being said, you definitely want to avoid channeling a gangster look, unless you’re dressing as Al Capone on Halloween. Avoid pairing a fedora with aggressive chalk or pinstripe suits.
- Keep your overall look classic. Since the look of the fedora has a vintage quality, it makes sense to pair it with similarly classic clothes. Think double-breasted suits, vests, collar bars and leather gloves in contrasting colors.
- Wear your fedora in the right season. Even though men back in the day wore their fedoras year round, it doesn’t make much sense to wear one in the summer months these days. Opt for a Panama hat in the summer and wear your fedora during the cooler days of spring, summer, and fall.
- Take off your hat indoors; it’s only part of your “outside” outfit. That’s right, even if Hollywood stars do it, a hat shouldn’t be worn indoors. For a man serious about classic clothes, hats are accessories that are only worn outside, or in transit between destinations.
- Choose to wear either a fedora or sunglasses. You may have limited use for sunglasses in the cooler months, but again, since the hat is such a strong statement, it’s better to limit your accessories to a hat OR sunglasses, but not both. Leave that look to the Blues Brothers.
How to Buy a Fedora Hat
Given the decline of hat wearing, there aren’t many real hat makers left in the world and the market is dominated by inexpensive mass-market hats. With some research, you can still find a fedora that’s worth wearing for years to come.
Here are some tips for buying a great fedora worth wearing for years:
- Buy a hat from a genuine hatmaker. See the list below for sources of fedoras from companies that specialize in the production of hats, not just the import of mass-produced hats.
- Avoid buying from fashion brands, department stores, or other non-specialized retailers. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to a new hat, it’s better to buy a vintage hat than a cheap, new one.
- Buy a sized hat, not an S-M-L hat. Sizing is a hallmark of a serious hatmaker, and the hat will simply fit better.
- Choose a natural felt fedora. Choose a natural material, such as wool or fur, for the material; it will hold it’s shape longer, age better, and be warmer than synthetic materials. Fur felt is undoubtedly the gold standard of hat materials.
- Choose a classic menswear color. Avoid bright colors, black and white, and instead choose gray, navy or shades of brown. If you’d like a pop of color, change the ribbon to a striped pattern or racing green, or add a small feather over the bow.
- Consider vintage hats for better quality. Vintage is a great way to score a deal on a higher-end material or find an unusual detail, such as a high crown. The sweatband can easily be replaced or cleaned. Buying vintage will also help you get a truly classic look at a price point that allows you to build a collection. Older hats are often a much better quality, and eBay in countries outside the US is the best resource. Buy a new hat if you’re in the market for just one great hat to wear regularly, or if new is your personal preference.
Fedora Hat Sizes
As the Fedora is a soft felt hat, you can simply use a measuring tape and measure the circumference of your forehead. Even though some heads are long ovals, and others are round, a fedora of the proper size will fit you. Please refer to the table below to find your head size.
If you are in between sizes, I suggest you go with the next size up, otherwise you might end up with headaches. Over time, a fedora hat may shrink. In that case, you can either bring it to the hat blocker to have it stretched, or you invest in a wooden hat stretcher so you can keep your fedora in the right size at home.
|Head Circumference||Adult Hat Size|
|Inches||Centimeters||US Size||EU Size||Easy Fit||Sized Stretch Fit||Stretch Fit/Adjustable|
|21 1/4||54||6 3/4||54||Small (S)||Small/Medium (S/M)|
|21 5/8||55||6 7/8||55|
|22 3/8||56.8||7 1/8||57||Medium/Large (M/L)|
|22 3/4||57.8||7 1/4||58||Large (L)||One Size Fits Most|
|23 1/8||58.7||7 3/8||59|
|23 1/2||59.7||7 1/2||60||XL||Large/XL (L/XL)|
|23 7/8||60.6||7 5/8||61|
|24 1/4||61.6||7 3/4||62||XXL|
|24 5/8||62.5||7 7/8||63|
Brands for Fedoras
If you want to buy a new hat, things are a little different. A great hat brand should offer 100% fur felt, country-specific production, and a sterling reputation for hat making. Most remaining hatmakers distribute their products to hat stores around the world, so you may need to find a local hat store since they don’t always have direct-sale websites. . For a great list of custom hatmakers around the USA, check out the Fedora Lounge’s complete list here. Here are a few brands worth considering:
- Borsalino, Italy, Pre-Made
- Signes, Spain, Pre-Made
- Akubra, Australia, Pre-Made
- Mayser, Germany, Pre-Made
- Stetson, USA, Pre-Made
- Optimo Hats, USA, Bespoke
- Leon Drexler, Canada, Bespoke
Do you wear hats? If so, what styles do you favor? Do you know any hatmakers worth adding to the list? Please share in the comments below