fedora hat guide

The Fedora Hat Guide

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.

Fred Astaire in a 3 piece suit and a fedora

Fred Astaire in a 3 piece suit and a fedora

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.

Dark Green Beaver Felt Fedora

Dark Green Beaver Felt Fedora

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.

Sinatra wearing signature hat, sport coate, dark tie and safety collar pin

Sinatra wearing his signature fedora

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.

Fedora Hatband

Fedora Hatband

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.

Stetson Playboy hat ad

Stetson Playboy hat ad

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.

Al Capone

Al Capone in a 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.

Humphrey Bogart's most famous look combined the trench and the fedora in Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart’s most famous look combined the trench and the fedora in Casablanca

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.

Indiana Jones became synonymous with the brown fedora

Indiana Jones became synonymous with the brown fedora

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.

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson in his trademark black fedora

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.

Brown Beaver Felt Hat with double bow ribbon in orange

Brown Beaver Felt Hat with double bow ribbon in orange

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.

Sven Raphael Schneider in a fedora, vintage brown Caraceni suit, vest, winchester shirt, collar bar and spectators

Sven Raphael Schneider in a fedora, vintage brown Caraceni suit, vest, Winchester shirt, collar bar and spectators

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.
Sven Raphael Schneider in a vintage Roeckl fedora

Sven Raphael Schneider in a vintage Roeckl fedora

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:

Brushed Beaver Felt Hat

Brushed Beaver Felt Hat

  • 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.
Light colored Beaver Felt hat with tone-in-tone brim edge ribbon and contrasting dark hat band

Light colored Beaver Felt hat with tone-in-tone brim edge ribbon and contrasting dark hat band

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    
InchesCentimetersUS SizeEU SizeEasy FitSized Stretch FitStretch Fit/Adjustable
21 1/4546 3/454Small (S)Small/Medium (S/M)
21 5/8556 7/855
2255.9756Medium (M)
22 3/856.87 1/857Medium/Large (M/L)
22 3/457.87 1/458Large (L)One Size Fits Most
23 1/858.77 3/859
23 1/259.77 1/260XLLarge/XL (L/XL)
23 7/860.67 5/861
24 1/461.67 3/462XXL
24 5/862.57 7/863
2563.5864

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
Panama Fedora

Panama Fedora

Conclusion

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

Summary
Fedora Hat Guide
Article Name
Fedora Hat Guide
Description
Learn all about the fedora hat; its history, quality hallmarks, what to buy & what to avoid, and how to wear this great felt hat so you look your best
Author
Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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42 replies
  1. Steve Ruis says:

    Sven, that first photo of you (the full length one) establishes your image as a sartorial bad ass. (That is a good thing, don’t you know.)

    I went the vintage route in establishing my hat collection as I cannot afford the top brands. This was not a simple undertaking as people were smaller in the 1940’s. (My hat size is 7 7/8″)

    Reply
  2. Anthony K Farina says:

    Thank you for this well-written article on fedoras. Hats are making a comeback from what I see and particularly in Manhattan. I’ve always liked hats; my grandfather, father and uncles all wore them. I have a couple of fedoras, a homburg—-yes, believe it or not and it never fails to get a compliment—and a couple of Panamas although they are made in Ecuador.

    Keep up the good work. You are beacon of sensibility as far a men’s fashion is concerned and let’s hope younger readers sign up.

    Reply
  3. Herr Doktor says:

    Fedoras are great and add finishing touch to getting dressed. My favorite is the Stetson ‘Stratoliner’. It’s dressy enough for a suit but it looks great with a turtleneck and tweed jacket.

    Reply
  4. carlos says:

    As you mentioned, hats are not really worn much these days, so I opted to start my hat collection with a Panama for the summer months. I purchased one and wear on weekends when I am out in town for a walk, lunch etc. I have always liked hats, but thought it may make me appear “hipster” or “pretentious”. But, since I am now older I decided that it is okay to wear one. ..and if it is not, at least I don’t care as much what people think about it. I abhor the mass produced “throw away” hats you get at department stores, so I did purchase from a hat store, although it was not a super expensive hat, about $150 USD. I am liking it, and how I look in it. I have not noticed it drawing too much attention overall. It may be a fashion faux paux, but I do wear it with shorts..although I make sure they are not upper casual and I pair with a long sleeve shirt untucked. It is a casual look, but I think it works..but, I am no fashion icon so I could be totally fooling myself.

    Reply
  5. rico says:

    I own two Fedoras. A black on black classic that fits extremely well with my grey trench coat. I also have a straw “Dick Tracy” Fedora. The “Dick Tracy” constantly draws offers to buy it and the black on black brings longing stares. I’ve owned and worn these hats for three decades. There is simply no replacement for quality and style. Great article as always.

    Reply
  6. Eduardo Vargas says:

    Fantastic article, Raphael!

    I remember as a kid, my fascination with the Indiana Jones films is what made me wish to seek out a Fedora hat- and really is what started my fascination with hats in general.

    Reply
  7. Andy says:

    Nice article. Today, Hats seem to be kind of a gimmick for most – younger – men and so in most smaller cities over Europe you look like an anachronism. But i love my Fedoras and wear a hat daily. Panama Fedora or Trilby in summer, Homburg with Black Tie and Fedora or Trilby rest of the time. And i own a Bushhat for walks with the dog in summer. So, i appreciate your article, hopefully some readers try to think about to purchase one.

    I would suggest Adventurebild for purchasing a Fedora. Started as a hobby to build the perfect Indiana Jones Fedora, finally they equipped Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones 4. All handmade bespoke, high brim and the original Indy Hat. Not cheap, but worth every dime. http://www.adventurebiltdeluxe.com

    Reply
  8. William Lenzke says:

    John Penman of Penman Hats does fantastic work. I cannot recommend him highly enough except to say I own several of his hats.

    Reply
  9. RODNEY says:

    BatSakes in Cincinnati is a purveyor of classic hats and top brands. They’ve been in business for decades and have served stars and the public. I started with a single fedora, navy blue in Baltimore in the 90s, then I had a fling with porkpies in the early aughts.One actually has the cord that ties to a coat button for windy days.I keep all my hats in the original boxes. I also have an affinity for the small circumference berets. A future article on porkpies and berets would be welcome. Love your blog. Keep up the good work. Men need it!

    Reply
  10. Count Erich Manfred von Siebenburg says:

    Wonderful article on the Fedora. Might I suggest a similar piece on the Homburg? I have a white, pearl gray, and a black one, with jauntily up-turned side curvatures to the brim.

    Reply
  11. W. Mandelbaum says:

    Hats off to you for another great article. Fedoras can look great with a little age on the wearer, but it’s tough for millennials to pull it off without looking like they are playing
    dress up with daddy’s clothes.

    Reply
  12. Ron Pruitt says:

    I’ll second John Penman even though I don’t own any of his hats, I am familiar with his work. I do own several hats made by one of John’s mentors that made the hats for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In an unrelated matter, I would like to add Art Fawcett of Vintage Silhouettes to the list of bespoke hat makers.

    Reply
  13. Brian Blair says:

    Nice article! I have a couple of dozen for all kinds of occasions. Most are Borsalinos from a vintage Angora gray fedora (NOS) up through a navy blue beaver fur wide brim that I bought from Bernie Utz’s on Union St in Seattle. They also set me up with my Christy’s top hat. I second the recommendation for Optimo in Chicago, Tiffani, in particular. My olive fedora is a work of art! My 4 Homburgs are great for the charcoal and navy suits. I live in Alabama and you can’t wear fur felt comfortably past mid-May if that long. The sweat is not good for the felt in any event. However, I’ve learned not to spend a lot of money on summer straws because with the heat and sweat, they won’t last more than 3 years or so with frequent wear even if you have several among which you rotate. The last thing I want to suggest is to consider a foul weather hat. I use a fabric black fedora crown, turn down brim. I think I actually got it from Penney’s years ago. Stetson has a couple recently advertised for about 40 bucks. I prefer to save my fur felts for fair weather. And lastly, to make a bold statement, try a Tesi boater on Derby Day! With a horse-themed bow tie, Winchester shirt, blue blazer, khaki or stone linen trousers and spectators, de rigeur!

    Reply
  14. James M. Grandone says:

    I own a vintage black Borsalino (Godfather hat) and am struggling as to where I can wear it. I cannot wear it driving. I would like to where it more often but the events I attend do not seem to fit. Symphony, lectures, concerts, etc. I suppose I just wear it to and from the event and not in the car, which make it somewhat pointless as a fashion accessory.
    I also own an Italian Panama fedora, which I just acquired. I plan to wear it this fall as part of my ensemble for outdoor activities.
    I would like to hear what readers think are the definitely Do-Not-Wear occassions for a fedora?

    Reply
  15. Mark in OZ says:

    Dear Raphael
    A couple of years back as part of 150years celebration Stetson reproduced its famous Whippet ; I bought two .. They are really well blocked and stand out .
    Here in Australia we have Akubra all over the place , no longer made using fur felt .

    Reply
  16. Forrest says:

    Great article. I own several. Living in Southern California I wear Panamas during warm weather and beaver felts in cooler. My hats are custom which means they fit well. I do have a fedora that has western grade felt for rainy weather. My favorites are homburgs. My navy blue one I wear with tuxedo and a grey one for my stroller. As one who is follically challenged, the fedoras reduce my pate, ears and nose from skin cancer. Plus they look great!

    Reply
  17. Matthew says:

    If one is in the New York City area, plan on stopping by JJ Hat on 5th Avenue. From Borsalino to Stetsons, the guys in the shop have been very helpful in selecting appropriate headwear, in this case a fedora. They will also steam your hat for you while you wait. They are around the block from my tailor, Kozinn and Sons – it’s a welcome opportunity to pair a hat with suiting fabric at the start.

    Reply
  18. Simon says:

    Great article!

    I wear a small brimmed Fedora most days, except on the hottest summer days. I have about 10 different colours for different outfits.

    If you are in Australia you might like to know there is an actual hat store (bricks and mortar) in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains in NSW called The Hattery.

    You can go in and try on hats – very nice people there to help you. And great hats. Lots of Akubras. They sell online too.

    Reply
  19. Mason Rudesheim says:

    Art Fawcett at Vintage Silhouettes is by far my favourite hatter! His work is great, and his ribbon work even better. I actually got to work with this summer learning how to make hats. He is a really nice person. Also I don’t think there is anything wrong in wearing a colourful hat, I myself own both a green and a red fedora (similar in colour to the green nappa and red suede gloves on Fort Belvedere). Although I tend to wear my hats as the focal point of what I wear. Also I think there are plenty of ways to wear fedoras in a casual manner, especially straws. I think it depends more on the color of the hat and style of crown.

    Reply
  20. Douglas says:

    Thanks for posting this very interesting and informative guide to fedoras. I am basically bald and live at 6,200 feet above sea level, so I started wearing serious hats about 8 years ago. My first serious purchase was while I was visiting in Berlin and found Coy Hüte (Hats) in the Hackesche Höfe. It’s a dark blue rabbit felt fedora with a broader rim. I really liked the hat and when I was back in Berlin the next year, I returned to Coy and ordered a handmade dark grey rabbit felt fedora. I traveled onwards and attended a seminar, before heading back to Berlin. I had gotten a phone call from Nora, telling me that my hat was done. Each time I wear it, I get compliments. I’ve since ordered and received two more hats from Coy Hats, and am completely happy. The hats were made to my measurements and are examples of very fine handiwork. I have some vintage hats as well, including a Stetson fedora with the Cavanagh edge mentioned in the article.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] five deals with the Fedora hat and its snap brim. First, we learn that the origin of the word Fedora is traced back to the French writer, Victorien Sardou’s, play, Fédora […]

  2. […] most people think of Capone, they picture him in dark three piece pin stripe or chalk stripe suits, fedora hats and a cigar in his […]

  3. […] a solid dark blue overcoat, a solid shirt, a red patterned tie, a brown scarf and a light grey felt fedora with a contrasting brown hat band and dark brown gloves. In combination with his horn glasses, it […]

  4. […] kind of stuff and for me, I think the 30’s to me, is timeless. If I wasn’t wearing a fedora or something, it wouldn’t be that much different from what people wear today. Maybe a little […]

  5. […] your eyes from the sun. Another option that became quite popular in the 1920s and onward is the fedora and even the trilby. However, the classic choice is always the flat cap which is usually made of […]

  6. […] copying them and a new trend was started. Borsalino was well known as a manufacturer of felt fedoras but very soon their Safari Hat also achieved cult status. The Borsalino safari hat is even credited […]

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