History of Fedora Hats

by Laura Dixon ; Updated September 28, 2017

The fedora hat is a fashion accessory with character. Since its introduction in the last years of the 19th century, this hat has been associated with gangsters, movie stars, businessmen and hip-hop stars. As fedora hats experience a comeback, it may be time to pause and reflect on just where this piece of clothing came from, and where it has been.

Identification

Fedoras are medium-brimmed hats designed with a C-crown, or indentation at the top of the hat’s crown to allow for a roomier fit. The brim encircles the entire base of the hat, just underneath a hat band that may be covered by a ribbon. Traditionally fedoras were made out of felt, but these days they are made out of other materials, including canvas and straw.

Origins

The fedora hat got its name from the 1882 French play Fedora, by Victorien Sardou. The play's heroine, Princess Fedora, was played by actress Sarah Bernhardt in the American stage adaptation in 1889. The following decade, the fedora was introduced as a female fashion accessory for middle- and upper-class Western women.

Fedoras quickly became a fashion option for men as well, and were especially popular in urban areas, where men wore the hats to protect their heads from the elements and add a touch of elegance. During the first decades of the 20th century, the black fedora became a staple in the wardrobes of Orthodox Jews, many of whom continue to wear them.

Early Days

During the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s, the fedora came to be associated with gangsters like Al Capone and the detectives who chased them. This stylish piece of headwear was also highly popularized in the films of the 1940s and 1950s, especially by actors playing mobsters or private investigators, whose ensembles were often accompanied by a trench coat.

Later Years

From the 1920s onward, the fedora was worn by men throughout the United States. It began to lose popularity on the West Coast in the 1950s because of the more temperate climate and casual dress. Shorter brims became more popular in the West, while the classic fedora remained remained popular on the east coast until the 1960s.

By the 1970s, the younger generation had adopted the baseball cap over the fedora. Older men continued to wear the classic hat that they had grown up with. The fedora made a striking fashion comeback in 2007 and 2008, seen all over catwalks in the fall and spring collections. Fedoras of the 21st century range from replicas of the original felt versions to those in more light-weight materials such as straw and canvas.

Considerations

The fluctuating popularity of the fedora throughout the years has been greatly influenced by popular entertainment. In the 1940s and 1950s, famous entertainers like Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra made the fedora part of their film and stage repertoire, causing production of the fedora to soar. Three decades later, the fedora played a token role in the Indiana Jones movie trilogy, acquainting a whole new generation with the classic. Meanwhile, Michael Jackson and rappers such as Run DMC showed that the fedora hat could be cool again.

Most recently, popular entertainers including Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears have worn them during concerts, while young celebrities continue to fuel the fedora comeback by being photographed sporting the chic hat.

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