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 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.
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.