The Ultimate Fedora Guide

Cary Grant in fedora

History of the Fedora

The fedora gets its name from the 1882 play, Fédora, in which the hat was worn by Sarah Bernhardt. Bernhardt was known for dressing in men’s clothes, and with its masculine look, the fedora became a symbol during the women’s rights movement and was worn by the suffragettes.

A quick side note, the term “suffragettes” was actually used to minimize the suffrage of women during this time. Traditionally groups of people trying to get rights were called suffragists, “ette” being French femine suffix meaning something small or of lesser importance.

Eventually the hat was adopted by and marketed to men and this leaves us where we are today. Although many women wear fedoras now, during their prime they were considered a “man’s hat.” Fedoras remained popular from the 1920’s through the 50’s. They have had revivals of popularity on a regular basis ever since and have never gone completely out of style the way that top hats and bowlers have.

Frank Sinatra in a fedora
Frank Sinatra

How Fedoras are Made

Varnishing – First the felt is varnished, this will enable the hat to keep its shape after it has been formed.

Steaming – After the felt has been varnished and allowed to dry it can then be steamed. Steaming enables the fedora to be shaped smoothly.

Blocking – After being well-steamed the hats are stretched into a round shape over a wood or metal hat block.

Shaping – Shaping occurs by hand or by using a hat block designed to press the felt into the correct shape.

Finishing touches – The hat is finished by sewing the edge and adding a ribbon.

  vintage hat block
Vintage hat block

Here’s a video from Stetson showing their process:

This next video shows how a crown can be hand-shaped:

Fedora Fabric Types

Fur Felt – Fedoras made with fur felt are going to be higher quality and subsequently more expensive than wool felt fedoras. If you’re main focus is quality then save up for a fur felt fedora (try saying “for a fur felt fedora” five times fast).

Wool Felt – Of lesser quality than a fur felt, a wool felt fedora will still give you years of wear if taken care of properly. If these get wet, make sure to dry it properly either hung up or on its crown. Don’t hang these on a small hook, use a hook with a wide surface to avoid misshaping the hat.

Straw – Ah, pictures of sunshine and summertime memories, the straw hat is your warm weather alternative to the fur or wool felt fedora. I have wide-brim white Panama fedora for special occasions and couple brown straw fedoras for more frequent wear. The straw allows for better breathability while still shading your face from the sun.

Humphrey Bogart wearing fedora
Humphrey Bogart

Choosing a Fedora

Finding a hat that fits your head properly and looks good on you is important. Don’t just grab the first fedora that catches your eye and fits on your head. Wear it around in the hat store of 5 minutes or so. Does it shift to one side, fall forward, or cause other annoyances?

I would never recommend purchasing a hat online. Always purchase from a hatter with a brick and mortar store. You can look online, however when it comes time to purchase, find out where the hats you liked online are stocked near you. Then go to the store and try them on.

Hat sizes can vary slightly so it’s important to go in person. You’ll also want to look over the hat for any imperfections. Often a certain style of hat will look great on others yet won’t quite look as you’d pictured it on yourself. Try on hats with various crown heights and brim widths to ensure you get the perfect hat.

Taking Care of Your Fedora

Handling – Always grab your fedora by the brim and never by the pinch. Grabbing the hat by the pinch will misshape it over time and wear out the felt.  Picking up or removing a straw hat by its pinch will cause breakage.

Cleaning – Use a hat brush (or soft-bristled brush) to clean dirt and debris from your hat’s surface. If needed you can spot clean your hat, however do not soak the hat as it will likely cause shrinkage.

Storing – Store your fedora upside down on its crown or by hanging on a wide hook. Laying your fedora on its brim will cause the brim to loose its shape and will diminish the life of your investment. I also recommend storing hats in a hat box to protect them from dust and moths.

Here is a video that explains the proper storing of your fedora:

Recommended hat makers:

Stay true to yourself. Be kind to others. Define your own style.

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