Now & Then: The History of the Fedora

Can the film noir style staple survive the whims of fashion?

According to New York magazine’s popular Approval Matrix, the long running trend for fedora hats is most definitely over. That’s the thing with fashion, someone artfully revisits a look from the past starting a trend and before you know it every street corner vendor is selling a version for ten bucks. While the look is good in its purest essence, the last thing you want is to wear one too.

Which is a magnificent shame when it comes to the trendy topper in question. The fedora, a medium brimmed hat traditionally made in felt, was designed with a pinched indentation at the hat’s crown to allow for a roomier fit.  Tipped rakishly over one eye, there’s no better way to establish an air of mystery in stylish homage to the film noir greats like Robert Mitchum, Greta Garbo and Veronica Lake.

Who could resist Bogie and Bergman both wearing a fedora in Casablanca?

The fedora emerged as a female fashion accessory for middle and upper class Western women at the turn of the last century, after actress Sarah Berhardt played Princess Fedora in the French play Fedora by Victorien Sardou in 1889. The hat went on to be associated with gangsters in the Prohibition era of the 20s and 30s and was subsequently glamorized by the film noir actors reenacting the mobsters and private investigators in popular movies in the 40s and 50s.

Smooth Criminal: Michael Jackson helped to revive the fedora in 1987

By the 70s the formal hat fell out of style as casual clothing became more popular. It enjoyed a revival in the 1980s where it was popularized as an All-American classic sported by Michael Jackson during his iconic Bad Album period. Run D.M.C. rapped in theirs and Harrison Ford looked the part of an adventurous archaeologist in his for the Indiana Jones trilogy. Since the hat appeared on the runways back in 2007, Cameron Diaz, Keira Knightley and Kate Moss gave the hat a female twist, popularizing it as a clever celebrity cover up.

Authentic fashion interpreter, Kate Moss said she tries to be “a character” when she gets dressed, “I don’t think of it as ‘Ooh, it’s me,’ she explains. “I think, ‘Who do I want to be?'”

If you love to wear a hat, skip the tyranny of the micro trend and embrace the timeless classic. If you find an authentic vintage fedora with a wide brim that’s built to last and – and most importantly –  that you absolutely love, wear it. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Want to catch up on some more fashion history?

Now & Then: the History of the Ballet Flat

Now & Then: The History of Shorts

Now & Then: Met Ball’s Most Memorable Dresses

Now & Then: The History of the Breton Shirt

Now & Then: The History of the Platform Shoe

Now & Then: The History of Fitness Wear

Now & Then: The History of the Pencil Skirt

Now & Then: The History of the Cocktail Dress

Now & Then: The History of Skinny Jeans

Read more Now & Then articles here.


Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.