Many of us associate the fedora with the Herbert Johnson creation worn by Harrison Ford in “Indiana Jones” or the rumbled felt hats that covered the sweaty heads of Jake and Elwood in “The Blues Brothers.” But the fedora had its debut resting on the curly locks of Sarah Bernhardt, who wore a sportier version of the famous chapeau in a late 19th-century play called, appropriately enough, “Fedora.”

In fact, it wasn’t until the 1920s that the fedora—a medium-wide brimmed felt hat with a pinched-in front and a crease down the length of its crown—became associated with menswear. Gangsters were some of the first men to claim fedoras, which were produced in a palette of colors that would do a peacock proud. Today, period photographs of these stern underworld types, struggling to project an air of respectability beneath their outsized hats, appear more than a little bit comical.

As it turned out, the funny pages were actually a good place for the hat, especially when worn on the head of comics crime fighter Dick Tracy, whose yellow felt fedora, trimmed with a black ribbon, was the character’s signature.

Hollywood also took to the fedora. James Cagney wore one in the 1938 gangster film “Angels with Dirty Faces,” as did co-star Humphrey Bogart. Costume designers subsequently put a lot of fedoras on Bogie’s head. In 1941, he made the hat famous in “The Maltese Falcon,” combining it with a long trench coat to create a pairing that remains classic to this day. Bogart also wore the hat the following year in “Casablanca,” most famously when he bids Ingrid Bergman adieu in the film’s climactic airport scene.

Another celebrity to favor the fedora was Frank Sinatra, who was often seen wearing a “Stingy Brim” Cavanagh throughout the 1940s and into the ’50s, when the hat’s popularity began to decline. Even Sinatra switched to a smaller pork pie, which was thought to be more flattering to his small frame.

During the middle of the 20th century, lots of hatters made fedoras, but a few elevated the form to an art. Borsalino of Italy was clearly one of the best. Borsalino felt hats were made out of pressed fur (hare, rabbit, muskrat) rather than wool, and the hats were blocked, reblocked, and shaped with exacting care.

Before Harrison Ford tapped Herbert Johnson for his hat in “Raiders,” the London-based company made hats for the British armed forces—from Bombay bowlers for Kitchener's troops f...

Cavanagh not only made hats for Sinatra, but it created an edge for felt hats of all types. Known as the Cavanagh Edge, this rounded rim can even be found on the hats of Cavanagh competitors, from Borsalino to Stetson.

Which brings us to Stetson. Though long associated with cowboy hats, Stetson has also produced several styles of Stetson hats, which today go by names like Whippet and Benchley.

Today everyone from guitarist Carlos Santana to trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to rapper Kid Rock to football and baseball star Deion Sanders wear fedoras. Sanders is such a fan of fedoras and hats in general that he leant his name to a line of felt hats made by Dobbs.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Des Chapeaux

Des Chapeaux

A French tribute to women's hats and other headwear from the 1940s... primarily magazine images, with some commenta… [read review or visit site]

American Hatpin Society

American Hatpin Society

Who knew there was so much to hatpin collecting? This site is all about great hatpin images - from recent hatpin co… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Vintage 50's Grey Borsalino Fedora Hat Uk 7 1/2 Eu 61 Usa 7 5/8 Vintage Stetson Fedora Hat 7 3/8 Lo Whippet Style Brim Binding! Grey Fur FeltVintage Late 40s Royal Stetson Gray Whippet Fedora With Original Box, Size 7 3/8Vintage Willis & Geiger Fur Felt Safari Fedora Hat 7 1/4 Zebra Early AkubraThe Open Road Royal Delux Stetson 7 1/4 Fedora Grey Made In Usa Spy Or GangsterLarge Vintage 1940s 50s Wide Brim Tall Crown 7 1/2 Dobbs Fifteen Fedora NearmintVintage Stetson 5x Beaver Fedora 7 3/8 Wide Brim Hat Taupe Or Putty With BoxMen's - Vintage - 'philadelphia' Fedora (golden Gate Hat Co.) - Sz. 7.5100% Wool And Brown (pecan) Rag & Bone Floppy Brim Fedora Sz. Medium M Vintage 1950s Tall-crown Fedora 7 1/4 Cavanagh Edge 15x Beaver Great Cond.Vintage Mens Fedora Hat Adam Gray Felt 7 3/8 Stetson BoxVtg Cavanagh Black Fur Felt Fedora Hat W/grosgrain Band/bow Sz 7 1/4Vintage John B Stetson Men's 'royal Stetson" Fedora Hat Super Nice Vintage 7 3/8 Classic 50's Beige Stetson 25 Open Road Size 7 3/8 Fedora Vintage 1940s 50s Unique Wide Brim Fedora 7 1/8 Teardrop Beautiful Wool See PicsMallory Derby W/orig Box, Royal Stetson & Checked Fedora Lot Of 3 Vintage HatsKnox HatVtg Stetson 4x Beaver Wide Brim Fedora 7 1/4 Aussie Outback Safari Gun Club LookVintage Malrov Fur Felt Fedora 7 3/8Vintage Peter Bros Gray 7 1/8 Fedora 5x Shady Pine The Texan Hat Ft Worth TxVtg Dobbs New York Guild Edge Sz 7 1/8 Brown Fur Felt Hat & Box 1962Emilio Pucci Yellow & Pink Print Raffia Fedora Hat Size 1 NewVintage Borsalino Paris Pristeen Fedora 22 5/8" Actual Size Well Marked Vintage Dobbs Fedora Hat 7 3/8 Large Black Felt Usa Clean Red Feather With BoxVtg 1940s Fedora Hat Olive Felt W Grosgrain Band 7 1/2 Lee Vgvc Great Look!Vintage Knox Fur Felt Fedora Hat Size 7 5/8 EucFedora HatVtg. Nc Knox Ny Genuine Monti Christi Panama Fedora Hat MonogrammedVintage Cervo Italia Fedora Hat Us Size 7 1/2 (23 9/16" Inside Circumference)Wonderful Vintage Royal Stetson John B Stetson Black 7 3/8 With BoxMen's Vintage Italian Gray Felt Fedora Hat Size 7 5/8 61Borsalino Men's Hat Grand Prix Paris 1900 Antica Casa Fondata Nel 1857 7 1/2 Charles Knox Hatter Forty Fedora Hat Size 7 3/8Black Bowler (derby) Sz 7 1/2 5x Beaver Felt Hat FedoraVintage '50s-60s Champ Black Fur Felt Fedora Hat With BoxRoyal Stetson Fedora Men's Vintage Hat Size 7 3/8 Gray 1940sFedora HatVintage 1930's-60's Hat Lot Veils Pillbox Velvet Feather Fedora Sequins..24pcs*Vtg Gray "royal Beaver Deluxe" Men's Fedora Hat, Battlestein's Houston, 7 1/2Dobbs Fifth Avenue Fedora Hat - Guild Edge - 7 3/8Rare Vintage '50s Lee "centre Dent" Silver-gray Fedora Felt Hat Size 7Lot 4 Vintage Womens Hats Fedora Felt Wool Black Brown Gray Doeskin VelourFd219 New Mens Hat 100% Wool Round Wide Brim Fedora Ribbon Feather Band Black XlEstate Find Vintage Men's Champs Gray Felt Kasmir Finish Fedora Hat 7 1/4 Ace Of Something Biscuit Felt Fedora Hat *limited Edition* Rrp $59.95 EcStetson Indiana Jones 7-3/8 Brown Felt Fedora Mens Hat With Black BandEric Javits Fedora Sun Hat Straw Neutral With Blue Trim - Nwot's $150Bloomingdales Betmar Fedora Fusha Wool Made In Usa Rasberry Maroon Very Nice HatVintage Mallory Fedora Hat 7 Stetson Open Road Style! Silverbelly Fur FeltVtg Stevens Fedora-7 3/8-"xxx Gold Bond Beaver"-dark Grey In Original BoxNew Wool Diamond Fedora Brown XxlCountry Gentleman Lite Felt Hat 100% Wool Fedora-medium-brownStetson Saxon Fur Felt Fedora Hat Size 7 3/8Vintage Emerson Ltd. Grey Aerated Felt Fedora- Brenner Bros. WoosterVintage Burgundy Dobbs Fifth Avenue Feather Hat Pure Wool 7 3/8Vtg Royal Stetson Fedora Hat W Feather Dark Brown Sz 71/4 Vgc Heritage Mens Vintage Size M Pendleton Fedora Hat 100% Wool Western Outback CowboyVtg Champ Hat Kasmir Finish Californian Metal Grey Felt Fedora In Box 7-1/4Borsalino " Glen " Brown With Feather Felt Good Traveling Hat Fedora Xl 7 1/2Vtg. Dk Grey Mallory 5th Ave Ny Custom Mono Fedora Hat Long Oval 7 Pantke-harpke