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    

John B Stetson Royal Stetson Whippet Fedora Large 7 3/8"Vintage Royal Stetson Whippet Fedora 1950s 7 3/8 With Hat Box Brown Vintage (post Wwii) 7 1/4 Gold Straw Gentleman's Woven Panama HatMen's Vintage Light Brown Derby Hat Mallory Coast To Coast Size 7 & 1/4Vintage 1950s 7-1/8 Twistex Straw Men's Ventilated Fedora Hat GrayVintage Rene Menard "clubman" Fedora Hat Brown/size 7 1/2Vintage Knox Twenty Custom Edge New York Fedora - Size 7 1/2Size 7 1/4 Vintage 1930's Registered Hats Homburg Navy Blue Fedora HatVintage Knox Twenty Custom Edge New York Fedora - Size 7 1/2Mens Vintage Macqueen London Brown Wool Fedora Hat With Feathers 7 1/8 - 600 C081950s-60s Era Royal Stetson Fedora Hat Strasburgers Clothing Knoxville Iowa Vintage Borsalino Alessandria Giuseppe Fur Felt Peluche Gray Mens Fedora Sz 7.5Genuine Montecristi Panama Hat From San Juan-very Fine Gentlemans 58 7 1/4 MedMen's Fedora By Camptown Hats - Indiana Jones Style!7 1/4 Vintage Stetson "royal Stetson" Felt Fedora HatExcellent Royal Stetson Men's Hat2 Vintage Adam Men's Brown Fedora Hat, Felt (?), New York, Choco Brown, Lt BrownNew Charlie 1 Horse Wild Bird Fedora Size Small - Flaw In BackVintage Black Beaver Hats Imported Coney Fur Fedora Hat Men's Size 7 1/4Stetson Fedora: Brown Royal Stetson Size 59, 7-3/8 With 2" BrimVintage Champ Brand Greenish/ Brown Space Weight Felt Fedora Hat Size 7 1/4Fine Aunthentic Vtg Royal John B Stetson Playboy Mens Gray Felt Fur Fedora 7Vintage Champ Blackkasmir Finish Felt Fedora Hat Men's Size 7 1/4Pendleton Woolen Mills Wool Crusher Fedora Hat Black Outback Leather Band Xl Filson Fedora Style Packer Hat Forest Green Men Xl 100% Wool Usa-great Cond.Vtg 60s Bond Straw Fedora Hat Imported Sz 7 3/8 Geunine MilanKnox Col. Memphis Fur Felt Hat Size 7Vintage Stetson 3x Beaver Fedora Hat, Size 7 Gray, N.i.b., Made In Usa.Mens Vtg Black Straw Stetson Great Fabric Crown Band Mid Century Fedora HatVintage Brown Felt Top Hat - From Silverwoods La - Brand Campus HallVintage Borsalino Grand Prix Paris 1900 Brown Wide Brim Felt Fedora Mens Size 7Like New Indiana Jones Replica All Wool Felt Fedora Hat Large Made In U.s.a. !Vintage Black Royal Stetson Men's Hat Fedora 7 Great For Him Or Her Classy!!Vintage Mens German Bavarian Oktoberfest Tyrol Anton Peschel Swiss Fedora HatVtg 60s Straw Fedora Hat Sz 7 3/8 Fd166f White Straw Panama Cuban Round Wide Flat Brim Fedora Feather Band Hat XlSuperb "borsalino" Italian Felt Fedora Hat Sz 7 Charcoal/dark GrayMen's Panama Jack Toyo Straw Hat Fedora -- Size Xxl WhiteVintage Cavanagh Hats New York Cavanagh Edge Brown Fedora Hat Very Nice OneVintage Mens Dobbs Fifth Avenue New York Fedora Hat Size 7 1/8 Oatmeal ColorMens Country Gentleman Safari Fedora Hat Lite Felt Wool Sz L Water RepellentMen Women Gray Hard Felt Black Band Panama Jazz Fedora Trilby Wide Brim Hat CapStetson Gray Trilby 1 Inch Brim Fedora Plad Ribbon L Large 7 3/8 59cm CrushableVintage Lock & Co. Hatters St. James St. London Brown 100% Wool Fedora Sz. Med.New Stetson Twin Raffia Pork Pie Natural Straw Fedora Hat Size LargeVintage '50s Portis Swansback Homburg Hat Fedora Size 7Stacy Adams Black Fedora - Xl 100% WoolMen's Hat Brixton Deidre Felt Fedora (medium)Vintage 60s Lee Cocoa Straw Fedora Pork Pie Hat Sinatra Fab Stripe Band 7 VlvMans Harvard Muskateer Woven Fedora. Gray. 7 1/8Vintage Mens 100% Wool Indiana Jones Style Fedora Hat Bee Brand Sz LargeMen's Makins New York FedoraF166a Classic Ivory Straw Panama Cuban Round Wide Flat Brim Fedora Band Hat S/mVintage Stetson Fedora Hat Tweed Size Large 7 1/4 - 7 3/81x Black Vintage Hard Felt Hat Wide Brim Fedora Trilby Panama Hat Gangster CapVintage Royal Stetson Stratoliner Fedora Brown TanVintage Borsalino 6 X Fur Felt Dark Brown Fedora Sz 6 Us 7- 1/2Stacy Adams Mens Royal Blue Wool Felt Crushable Snap Brim Feather Fedora Hat (l)Thriftchi ~ Nice 7 1/4 Mens Fedora Hat W/ Additional FeatherNew , Mens Stacy Adams Toyo Straw Fedora Hat Grey , Size Large