Fedora Hat
  A HAT TO MATCH THE REST OF YOUR ROCKABILLY CLOTHING

 


If the brim is less than 2", it's called a stingy, and was popular in the 60's.  A 2" brim or less is the fedora hat that Frank Sinatra is known for.

Choice #1:  What size brim of the fedora hat do you want?

The snap brim means that the front is pulled down with the back up.  Some people wear a fedora with the back down in a sort of outback style (called a turn-down), but that just looks stupid.  The brim on this fedora hat on the left is 2 1/2" (which is the brim size Bogart wore, see below).

If you are going for a specific time period, you'll have to wear the brim size they wore (about 2 1/2" in the 40s, down to 2" or less in the 60s).  If you are somewhat flexible, though, big men look best in wide-brimmed hats, thin men look best in narrow brimmed hats.

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If you're getting a 3" brim, that's huge, and is more like a zoot suit type fedora hat.


A 2 1/2" brim is the most common in the 40s, like the one Bogart wore.

 

A porkpie hat will have a roundish top and no pinch (and a small brim of less than 2".)  A porkpie hat can be either felt or straw.  They weren't uncommon, but were a pretty sassy option (like a homburg would be a fancy, rich man's option).

 

 

 

Rockabilly hairstyle

 

A zoot suit is an outrageous man's suit worn in the 30s.  Zoot suits were not worn by very many men, but everyone knew about them.  A zoot suit has:

  • Wide-legged, tight-cuffed, or "pegged," trousers (called tramas)

  • A long coat with wide lapels, and wide, padded shoulders (called the carlango). 

  • A felt hat (fedora with at least a 3" brim) with a long feather (called a tapa or tanda) 

  • Pointy, French-style shoes (called calcos). 

   

 

The fedora hat has been the most popular type of men's hat in the 20th century because of the following reasons:

  • The top of the hat is tall enough to protect any hairstyle, from a pompadour to greased back hair.  In the case of greased back hair, the oil won't get all over the top of the cap, like it would with a baseball cap, for instance.  Indiana Jones had a very tall fedora hat - about 5"tall.  Bogie's hat was only about 4" or 4 1/2" high.  Sinatra's hat is even shorter.  Usually a fedora hat would be at least somewhat soft, but Indy's is very hard, like the Akubra Federation from Australia sold at hatsdirect.com which are made from rabbit fur felt and made very stiff.

 

  • The brim is wide enough to shield a man from the rain or sun.  The inner leather band keeps the fedora hat from getting out of shape.  
  • The outer ribbon keeps the hat from staining if sweat gets through the leather band.  
  • The outer welt (where the felt is curved in on itself and then is sewn) keeps the felt from fraying.


Creased top.  Note the underwelt edge has another fabric sewn on top (pretty common, and adds another layer of durability).


Tear drop on top.  The underwelt edge on this one has no other covering (also common).

The top of the fedora hat can just be a crease (usually without a pinch in the front), or it can be in a teardrop shape with a pinch at the front.  Don't grab your hat at the pinch or it will eventually develop a crease and rip there. 

The feather can be removed, if you like.

The feather and bow are always on the left-hand side because in the 3 Musketeer days, the feather was much bigger and a gentleman wanted easy access to his sword.  Left-handers were forced to be right-handed in those days.

The fedora hat was usually either brown or black or gray.  It was worn by most men, but especially white color workers.  Black fedoras were considered sort of  extreme, and were often just worn for funerals when you had to wear black, or with a tuxedo, which was black.

Choice #2:  Underwelt or raw edge?

The outer edge of the brim can be turned in on itself and sewn (called an underwelt).  This underwelt can be then covered with a different fabric, like the one shown on the top, or just kept as felt, as on the bottom.  If the felt is not turned in on itself and sewn, it's known as having a raw edge.  A raw edge is nice for a very soft fedora hat, for instance, as it keeps the edge nice and soft, but it is not as durable.  A raw edge on a very soft fedora is sometimes considered very high-end and kind of European, and wasn't very common back in the old days.

 

 

 

Often blue collar workers would wear a cap instead of a fedora hat, but sometimes blue-collar workers would wear a fedora.  In this picture, the man on the left is wearing a fedora hat, while the others are wearing caps.

When a fedora hat was new, a man would use it for church or for going to the office.  When it got older, it was his weekend hat.  When it got really old, it was his fishing hat.  So often a man would have three fedoras - one newish, one older, and one very old.  Depending on whether he lived in a cold weather climate or in a hot weather one, the hats could be felt or straw.  In a place where there was both hot and cold weather, he'd have both (wow...six hats...)

When the hat was too old to be used as a fishing hat, sometimes he'd give it to his kid who would cut off the brim, fold up  the excess hat to fit his small head, cut it into triangles to help it fit, if necessary, and put favorite pins on the hat, like Jughead in the Archie comic books.

Choice #2:  Composition of the fedora hat (fur felt or wool felt, or straw in the summer)

A fedora hat felt in cool weather, made of either wool felt or fur felt.  Fur felt is better because it resists water better.  The fur is rabbit fur or beaver or a mix (or sometimes nutria or some other animal).  The soft underbelly fur is used for the felt of a fedora hat, not the wiry outside fur.  Felt fedoras used to be made out of fur felt and were thus waterproof.  You could wear them out in the rain, no problem.  Recently, hat manufacturers have started making wool felt fedoras as well as fur felt.  The wool felt fedoras look and feel okay, but don't look or feel as nice as fur felt.  The wool felt is a lot cheaper, though.  A LOT cheaper.  So if you can only afford a wool felt fedora for now, it's not as authentic, but it's a whole lot better than not having a hat at all.  

Dobbs, Stetson, and Biltmore made fedoras in the old days and are still making them now, from $50 for a wool felt fedora hat to about $120 for a fur felt fedora hat.  Movie stars of the old days would wear expensive Italian Borsalino, which run about $300 nowadays.  

For a felt hat, there should be a satin liner inside for warmth, and to keep the felt from getting greasy from your hair.  A really cheap imitation fedora hat will not have a liner, and an old vintage fedora may not have a liner because it may have deteriorated and fallen out by now.

Old hats, if they are of high quality, are usually of higher quality than hats that can be bought today.  It's a shame, but they just made them better in the old days.  You can still get a good new fedora, but it's very difficult to get one that will match a top of the line (or often even medium-quality) fedora that's vintage.

In the summer, a straw fedora hat is worn.  Nothing is cool (literally) as a straw hat in the summer - they let in the breeze, but block your head and face from the sun.  In Asia the cone hat is used, in Mexico it's the sombrero, the cowboys had their straw cowboy hats, and in the rest of the Western world the straw hat of choice in the 20th century was the fedora hat.  The top of the line is the Montecristi, which can run from $50 to $2500.  A straw fedora hat will not have a liner because the liner just makes it warmer.  A really good hat will bounce back easily if it's sat on, but it's hard (and expensive) to find one that supple.

So in the summer, men would wear a straw fedora hat.  In Baltimore, for instance, the tradition was that when the weather got hot enough, the announcer at a baseball game would announce that it was time for spring hats, and all the men in the baseball stands would cheer, punch through their felt fedoras and throw them on the field.  When the men got home later that day, they'd then start wearing their straw fedoras.  If you didn't want to punch through your hat, your friend or neighbor next to you would take it off your head and punch through it for you!  It's weird to think about destroying your hat nowadays, but you have to remember how common hats were back then.  Think about tossing your winter hat (like a watch cap) out on the baseball field.  That kind of act would be outrageous, but not inconceivable.  You might want to wear your oldest fishing hat to spring games, though.

In the fall, there would be an official day that all men would start wearing felt fedoras again.  (First day of fall?  After Labor Day?  I don't know...I'll ask my barber or my grandfather and post the answer here).

Both the felt fedora hat and the straw fedora hat will have a leather inner hat band.  A cheap imitation fedora hat will have an imitation leather hat band inside which won't form to your head and won't absorb sweat.

A man who went outside without his hat was so rare that it would definitely be noticed and even remarked on.  Many novels of the 40s will say something like "he was in such a hurry that his left the house without his hat".

Sometimes you'll see a fedora hat made out of cloth, or with a turndown back, or something like that.  Those styles are all fine and good, I suppose (although I think they look stupid) but they're not the authentic vintage-type hats we're talking about.  Men did sometimes turn up the front of the fedora and it wasn't considered weird.  We now sometimes consider turning up the front brim sort of a silly act, but back then it was just another way to wear your fedora.