The fedora, one of the most popular and recognizable styles of men’s hats, has been around since the 19th century and can be associated with a surprising number of societal implications that have evolved over time.
The fedora first began to become popular in 1882, as a result of the play Fédora, which is where it gets its name. It’s the feminine version of the Russian proper name Fedor, which comes from the Greek name Theodoros, literally “Gift of the Gods”. The star of the play, Sarah Bernhardt, was known for adopting men’s fashion and acting roles in order to scandalize audiences, and she is given credit for starting the fedora craze. Therefore, the fedora got its start as a women’s hat, albeit one with intentionally masculine undertones. The fedora was then adopted by women’s rights activists and suffragettes as a symbol of liberation and assertiveness, and the style quickly spread to women in general. Many fashion-forward men, such as Oscar Wilde and Prince Edward of Britain, also began sporting the new style. After some savvy advertising, American men began wearing fedoras, including stars like Humphrey Bogart (pictured above as character Rocks Valentine in 1938) and gangsters such as Al Capone, and the fedora became a solid symbol of masculinity rather than liberated femininity.
Its popularity began to wane in the 60s as more casual styles of dress took over, but the fedora remained a symbol of masculinity mostly due to popular entertainment. Films of the latter half of the 20th century often featured male stars like Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones wearing the hat, ensuring that it maintained its place in society as an icon even though it was rarely worn by men in daily life.
The 21st century saw a revival in interest in the fedora, and along with it, a shift in how the wearer was perceived. What was once a stylish nod to masculinity became a stigmatized indication of “trying too hard”, particularly when paired with casual clothing. These days, the fedora (and its brother the trilby) is often seen as a symbol of masculine insecurity. Some attribute this shift in perception to the overall lack of options in American men’s fashion, while others attribute it to the idea that the fedora is simply too formal to mesh well with modern fashion.
Despite the current stigmatization of the fedora, it’s undeniable that it has played a major role in fashionable society. If the dynamic nature of its past is any indication, it’s possible the fedora just might re-enter the fashion world in full force in the future.