When a Fedora That Isn’t a Fedora Is a Fedora.

Maybe you’re aware of the long-standing controversy over what is a fedora and what isn’t, and what’s wrong or not wrong with the people that wear them. Or maybe you have better & more productive things to do with your time, like watching paint dry. Since I don’t have any fresh paint to inspect at the moment I guess we’ll dive into the whole hat thing.

Guys wearing hats that they can’t really pull off is where this starts, sometime in the late 2000s. “Fedora shaming” is an online meme involving the unfortunate ridicule of guys who are wearing fedoras that they probably shouldn’t.

Maybe you’ve even seen this meme:

“The Truth Hurts” — from reddit via knowyourmeme.com

Pharrell’s Vivienne Westwood “Mountain” Hat. Yes it has a Twitter account.

Personally I don’t think the guy on the right looks all that bad, and we all need to face the fact that we aren’t as cool as Humphrey Bogart. It’s a question of self-awareness. Can you pull off that hat? How unusual is that hat? Humphrey Bogart could probably still look cool wearing 10-gallon novelty foam hat, and a classic fedora in the picture above was not unusual at all in the 1940s, so no question he can pull it off and some random guy on the internet maybe can’t. Anyone can go too far though.. I’m looking at you, Pharrell.

But it doesn’t end with unfortunate hat choices. Maybe you looked at the first picture above and said, “Hey, that’s a trilby!”. If so, congratulations on your haberdashical intelligence quotient. In any case, technically that is true — that hat looks more like a typical trilby than a typical fedora if you went and looked them up.  “Trilby vs. Fedora” then turned into another meme, where people who are smarter than people who are wrong on the internet point out things like the following:

Halt the Hat Hate! (from goodmenproject.com)

Again, this is technically probably true. In fact the article that picture above is from is well-done and has some sensible advice on what kind of hats you should try:
-a cheap hat out of cheap fabric isn’t going to look good on anyone
-the wider your shoulders are the wider a hat brim you may want to consider.

But that’s not where things get interesting. Where it gets interesting is with items that we have on Minty Duds like this:

Hat #1: Stetson “Duckbill” Fedora

Hat #1 is a nice quality hat from Steston via Nordstrom. Stetson themselves call it a “Stetson ‘Duckbill’ Fedora”. So the brand calls it a fedora! The internet just told me it was a trilby, what’s going on here? Stetson isn’t the only brand to do so, a search for “fedora” on Minty Duds shows plenty of hats that match the trilby picture above.

To confuse matters there are some hats called “trilby” that sure look like the fedora in the comparison above:

Hat #2: Christys’ Foldaway Felt Trilby

What does this all mean?? What is this madness??

First, let’s accept that the Stetson company, having been making hats since 1865 and being virtually synonymous with a certain style of cowboy hat, knows a lot more about hats than you or I. Same goes for Christys’ Hats; they’ve been around even longer, established in 1773. So when they give a name to a hat they make, they know what they are doing. So why are they “wrong”?

What are they doing? Well, they are selling us hats. “Selling” being the operative word here. So while they will certainly know the history of a particular hat pattern and the “proper” categorization of a hat, they name it like we’d search for it. So if people think hat #1 above is a “fedora” and that’s what someone coming into a store would ask for or what you’d enter into Google, that’s what they are more likely to call it!

Speaking of Google, here’s the popularity of the two keywords, “trilby” vs. “fedora”:

Google Trends Search Data

Google Trends Search Data

So obviously a lot more people use the term “fedora” than “trilby”, making it a much more attractive word to use for marketing purposes if possible.

Google’s usage doesn’t have anything to say about whether they are using the term to signify the wide-brimmed or more narrow-brimmed varieties, but if you were trying to sell a hat, wouldn’t you want to describe it in a way that more people were using?

So why would Christys’ be calling hat #2 a trilby then? Well, just compare the relative popularity of the two words in the US vs. UK:

fedora-us

Regional Interest: “Fedora”

vs.

trilby-uk

Regional Interest: “Trilby”

The “100” on the chart is where the term is relatively most popular. So “fedora” is relatively most popular in the US and “trilby” is relatively most popular in the UK, especially compared to the US. In other words both words are used in both the US and the UK, but “fedora” is used a lot more in the US and “trilby” in the UK. So guess where Christys’ hats are from? Yup, London.

This isn’t some kind of nefarious corporate scheme to get us to call hats the wrong names; you can’t just market a particular type of hat as something it isn’t (well, maybe on eBay). If Stetson starts marketing hat #1 as a “bowler” during the upcoming great bowler frenzy of ’15 we would all just think something was wrong with them and probably not buy the hat. It has to be a word that can signify the hat you think you are looking for.

This usage then creates a feedback loop and can really change the words we use. If you searched for “fedora” and bought hat #1, your usage of the word “fedora” just got reinforced. If this happens enough eventually #1 unquestionably becomes a “fedora”. This isn’t good or bad per se, the names we call things change all the time.

Right now though it is a word in flux and could easily go either way. Which leads us back to a marketing question — if it could be called either thing why aren’t hat marketers calling it a “trilby fedora”? Well, in conclusion may we present hat #3 made by the brand Country Gentleman (established 1921):

Hat #3: Country Gentleman Trilby Fedora Hat

You’ve read this far, and maybe it’s been interesting, but what you really want to know is, “so… is it a trilby or is it a fedora???”. Our answer is that we’d probably call it a trilby but search for both terms, though that’s not the point here! Our point is to tell a small story of how terminology can change and how marketers and consumers in concert drive that change, especially in the internet age of search keywords and memes.

11 Responses to When a Fedora That Isn’t a Fedora Is a Fedora.

  1. Mark January 12, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

    Im tired of the fedora trilby arguements the way i see it is they are the same hat whatever if its a stetson then ill wear it

  2. Mark January 12, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    thought i should add also in my opinion fedoras/trilbys dont look good with facial hair and should be worn with a suit

  3. CT May 19, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    Regardless of marketing or manufacturing nomenclature, I tend to go with the historical words applied to apparel items at their outset. The question then is, what did trilbies look like when people first started wearing them and what did fedoras look like when people first started wearing them?

    • Frank H. July 19, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

      But that’s not really the important point, no matter how historically correct. Other words change their meaning over time, and it’s useless for instance to argue that “gay” actually means “happy/merry” today, and insisting on using it in the original meaning is quite pointless (not to mention confusing). So, as long as those making hats – and who knows a lot more about hats than you or I – are mixing the terms Trilby and Fedora (as a result of the words’ meaning evolving), the most sensibly thing we can do is follow it.

    • Frank H. July 19, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

      I use my Stetson Medula Trilby with my facial hair, and I use it with both casual and formal clothes. But it depends on the type of hat and the fabric, i.m.o.

  4. Frank H. July 19, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

    The way I see it is: Fedora and Trilby are classical men’s (mostly) hats. Period. Good article!

  5. tsartomato September 14, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

    anglosaxon conspiracy is not whole world
    ussr wears fedora and never trilby
    both hats were created not by capitalist hat companies but by props creators for respective plays so hat companies have zero idea what are they talking out of their bottoms

  6. Elikal Ialborcales November 25, 2015 at 6:52 am #

    A bit late to the debate, but as hat-wearer I wanted to chime in. Per se, any man can wear any hat. HOWEVER, you need to appropriate clothing! It just doesn’t turn you into Bogart if you wear an ugly pullover like this. If he wore a shirt and tie, he would look much more the part.

    That said, don’t copy. If the guy with the pullover and Trilby likes it, he should pull it off. Style is what you make.

  7. rangerrick May 15, 2016 at 11:43 pm #

    I have a fedora made by Stetson, its dark pecan. I also have a dark brown fedora made by Dobbs in the 1950’s with a 2 1/4 inch brim. I personally have always liked the fedora , but feel attire is a must. If formal wear a suit , if casual go for the ” Indiana Jones” look with or without the leather jacket. After seeing period photos of my male family, casually they wore tan pants or dark, light button shirts either flannel or cotton and were clean shaved, or had a thin mustache, no beard, and hair was typical of the time meaning short ,no long hair. Thats what made the men of the time look “dashing” or manly in my opinion.

  8. Andy Umbo September 23, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

    Trilby=No Fedora=Yes

    Just have never liked the Trilby silhouette, and it looks even worse on the millennials! Let us all remember that a badly colored Trilby was the hat Ted Knight was wearing in Caddie Shack when Rodney Dangerfield asked him if he “got a free bowl of soup” with it!

    I have a theory that the Trilby is far easier and cheaper to make, that’s why they’re flooded into discount retailers, where a person with little money also has no choice. Maybe they’re just looking for a hat and that’s what they have?

    A quick search on the world wide time waster shows an infinite amount of Trilby’s whether you’ve typed in Porkpie or Fedora, a gross error. Trilbys have a crown that rises much higher in the front than a Fedora, and then slants down to the back, as well as a “stingy brim”. There ARE stingy brim Fedoras, where the crown is far less slanted front to back; my Dad used to wear those all the time, mostly in Olive Green or Dark Brown. I actually have a nice straw one, but it was just called a “stingy brim” when I bought it!

    I’m mostly grossed out by what shows up when you type “porkpie”! Basically everything shows up. The “real” porkpie is like Popeye Doyle wore in the French Connection. Crown all the same height, and lower rather than higher. The crown CAN taper in, but not much! Brim can vary from “stingy” to about medium, not not bigger! Otherwise it kind of looks like what Clint Eastwood wore in the Good, Bad, and Ugly.

    And yes, there ARE agreed upon nomenclature for objects and fashion. I’m not going to call a Dodge a Chevy and be OK with it, because it’s a car! Why are the youngsters trying to dumb down the world because they don’t want to learn anything?

  9. David Rozian October 27, 2016 at 12:27 am #

    ” “Hey, that’s a trilby!”. If so, congratulations on your haberdashical intelligence quotient.”

    Since the original theme is all about the semantics of hat nomenclature, I think it only fair to point out, for the purpose of clarification, that the term ‘haberdashery’ refers to a shop for men’s clothing accessories and a haberdasher was originally a peddler of buttons and sewing items, later evolving to include shirts, hats and small items related to tailoring. A hat maker for men is properly termed a ‘hatter’, and, for ladies’ hats, a ‘milliner’. ‘Millinery’ can also be used inclusively for both men’s and women’s hats.
    Now we can move on from “Fedora versus Trilby” to “Haberdasher versus Milliner”. Let the games begin!
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haberdasher
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatmaking

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