No two hats are mistaken for one another so much as the fedora and the trilby. Nor have two hats ever stirred up so much controversy as the fedora and the trilby. This confusion and controversy, however, are by and large because of a lack of understanding over what a fedora and a trilby are, what their shape is, and the best way to wear either of the hats.
The fedora is a hat that can be first found mentioned in the last years of the nineteenth century, and is not just part of the same hat tradition as the slouch hat of the mid nineteenth century and the homburg of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but also their natural evolutionary descendent. Popular from its inception until the popularization of hats in the ‘70s, the fedora remains a classic hat.
The great popularity of the fedora arises from the fact that it can be both a casual and a dress hat, and the materials from which it is made reflect that. Wool felt and fur felt are both popular, and most fedoras shown in film are wool or fur felt, but straw, especially Panama Straw and raffia are good for summer wear.
A high quality material and construction for the fedora is a must. The crown is usually four or four and a half inches, with a pronounced “pinch” in the front of the crown. A fedora has either a “teardrop” or a “center dent” crown, and these ornamentations are pressed an inch or two into the crown of the hat. Although a short, or “stingy”, brim has been popular from time to time, a classic fedora has a brim between two and two and a half inches. A wide, or “generous”, brim of three or more inches has also become recently popular. The brim is always a “snap” brim, meaning that the front or the front and back of the fedora can be snapped up or down, for styling or to protect the wearer from the elements.
Available in practically any material popular for hats, the trilby is a naturally more casual hat, and as a result tends to be made from more inexpensive materials such as cotton, straw, raffia, and wool felt. Unlike the fedora, which has a movable, or “snap” brim, the trilby is made so that the brim is permanently fixed down, and usually the brim is set at a much more severe angle than the fedora. The crown of the trilby is the most identifying feature, and is angled inward more from the brim to the crown than the fedora, and the crown itself is either much taller but usually much shorter than the fedora. Like the fedora, the trilby does have a “pinch” and either a “center dent” or a “teardrop” crown, but unlike the fedora all of these features are much less pronounced, almost to the point of nonexistence in some cases.
The trilby is a hat first popularized by a hat worn in a certain stage adaptation of George du Maurier’s novel Trilby, and the name stuck. It was not immediately popularized, but rather was worn as a “rich man’s” hat in the early part of the twentieth century, and then mostly only in Britain. The trilby hat didn’t resurface until the ‘70s, when it appeared on the popular scene as part of the retro movement, but it disappeared again, along with the popular wear of men’s fedora hats and hats in general. The popular use of the trilby again resurfaced in the very early twenty first century, and it was it was from the trilby’s use then that the confusion between the men’s trilby and the men’s fedora began.
What most sets the two hats apart is how the are worn, and it is the confusion about how these two hats are worn that has given them a bad name. As can be seen from its history and evolution, the fedora is a much more formal hat, but like the oxford shoe in modern street wear, it may be dressed up or dress down gracefully. The trilby, meanwhile, evolved from sportswear and trends, and is strictly to be worn casually. Badly worn trilbys are frequently misidentified as a fedora, and the mistaken identity has caused the classic fedora some unfortunate public relations pain. Both the graceful men’s fedora and the cool trilby are great looks, but each in a distinctive class unto themselves.