While there has always been a certain divide in fashion along gender lines, almost no piece has bridged the gap so definitively as the fedora. Initially adapted as an alternative to less practical – and more traditional women’s hats – the fedora has withstood the test of time and is popular both as a traditionally men’s hat worn by women, and as a specifically stylized piece designed for wear by a woman. The women’s fedora has recently achieved great popularity in popular culture, regularly flaunted by the glitterati, pop stars and classic dressers alike.
While it is true that there have, historically, been hats worn strictly by woman, there is also a long history of men’s hats adapted for women, or men’s hats worn by women. From the eighteenth century onwards, there have been two major types of hats worn strictly by women: the broad brimmed hat and the pillbox hat. Both of these hat styles have survived the centuries more or less unchanged, although the pillbox did eventually evolve to include the modern fascinator.
From the early nineteenth century onwards, however, adaptations of hats initially designed for men began to appear. The men’s top hat and topper were adapted to become part of the women’s wardrobe, and another trend began to develop: men’s dress or everyday hats being worn as sporting hats for women. While a broad brimmed hat or a pillbox can’t be beat for style and flair, they are sadly lacking when it comes to utilitarian wear and outdoor needs.
With the rise in popularity of the men’s fur felt fedora, the women’s fedora also came into style. Wartime fashion always heavily favors more utilitarian clothing, and the twentieth century was no exception, with the time during and after both the first and second World Wars bringing the fedora into the spotlight for women’s fashion.
Katherine Hepburn, also well known for wearing a three button, or three piece suit to a “T”, could often be seen wearing a fedora to match, whether with a suit or with more traditional women’s clothing. A front runner in women’s fashion, Katherine Hepburn pushed the limits on tradition with class and style, famously wearing the pink Brooks Brothers button down oxford, which eventually led to the retailer opening a women’s department in the men’s store, a retail first.
First lady, humanitarian, first wave feminist, Eleanor Roosevelt could often be seen wearing a fur felt fedora in a more feminine style. While her sense of style might certainly be considered more traditional than Katherine Hepburn’s, Eleanor Roosevelt epitomized thespirit of the fedora by being a woman who pioneered the future, advocating for women’s rights as early as the post-war period in the ‘20s.
Although she might be better known for wearing some other styles of hats, singer-songwriter Beyonce has been known to appear in a fedora from time to time. When she does, though, they are spectacular examples of forward-thinking fashion. Wide, flat, brims characterize these hats, although they are often fashion throwbacks to Hepburn’s style, and are worn with suits and other traditionally male clothing.
So why is the women’s fedora so popular? Part of the added charm of the wool fedora is that it is just so darn versatile. Worn easily with dress clothes, the exact same fedora can be worn with casual street clothes. Most of the best fedoras are also fur felt fedoras, not wool felt, making them hard-wearing and heavily resistant to the elements.
So is the women’s fedora here to stay? We think so. Not only has it withstood the test of time, again and again reappearing as a stylish hat for women, but it is also a practical and hard-wearing piece in any wardrobe. It is often the trademark of the hard-working, independent, and progressive woman, and also of the pop star, a representative of the time in which they live. The felt fedora stands for everything that is great and will be worn well by pioneers for years to come.