Some may think that fedoras and trilbys are completely interchangeable, but hold on just a second there! While it's not uncommon to feel a bit of confusion as to what the differences between these two styles of hat may be given their obvious similarities, let's try to help clear it up a bit for you.
First, let's start with a bit of history, and where they're similar:
Did you know both hats were made for and named after plays they were in for their female leads? That's right! They were initially hats for ladies.
The trilby made its appearance in a stage adaption of an 1894 novel Trilby by George du Maurier. The lead character, Trilby O'Ferrall, wore a stingy-brimmed hat with the telltale sloped brim, and the name has carried on with the hat to this day.
Similarly, the fedora was named after the hat Sarah Bernhardt wore during her role in the 1882 play by Victorien Sardou called Fédora.
The fedora in particular became a steady part of women's fashion in the late 19th and early 20th century especially for activists and suffragettes campaigning for women's equal rights. It was in the 1920s it picked up notably in men's fashion after Edward, Prince of Wales started wearing them.
Trilbys seemed to likewise take on into well-to-do men's fashion, likely due to their similar silhouettes, and were a popular choice to wear to horse races.
They also have shared similarities in what they were made of through their history. Both hats come in an array of suitable seasonal materials such as fur felts to wool for the fall and winter, to panama, paper straws, and linen for spring and summer, and on.
So, similar starting points, shared materials... what exactly makes them different? That comes down to the actual finer details of the hat's construction.
Fedoras and trilbys both will have pinched crowns between three to four inches tall, and the top of the crown may be a center dent/crease crown or tear drop shape (quick Belfry Cheat: most of our trilbys are actually teardrop crowns for what it's worth), but the brims hold the key to the main and most obvious array of variation.
Classic fedoras will have brims wider than two inches, usually up to three but current trends have started pushing that even further. The brims also have the ability to be worn as-is rolled up slightly all the way around for a nice, casual style or it can be "snapped" down in the front to give a dressier look while also granting coverage from the sun or any light rains and snow. Anything less than two inches is considered a stingy brim fedora, but maintains its ability to snap the brim.
As far as actual style and day-to-day wear, between the two, the fedora is considered the dressier option and lends itself to more formal affairs the easiest while also retaining functionality in coverage from the elements.
Trilbys meanwhile have brims under two inches that are blocked in such a fashion that they have the look of a snapped brim, but do not actually have the versatility to be worn otherwise.
... That isn't to say we haven't had people try, but please don't do that to your trilby; it won't be happy with you, and the brim will inevitably buckle and warp in strange places. Trust us, just go with the stingy brim fedora if you like a short brim look but enjoy playing with how it's set.
As for fashion and styling, trilbys can be dressed up, surely, but shine as a great alternative for more casual everday wear.
In the end, the differences between fedoras and trilbys really come down to the fine details. And it is these details--mainly the brim versatility and the flexibility of style, that we hope you feel better armed with in deciding which one is for you!