Classic hat styles are brimming with history

By Ted Blankenship | February 1, 2024

If you’ve watched an old movie recently, you’ve seen men wearing hats. And I don’t mean a cap with the bill pointed backward, but a fedora.

Don’t know what a fedora is? Then you aren’t an old codger.

A fedora is a felt hat with a wide brim, indented crown and ribbon above the brim. Daring wearers may sport a colorful feather tucked in the ribbon. Fedoras are usually black, gray, brown or tan.

Most of us who have worn them associate them with businessmen and actors, gangsters and tough guys like Sam Spade, the fictional character and protagonist of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel “The Maltese Falcon.”

There was more than one Sam Spade in the movies, but most of us remember Humphrey Bogart, who played in a lot of tough-guy movies and wore a fedora in most of them.

Despite all the macho men who have covered their heads with them, the first fedora was worn by a woman.

That happened in an 1882 play written for actress Sarah Bernhardt. Bernhardt played Princess Fedora Romanoff, the production’s heroine.

During the play, Bernhardt, a noted cross dresser, wore a center-creased, soft brimmed hat. Women liked it, and the women’s rights movement adopted it as a symbol.

Edward, Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor) started wearing a similar hat in 1924 and it became popular among men. Harrison Ford and Frank Sinatra are among the famous people who have worn them, and a new generation of hipsters have adopted them as well.

I wore them in high school and later what I thought was another quite fashionable head covering — a pork pie hat. Similar to a fedora, it sports a thin brim creased all the way around a short, flat-topped crown.

Its name comes from its resemblance to the Melton Mowbray pork pie, an English pork-filled pastry from the late 1800s. Aficionados of the hat often joke that they don’t know whether to wear ‘em or eat ‘em (pork pie wearers aren’t very funny).

Pork pie hats range in price from $40 to $150. A real, edible pork pie is only about $8 imported from England. So obviously, it’s a lot cheaper to wear a hat made from a genuine pork pie. The problem is that real pork doesn’t last very long and you run the risk of an owl or some other predatory bird swooping down and eating your hat.

Nevertheless, it’s worth a try if you’re on a budget, though you may anger the hat makers and possibly a few pigs.

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