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What's the Difference Between a Trilby and Fedora Hat?

What do Frank Sinatra, Bruno Mars, Kate Middleton, Rhianna, Michael Jackson, and even Indiana Jones have in common? They've each worn and loved fedora and trilby hats, two similar brimmed styles that have had waves of rising and falling popularity over the past century.

Both are beloved by hat-wearers everywhere for their versatility and bold style, but they're far from identical designs.

What Is a Fedora?

Fedora is a broad category encompassing several types of hats, but each variation has the same recognizable pinched shape in the front with a soft brim that upturns slightly in the back. Most fedora hats have a 4.5-inch crown but can be taller or shorter. The brim's width also varies and usually fluctuates with the crown's height.

Fedoras have become an iconic silhouette in fashion and daily wear, and much of that comes from their versatility. They pair well with casual ensembles, and mid-size and large-brim designs can help shade the eyes and face from the sun. Men, women and even style-forward kids can use fedoras as the perfect accessory for formal styles and events, including professional settings.

Today's fedoras come in an array of different colors and patterns, including various seasonally appropriate materials, like felt, wool, straw, leather and raffia. Hats Unlimited carries casual and formal fedoras from leading brands, and sizes range from one-size-fits-most to fitted designs.

A Brief History of the Fedora

Fedoras hit the scene in a big way after the 1882 play “Fédora” debuted and its protagonist Princess Fédora donned one on stage. The hat was made trendy by women, becoming a fashion staple for its eye-catching shape and practicality.

This look evolved in the 1920s as the fedora became synonymous with mainstream men's fashion. By then, the fedora had adopted many variations in shapes and design, and the hat's popularity lasted well into the 1950s before slowly tapering from the public eye as hats became less popular with the general public.

After a few decades in the background, fedoras saw a comeback when Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones sported one as part of the now-iconic character's style. Today, you can find fedoras on popular celebrities as streetwear and fashion pieces, with celebrities like Bruno Mars, Johnny Depp and Jason Mraz making them a wardrobe staple.

Although fedoras are commonly associated with men's fashion — largely due to their popularity among celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant — the women's fedora originally started the craze, and the soft-brimmed hat remains a favorite piece in masculine, feminine and androgynous wardrobes.

Popular Fedora Styles

Fedoras are known for their pinched crown, with the most commonly sought crown styles being center-dent, diamond and teardrop.

Another variation to consider is the brim's size and style. Classic fedoras are usually in the mid- to large-size range, while modern fedora wearers have embraced shorter brim sizes for their compactness and trendy appearance. These short-brim styles, called stingy fedoras, are most frequently confused for trilbys and vice versa.

Mid- and wide-brimmed fedoras aren't without their charm — many women use large-brimmed fedoras as a replacement for the traditional floppy sunhat, and any wearer can appreciate the balance a slightly larger brim brings to some facial features. Fedoras can also venture beyond the normal style for an adventurous, eye-catching design, like safari-style fedoras with Panama straw or thin leather bands and the cinematic felt fedora seen in “Indiana Jones.”

What Is a Trilby?

While fedoras generally have larger, wider and flatter brims with a pinched crown, trilbys have short brims — usually between 1 and 2 inches — with slightly upturned edges in the back and a gentle downward turn in the front. The crown, though still pinched, has a center crease that takes on a more hollowed teardrop shape than a standard fedora.

Trilby hats also differ in style and application. While fedoras are usually worn slightly forward atop the head, trilby hats have a distinct silhouette of their own, emphasized by the relaxed, slightly leaning way they're worn near the back or side of the head.

The trilby hat is more casual than a longer-brimmed fedora, and it's a great choice for those new to the world of hats. The hat's softly sloping lines and low profile make it a staple piece for several occasions and tastes. Many trilby hats sold today have a thin band wrapping around some or all of the base, usually in the same color and material as the rest of the cap, trimmed on the side for visual interest.

Early trilby hats were crafted from animal felt, but are now available in dozens of materials, colors and patterns, like tweed, wool, straw, cotton and leather. Lightweight fabrics, like straw, cotton and mesh, are ideal for warmer temperatures, while wool and tweed are better suited for cold weather or upscale attire. At Hats Unlimited, we carry several trilby and fedora-style hats.

A Brief History of the Trilby

The trilby doesn't just resemble a fedora — the two hats share a similar history. The trilby hat was first popularized after the 1895 novel-to-stage adaptation of “Trilby” premiered at Her Majesty's Theatre. The play was considered revolutionary and became a sweeping phenomenon with significant cultural influence.

The trilby hat, as it's now known, was an indirect result of the play's characters and their costumes, which featured a felt hat with a narrow brim and forward-facing upturn. This same style of hat was also present in the original novel's illustrations. Once the play made its way to New York's Garden Theatre, its popularity broke borders, though never reaching the same level of notoriety and trendiness as the fedora a decade earlier.

The trilby hat's influence is less documented throughout fashion history, but by the 1920s, it was a common rotation piece for men with short hair, alongside flat caps and straw boaters. Some of the hat's most famous fans include Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Kate Middleton, Madonna, Victoria Beckham and Rhianna. Even Frank Sinatra — known for his iconic fedora style — was seen sporting a trilby more than once.

Popular Trilby Styles

Trilby hats don't come in multiple style variations like fedoras, thanks to their simplistic and straightforward design.

Fedoras are available in a snap-brim option that lets the wearer turn it up in the back and down in the front to match the setting or weather. Trilby hats have fixed brims, making them a one-style-fits-most option.

That said, trilby hats are available in the same range of sizes, colors, patterns and materials as their fedora counterparts.

Choosing a Trilby vs. a Fedora

Both the trilby and fedora have earned places in the ranks of timeless wardrobe pieces, but which is right for you? While we always recommend having multiple hat types and styles on hand to fit every occasion, consider these questions to make the best investment for your lifestyle:

  • Where will you wear your hat the most? Fedoras fit naturally into semi-formal and formal events and settings. Trilby hats can be worn in similar environments but are typically regarded as more casual.
  • Should your hat be functional as well as stylish? Both hats are stylish, but fedoras with wider brims are more practical than trilbies or short-brimmed fedoras because they shield the eyes from the sun. Keep specific hat materials in mind if seasonality matters.
  • What shape best compliments your features? The trilby's rounded lines tend to soften sharp or prominent facial features. Fedoras are often the go-to option for wearers with wider faces who use brim measurements to create more visual balance. Matching the brim's length with your face shape is a good place to start, but either hat can complete your look and highlight your features when styled correctly.

Find Your Perfect Fit at Hats Unlimited

Find Your Perfect Fit at Hats Unlimited

The team behind Hats Unlimited is passionate about helping people like you find the perfect hat for your style, taste and budget.

Visit any of our brick-and-mortar shops along the Southern California coast to see the fedora and trilby hat in person, get professionally sized and browse more than 10,000 premium-quality options. You can also shop our online inventory by specific styles to find the best option for you.

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