How to choose a Fedora that suits you

Fedoras will always get a bad rap, despite being a fully functional and stylish accessory. It’s probably due to the infamous status of “vintage hat”, gracing the heads of Golden Era illustrations, period films, and your latest Gatsby party (it should be noted that the story takes place in the early 1920s, and the fedora hat reached the peak in popularity in the mid-to-late 20s). The stigma is hard to shake, and I’ll even admit that a fedora hat is one of the few things I can’t really bring myself to wear often, despite being a vintage enthusiast. But that’s changed in recent history.

In my free time, I’ve hung out and shot with Cody Wellema, a hatmaker the California suburb of Pasadena. He is completely self-taught and has gone from fulfilling orders in his apartment to opening up a storefront in a building that has existed since the 1920s. Our friendship led him to develop more of an appreciation for classic menswear, while he has shown me a different side to fedoras. When looking at the old pictures of Jimmy Stewart or even candid pictures of regular Golden Era people, he noted that these people wore their clothes (and hats) naturally. They weren’t trying to put on a certain look, as some guys do today. Wearing a fedora at the time was the same as wearing a bucket hat or a beanie today; you sport it with a suit on a hot day or with a chambray shirt when working. Back in the day, there wasn’t a concern about being dapper.

Black felt Wellema. Works well with minimal outfits.

A couple of guys follow this same mantra. The guys at Bryceland’s are one great example. As I’ve noted before, they have a vintage-meets-modern sartorial/workwear style where the fedora comes in perfectly. Both their personal hats and RTW stock are made by Wellema, which you can see them wear across their social media. They really wear them with everything, from tailoring to rayon shirts to 1950’s pin-up print tees. It might be a bit too bold for some, but it’s definitely miles ahead of any gangster cosplay. Seeing them do it well, in addition to my many conversations and pictures with Cody, really inspired me to get some made for myself. I currently own two Wellemas, a dressy grey and my own take on the brown fedora; they have seen more wear in recent history.  

Yet Bryceland’s isn’t the only ones who wear it. You can see a bunch of people do it during the F/W Pitti. Drake’s featured a floppy brimmed one a few seasons ago. Like pleats, established gentlemen continue to wear it while the like-minded younger generation is seeing the appeal. At no point does it look like a costume or something affected. With the tucked tie before it, it simply takes confidence in your look. But even before that, it takes careful consideration to find the one that suits you.

Like with shoulder styles, lapel width, and jacket length, you need to pay attention to your proportions.

Fedoras vary widely in terms of crown height/shape and brim width, with some combined details bringing specific eras to mind. You don’t always have to play to your facial structure, but at least be conscious of the look you’re projecting. Once the shape of your hat has been determined, you should also decide on the ribbon width: wider ribbons with a bow are more formal whereas thin ones are more “western” and casual. The same can be said for brim treatment; a snap front and upturned back are more traditional and having it up all around is more dressed down.

Color is personal preference, but you really can’t go wrong with a grey or brown, with the latter as my personal favorite despite the ever-present imagined Indiana Jones archetype. Contrasting your hat with your outfit is definitely needed, as to not appear matchy-matchy. A grey fedora works well with a brown suit or navy suit, while brown works especially well with grey or green. For me, I think that grey becomes a bit too formal; brown tends to work better with denim as well as a flannel suit. I’ve also seen the tan/silverbelly one grow increasingly popular since it subverts a lot of people’s expectations over the fedora. You’ll see that in the album I’ll include below.

Lastly, it just stands to say that fedoras are more of a fall/winter item. Due to the “structure”, it creates for your head, it really works best with a fuller cut suit. I don’t mean that you have to wear a 1940’s draped suit, but keep in mind that a close hugging jacket and skinny pants won’t cut it. The idea is to be relaxed in your clothing. Adding coats, sweaters, and scarves also help add to this proportion building, as to not make your head/hat appear too wide.  


FEDORA HATS THROUGH THE YEARS

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Here are a couple of places that I think have some great fedoras other than getting a vintage one from eBay or vintage store.  

Wellema Hat Co. 

Cody Wellema makes each hat by hand, making him one of the few bespoke hatmakers in the US. He doesn’t have a house style, which means that you can ask him to do anything you want, whether it’s something period authentic or original. He is a wealth of knowledge and a perfect gentleman, who is dedicated to making the hat you want thanks to his enormous collection of hat blocks and vintage ribbons. It is a bespoke service, so it works best if you go in person to get measured (with late 1800s equipment) and consult on the details. He’s done things as crazy as burn distressing to indigo dyed felt! The lead time is a 6-8 weeks since they are done by hand, but it’s completely worth it to have a hat that’s entirely custom and made with the highest quality.


The Armoury 

The Armoury fedora is similar to the Stoffa one, in that the crown is unblocked, allowing it to be styled to its owner’s preference. The brim is 3”, which is a bit too much for my taste (I prefer a sub 2.5” at most), but that just means it looks especially rakish and is sure to protect you from the elements.  The ribbon is thin, which makes it easy to wear casually.


Borsalino / Stetson

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Borsalino and Stetson, who are perhaps the biggest brand name hatmakers in the world.  I will admit that I have no real experience with these apart from true vintage models (which even then were some of the highest quality on the market), but I’m sure that there are many out there who are pleased with their modern hats.  The Borsalino Traveller and the Stratoliner are probably my picks of the bunch, though the colors available aren’t the most versatile. I’d also suggest leaving the feather at home.

 


Stoffa 

The Stoffa hats are like a combination of a fedora and the original panama hats: they can actually be rolled up! The brand is all about making things more accessible and natural, so these soft felt fedoras lack a ribbon in order to help them float the line between casual and formal. The felt is extremely pliable, so you can style the brim and crown anyway you like. It’s a great one for guys unsure of wearing the traditional fedora, but still want to don one.

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Ethan Wong
Ethan Wong lives right in the middle: he’s too modern for the vintage scene and yet too vintage for classic menswear. When not at work, he spends his time writing and taking pictures for his blog, Street x Sprezza, which is all about bringing vintage style into the modern day. With a large collection of thrifted vintage and contemporary clothing, he often wonders when his closet will finally implode.
Ethan Wong

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3 Comments

  1. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    August 24, 2018

    Excellent article by Mr. Wong. Growing up in the 1950’s, I remember how naturally part of men’s dress attire the Fedora was for my father’s generation and partially spilled over to my own. I do believe, however, that the motivation along with being properly and completely dressed was also to be noticed, as vanity is not just a character quality reserved for women. LOL
    Although the Fedora might have reached it’s peak in the 1920’s, well into the 1940’s and 50’s you would see men wearing their Fedora to Church, but especially during travel. Airports and Train Stations always seemed to display a gathering of men suited-up and not uncovered, while the women elegantly wore their Lilli Ann suits, hats and real furs.
    In the 1960’s my colloquial generation appears to have partially replaced the Fedora with the “Newsboy/Gatsby/B-Bop Cap, which was more casual and less expensive, although, not widely excepted or culturally appropriate for all occasions. The Stingy Brim and Stitched Brim hats were simultaneously worn and more adaptable to any occasion.
    It will be quite interesting to see if the new generation will embrace the Fedora with it’s varied history and popularity or will they chalk-it-up as just a relic that impedes the brain from absorbing the harmful elements of the sun.

  2. Reply

    Eli

    August 26, 2018

    I nice well intentioned article however a few important points missed. First of all, Fedora’s are year round wear…as soon as weather warms up you switch to Panama straw hat Fedora’s. Here in NY that means typically June thru September(tradition says Memorial thru Labor Day). A fine weave Montecristi is even more of a statement then the best beaver felts, and where felt Fedora’s functionally keep your head warm in the winter and keep rain and snow off…a well made Panama keeps the sun off your head, ventilates and keeps your head cool.

    Second, a Fedora is no more an affectation than a good tie or pocket square…it frames off your face, upper torso and even gives your overall stature a boost with extra height. For me it also brings back focus to my center face and jaw line since I’m bald. I wish I could post photos because me with and without a Fedora is two different people. I like to tell inquisitive admirers that my Fedora’s are “gentlemanly alternatives to a toupé”.

    Lastly, I’d like to add that probably the greatest living “Milaner” in the USA is Art Fawcett of VS Custom Hats in Oregon…he is legendary among hat Fedora cognoscenti. Also the single best source for Fedora info is thefedoralounge.com

  3. Reply

    Coxsackie

    August 26, 2018

    As an Australian I would like to mention another brand that makes excellent fedoras: Akubra.

    Akubra are a very old family company (established around 1874) that is still making their hats in the traditional fashion, from rabbit fur. Quality is excellent. I have three of their hats and am about to buy my second Akubra fedora.

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