Trilbies, fedoras, and pork pies are among the most elegant and dapper hats, tracing back to 19th-century ritzy polo matches and black-tie wedding extravaganzas. All three appear to be classic, tall brimmed hats suited for red carpet events from afar, but they’re mildly unique too. Let’s help you solve your curiosity: What’s the difference between a fedora and a pork pie hat?
Fedoras and pork pie hats are both brimmed vintage hats, though very different. Fedoras typically have wide (3-4”) and flat brims, a teardrop crown, pinched front and felt material. Pork pie hats are narrow-brimmed “stingy” hats with a circular crown crease and a noticeably shorter crown height.
Unless you qualify as a Jeopardy contestant, distinguishing a fedora from a pork pie likely won’t be an envious street skill. But recognizing their connection to fashion can help you “dress to impress” without overdoing it. To learn the difference between fedoras and pork pies, read on!
Fedoras: A Basic Overview
Fedoras are timeless, classy hats that date back to an 1882 play by the same name (Fédora). Playwright Victorien Sardou wrote a scene where Princess Fédora Romanoff — played by actress Sarah Bernhardt — sported this soft, teardrop-creased hat. Defying fashionista gender roles, 19th-century women donned fedoras to protest women’s suffrage and gender inequality.
By the 1920s, this primarily feminine hat became a more masculine fashion accessory. Stereotypically “tough” men like Prohibition gangsters (Al Capone and Bugsy), beat reporters, and 50s jazz musicians — particularly when paired with a zoot suit — hopped on the fedora bandwagon. Today, fedoras are now semi-casual and religious accessories, popular amongst pop crooners (like Justin Timberlake) and the Orthodox Jewish community. Discover more intriguing facts about Fedoras here.
These fashionable caps are distinct but easy to confuse for similar-looking pork pies and trilbies. Generally speaking, fedoras are:
- Wide-brimmed (2.5” or 6.4cm or longer all around)
- Usually 4.5” (11.4cm) tall at the crown’s peak
- Adjustable (flip/curl the brim up or down – “snapped brim”)
- Made of generally soft felts (beaver, wool, cashmere, etc.)
- Dented or pinched at the front, creating a front-to-back taper
- Creased along the crown’s top (often teardrop-shaped)
- Paired with a ribbon circling the brim
How To Wear Fedoras
The traditional gentleman’s fedora is still a male fashion statement in the 21st-century, but celebrities made it edgier and less dressy than centuries past. The only way to sport a fedora stylishly is by pairing it with an outfit seamlessly while also meshing with the event’s formality.
- Wear it with a jacket, suit vest, and tie ensemble.
- Don’t forget the matching blazer or sports coat.
- Allow it to sit flat and straight on your head (not tilted back like a trilby or drooping).
- Choose the right fedora for the season (straw for summer, wool for winter).
- Save your fedora for ultra-formal events, like weddings or balls.
Pros of Fedoras
If you’re wondering why fedoras make excellent accessories, here’s why:
- The brim is long enough where it can shield your eyes from the sun, making it a modest and practical accessory.
- When paired with formal wear, you can pull off the classic Michael Jackson look.
- You can curl the brim up or down to match the occasion.
Cons of Fedoras
Fedoras aren’t always the best choice for more casual occasions, with their cons including:
- While a popular casual accessory, it’s challenging to pull off a fedora paired with ripped jeans, a V-neck, or a semi-formal button-down shirt.
- Cheap retail-store fedoras aren’t so stylish, and not all areas have a hat store.
- There’s an overwhelming stigma that they’re only worn by “neckbeards.”
The fedora’s reputation is struggling to regain its once “wealthy” status, as popularized in the 1800s.
Pork Pie Hats: A Basic Overview
Pork pies first became a fashionable spectacle between the 1830s and 1860s, when American women adopted it after traveling abroad in England — particularly at tennis matches. The pork pie soon became a “wealth” symbol and standard accessories at high-end polo matches and other upscale events like horse races and golf tournaments.
The pork pie — named after a similar-looking English dish — rose to global fame when actor Buster Keaton crafted the classic fedora design into a smaller-brimmed, flat-topped hat. Its national popularity flourished through the Great Depression and into the 1940s. By then, the pork pie often featured a feather and was common in African American culture when paired with a flashy, high-waisted zoot suit. Discover more intriguing facts about Pork Pie hats.
Though quite similar to fedoras, pork pie hats boast a more low-profile design. For the most part, a pork pie hat is:
- Narrow-brimmed (not long like the fedora or floppy)
- Stingy-brimmed with an upward-angled brim all around
- Pinched and creased tightly around the crown (telescope crown)
- Made of cotton, felt, or straw
- Accompanied with a feather, ribbon, or fabric belt
- Low-profile and much shorter than a classic fedora
How To Wear Pork Pie Hats
Pork pie hats are far more casual than fedoras and target a much narrower male audience. To don a pork pie hat flawlessly and finish off your look:
- Pair your tweed pork pie hats with a formal sweater to pay homage to its sporting history.
- Allow the hat to sit directly atop your head (no tilt, lean, or droop).
- Find a pork pie with a wider-than-your-jaw brim.
- Don’t wear these hats if you have a round or short face (or if you’re very tall).
- Wear a straw pork pie with a Hawaiin shirt, or pair a wool one with a fitted suit.
- Stick to pork pies during less formal events and casual gatherings.
Pros of Pork Pie Hats
If you’re curious about the pork pie’s rise to popularity, these pros explain it:
- For taller gentlemen, you can wear a hat without adding extra height (handy if you’re bringing along a shorter date).
- Pork pies are a lower profile hat option, meaning you can wear them every day without drawing too much attention to your outfit.
- They complete the “preppy” look when paired with chinos, boat shoes, and sunglasses.
- If you’re eyeing a more casual appearance, you can tilt the pork pie back and pair it with something less lavish (like a Hawaiian shirt or plain T-shirt).
Cons of Pork Pie Hats
Pork pies might not be the right choice for all occasions, as they:
- If you have a round or square-shaped face, pork pies can make your head and face look shorter than they are.
- Many advertised pork pie hats are actually fedoras or trilbies, so finding an authentic pork pie isn’t as easy as it should be.
Now that the pork pie vs. fedora debacle is settled, it’s time to decide which pairs best with your next flashy event, downtown bar crawl, or amateur photoshoot.
Here’s a quick reference guide to guarantee you’re the showstopper:
- Wear a fedora if you’re aiming for vintage, attending an outdoor-only or otherwise upscale event, and wearing a blazer or luxury suit jacket.
- Wear a pork pie if you’re 6’0” or taller, have an oval-shaped face, and are dressing “smart” (ex: a tight-fitting button-down and chinos).
Remember: A fedora and pork pie can finish off the classic look; they don’t make it.