Nothing completes a Western or vintage ensemble like a wide-brimmed hat lying flat upon your dome. Fedoras and Stetsons might appear very similar to the untrained eye (or inexperienced hat connoisseur), but confusing the two can trigger a disastrous fashion faux pas. Let’s settle this debate once and for all: what’s the difference between fedoras and Stetson hats?
Fedoras are flat, wide-brimmed formal felt hats sporting a pinched or creased crown, snap-brim, trim ribbon, and low-sitting brim above the brow line. On the other hand, Stetsons are timeless, felt hats but boast tall flat-sided crowns, wider upturned brims, and more sun blockage—like a cowboy hat.
Before you prance into the local millinery (hat) shop and begin trying on stylish headwear, figure out whether a Stetson, fedora, or another style best matches your big event garb. To learn about the difference between a fedora and the Stetson hat, read on!
Fedora Hat: An Overview
The timeless and dapper fedora hat is still a fashion spectacle, popularized on the Hollywood red carpet by none other than Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Kid Rock.
However, this modern-day marvel traces back to Victorien Sardou’s 1882 play, aptly named Fédora. The play’s heroine — Princess Fédora — sported this soft, creased, and brimmed hat on stage, later transforming it into a women’s rights symbol in the following decades.
This practical headwear was an instant global hit by the 1920s after Prince Edward and other high-profile figures recognized the hat’s advanced element protection. At the time, the fedora symbolized wealth at upscale events, like tennis matches, polo tournaments, and country clubs.
The fedora again found a new audience during America’s Prohibition-era (the Roaring Twenties). This once classy hat suddenly entered “informal” territory and became fashionable amongst gangsters like Al Capone, sporting this felt hat with baggy, high-waisted zoot suits.
Fedoras faded from the public eye for decades, later returning in the 21st century after being reclaimed by the “hipster” crowd donning denim jackets, plain tees, and casual suit vests.
What Is a Fedora?
Fedoras are soft hats, typically made of felt, animal fur (beaver, rabbit), cashmere, or wool. Often described as “wide-brimmed,” a fedora’s outer brim usually measures 2.5-4″ (6.35-10.16 cm) all around and provides reasonable eye protection from the sun when worn just above the brow line.
The classic fedora has a distinct double-pinched or front-creased crown, a similarly-colored trim ribbon, and a snap-brim (the option to curl the brim up in the front and down at the back). Discover some intriguing facts about the fedora in this article.
How (& When) To Wear Fedoras
Fedoras are a stereotypically “casual” hat, often complementing hipster and dress-down attire without question. However, the fedora thrives best alongside formal wear at ritzier events. To pull off a fedora more stylishly than Indiana Jones’ flawless yet rugged attempt:
- Leave the fedora for black-tie weddings, upscale balls, and country club events.
- Only sport your felt fedora on cooler days and outside-only gatherings.
- Pair this timeless hat with a sleek blazer, fitted shirt and suit vest, or formal overcoat.
- If you must wear one casually, wear it alongside a tight-fitting shirt, chinos, and loafers.
Pros of Fedoras
Despite its declining reputation and formal-wear demise, fedoras are far from “outdated.” This timeless hat’s undeniable pros include:
- Great at blocking sunlight and keeping the dome warm
- Comfortable felt construction
- Can top off a standard tux or suit
- Curl the brim up or down at your leisure
- Matches all head sizes and shapes
Check out this very popular gangster style fedora on Amazon from Belfry Hats.
Cons of Fedoras
Fedoras are dapper hats fit for any cool-weather formal event, but they’re not without their flaws, too. Here are the most notable fedora cons:
- Reclaimed (and overworn) by the hipster crowd
- Too flashy or mysterious for most events
Stetson Hat: An Overview
The Stetson hat’s historical journey is long yet relatively unchanged to this day. In 1865, hat maker John B. Stetson crafted a Western-style paying homage to the classic rancher lifestyle, dubbed the “Boss of the Plains.”
This flat-brimmed, ultra-wide, and flat felt hat quickly became popular amongst outdoor workers and cowboys alike, lightweight enough to handle long hours bailing hay yet also waterproof to protect the cowboy from a torrential downpour.
Within a year of launching the traditional Stetson hat, the hat company fulfilled millions of orders. Eventually, it became the quintessential “cowboy hat,” marketed toward working men like miners and ranch workers.
However, its popularity spread far from the plains and into the nearby bustling cities, later becoming uniform staples at Canadian police precincts and the United States military bases.
The now-urbanized and famous Stetson became a mainstream and trendy hit as Stetson unleashed several models over the years (including ones with upturned brims and varying creases). Still unchanged nearly two centuries later, the Stetson is still the face of John Wayne, the Marlboro Man, and classic Western movies.
What Is a Stetson Hat?
Stetsons are the cliche cowboy hat, often constructed from felt, wool, or straw and boasting an unusually wide 2 ¾-5″ (6.99-12.7 cm) brim all around.
The original Stetson hat — the Boss of the Plains — had a 4″ (10.16 cm) tall towering crown, a flat brim, and a customizable hatband to adjust the hat’s size. Today, Stetson’s transformation includes a double-dented front crown, slightly upturned brim, a decorative band or buckle, and mostly neutral felt colors. Read more about what makes Stetson hats unique in this article.
How (& When) To Wear Stetsons
The Stetson brand still reps its once-legendary cowboy hat model but has expanded its product line-up to address a wider audience — ranchers, line dancers, and amateur models. To wear this wide-brimmed cowboy hat as intended by John Stetson himself:
- Wear darker-colored Stetsons for evening soirees and straw hats for work activities.
- Tug the hat low over the eyes for ample sun protection while on the ranch.
- When you’re removing the Stetson, peel it off from the brim (not the sensitive crown).
- Pair your Stetson with a button-down shirt, rugged jeans, and leather cowboy boots.
Pros of Stetsons
The timeless cowboy hat might not be fit for an upscale wedding or charity ball, but they’re undoubtedly fashionable accessories. Stetson’s pros include:
- Provides excellent sun protection
- Lightweight and waterproof enough to handle outdoor work
- Completes the Western look perfectly
- Holds its shape for a long time (durability)
- Brand name stands the test of time
Cons of Stetsons
It’s safe to say that the Stetson isn’t the perfect hat, despite its near 200-year American history. The downsides of this classy hat are:
- Too bulky and outlandish for formal occasions
- The leather variation is hot during the summer
Stetsons and fedoras are similar in their wide-brimmed construction but are hardly interchangeable from a dapper gentleman’s perspective. Here’s a quick reference guide detailing when to wear each:
- Wear a fedora if you’re attending a black-tie event, matching the fedora to the season (ex: straw for a summer polo match), and shooting for “classic vintage.”
- Wear a Stetson hat if you’re bailing hay on the ranch, attending a country-themed or Western evening event, and matching your hat color to the time (ex: dark at night).