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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a soft-brimmed hat with an indented crown

Fedora hats—the favoured style of everyone from Indiana Jones to Hannibal Lecter—take their name from Fédora, an 1882 play by the French playwright Victorien Sardou.

But despite what popular history and etymology will tell you, it was not the choice of leading actress Sarah Bernhardt to apparently wear a fedora in her performance in the play that lies behind the name.

As that publicity still for the play shows, Bernhardt actually wore a women’s soft felt hat in her performance in Fédora, not (despite the number of blogs and dictionaries that gleefully mention her cross-dressing tendencies) any kind of hat we would now recognise as a fedora. So how did the name migrate from the play to the headwear?

It seems that Bernhardt’s performance in the play caused such a sensation that absolutely everything Fédora-related became hugely fashionable among the artsy society classes in the late 1800s. And, keen to capitalize on the play’s success, designers and clothes makers began using the name Fedora as a snappy, zeitgeisty name for their latest creations.

As the indomitable word detectives over at Oxford Dictionaries discovered in 2015, it appears a milliner known as Knox the Hatter was the first to advertise the very first soft-brimmed men’s hat under the name Fedora in the autumn of 1883. The style seemingly proved as popular as the name, and before long similar men’s hats with the Knox fedora’s broad brim and indented crown began to appear under the same name. And we’ve had fedoras, with or without Bernhardt’s help, ever since.

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