What is a Trilby Hat?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The trilby hat (plural trilbies) is a soft felt hat that was popularized by women. The hat is named after the main character of George Du Maurier’s gothic novel Trilby. In an 1895 play based on the novel, the hat became synonymous with the character after an actress playing the part of Trilby O’Ferral wore one.

Trilby hats are similar to the fedora.
Trilby hats are similar to the fedora.

Today the hat is still in vogue, and particularly popular as worn by men, but women still enjoy wearing them too. Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau sported a Trilby hat in most of the Pink Panther films. In present day, you might see pop artists like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, or Jason Mraz wearing this interesting hat.

The top of the hat, the crown, is especially identifiable because of its deep creasing, either on the sides, or occasionally on the top. The trilby hat is flexible, and early styles were made of rabbit hair felt. Wool felt replaced rabbit hair, and now you may find trilbies in straw, canvas, or the still traditional wool or wool tweed.

The hat is often compared to the fedora, since the crowns of the two hats are so similar. What makes the trilby hat different is its brim. The brim is much shorter than that of a fedora, and many people wear the hat with the back of the brim folded upward, though it can be worn with the back brim out too. The flexibility of the trilby hat can lead to several different ways of wearing the hat, and durability of fabric tends to mean this hat is easily reshaped if it is bent.

Trilby hats have been in and out of style for both men and women since 1895. For women, the trilby hat might have decoration at the brim, but usually not overbearing decoration. A small feather or ribbon around the hatband was common. Men’s hats tended to come in neutral colors, with tan, black and grey being most common. Currently, there are many permutations of the trilby hat, and almost anything goes in terms of color and fabric. They can be sedate and stylish or outrageous and challenging.

A number of modern musical styles have embraced the trilby hat. Ska and jazz musicians favored them. Skinheads might sport a trilby, but so can fans or practitioners of Indie music, and of EMO. The hats can be very classy, or a fashion forward statement depending upon context in which they are worn and the fabric of the hat.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


No, Foyle wears a Fedora. A trilby is quite a bit smaller.


@Is the hat worn by the character Foyle in Masterpiece Mystery series Foyle's War a Trilby hat? Yes, it is!


Interesting points! Although the trilby was traditionally the preserve of the rich (due namely to the use of furs), straw trilbies are becoming increasing popular thanks to their rise in fame from celebrity A to Z listers advocates.

Designed predominantly as fashion items, Trilby & Fedora hats do actually serve a purpose, especially in climates or times in the year when the sun is at its peak in the sky.

More contemporary variations have included the Stingy Brim trilby hats from the likes of Goorin Brothers and Brixton Hats ... the popularity, trends, color ways and fabrics are only set to increase due to the versatility and applications of trilby hats.


Is the hat worn by the character Foyle in Masterpiece Mystery series Foyle's War a Trilby hat?

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