Class or Crass? The Not-So-Hidden Message of Fedoras

From Polyvore

Pink Fedora (From Polyvore.com)

The fedora has come a long way in the past century. Earlier versions of the fedora in the twentieth century were a fashionable and practical choice for men and women, but the fedora eventually fell out of style alongside most other hats in America in the 1960s. By the 1980s, however, the fedora was the choice hat for pop culture icons like Michael Jackson and Indiana Jones. In the twenty-first century however, the fedora is no longer the hat of just music legends and action heroes.

Marshall McLuhan conceptualized clothing as a direct extension of the skin. In other words, clothing, he argued, was a medium. Our sartorial choices convey certain meanings and messages, regardless of our intentions. If the fedora is an extension of the body, then what does it communicate?

Before moving forward, I must acknowledge the difference between the fedora and its cousin, the trilby. David Colman at The New York Times notes that the trilby has a narrower brim than the fedora, but ultimately these trilby hats are just another version of the fedora. While more astute viewers can distinguish the trilby from the conventional fedora, the online dialogue regarding these hats typically uses ‘fedora’ as a catch-all term.

Although a fedora does not actually ‘store’ information like a book or computer does, the hat does carry a heavy reputation in this decade. In her 2012 essay, “Why the fedora grosses out geekdom,” Leigh Alexander explains that bloggers are noticing a correlation between men wearing fedoras in their online profile pictures and having questionable content in their bios. According to “Forever Alone Fedoras,” one of the Tumblr blogs that Alexander profiles, “a fedora speaks volumes about one’s character. It implies that he is a basement dwelling, live action role playing, no social skills having, complete and utter geek in the worst sense of the word.” If the fedora is the medium, then its message is that this is the hat of an awkward and unlikeable person.

How did the fedora get this negative reputation? Ben Abraham attributes this image to the work of pick-up-artists, or PUAs. Abraham writes, “The quintessential image of the PUA is the swaggering, middle-class white, often geeky male, between 18 and 30, who imitates the dress code and flair of a pimp.” In the mind of these pick-up-artists, the hat is a memorable prop that will entice women into a sexual relationship. According to Abraham, these anti-Fedora blogs are a “challenge to the construction of the fedora as ‘cool’ or ‘suave’, and an attempt to shame those who wear them.” The politics of fedora culture and ‘fedora-shaming’ are for another day, but the fact that these mentalities exist and thrive online demonstrates how Internet users have reinterpreted how the fedora stores and displays information. For the wannabe pick-up-artist, the hat displays a sense of class to women, but for many of these women (and some men, as we’ll see in a moment) the hat carries too much of a connection to men who are desperate to sleep with a woman by any means necessary.

For more evidence on how the fedora stores information, look no further than Reddit – home to both critics and fans of the controversial hat. One subreddit, r/justneckbeardthings, reveals how fedoras store information within an online community. Users on r/justneckbeardthings, which currently has more than 258,000 subscribers as of October 2017, discuss instances of fedoras popping up in digital and non-digital spaces worldwide. Oddly enough, the fedora does not even need to be on a person’s head to convey a message. The subreddit’s header is a picture of a fedora hanging off a sign reading “Fedorah” while tiny fedoras replace the traditional upvote/downvote arrows. Users repeatedly mock the phrase “m’lady,” – an expression associated with pick-up-artists in which they tip their fedora to a woman before making an advance on her. The phrase is so ubiquitous on the subreddit that the image of a fedora by itself is enough to warrant a “m’lady” caption. The fedora carries not only the reputation of pick-up-artists, but their phrases and mannerisms as well.

While the fedora has cemented its place in American popular culture, its current reputation in online circles demonstrates how the hat’s meaning is held not in the wearer, but in the hat itself. If simply looking at the hat is enough to cue the viewer to stay away from the wearer, then McLuhan’s argument that the medium is the message must apply to fedoras. So for anyone looking for a new hat, you might want to think twice before choosing the hat with a rather unpopular message.

Works Cited

Abraham, Ben. “Fedora Shaming as Discursive Activism.” Digital Culture & Education. (2013). http://www.digitalcultureandeducation.com/uncategorized/abraham_html/

Alexander, Leigh. ‘Why the fedora grosses out geekdom’. Boing Boing (2012). http://boingboing.net/2012/10/02/why-the-fedora-grosses-out-gee.html

Colman, David. “Old Hat? Not on a Young Head.” The New York Times. January 18, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/18/fashion/18CODES.html

“Just Neckbeard Things.” Reddit.com. https://www.reddit.com/r/justneckbeardthings/. Accessed October 1, 2017.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man; Edited by W. Terrence Gordon. New York, Gingko Press, 2013.

3 thoughts on “Class or Crass? The Not-So-Hidden Message of Fedoras

  1. It was a smart move to start thinking of the audience (i.e. Tumblr and Reddit users weighing in on fedoras) because I think it starts to wedge into commentary about fandom in media, which we’re to discuss later in the course. One tiny note that is that I would have loved a picture of a trilby so I could compare it with that of a fedora, but this is a (very) minor suggestion. Overall, this was a fun piece to read and a very solid way of thinking about clothing as media.

  2. This post posed the basic question – “if the fedora is an extension of the body, then what does it communicate?”. Through its examination of the various ways that the fedora is used and perceived in a modern context it provided a helpful answer. The connection between its adaptation by “PUAs” and its subsequently negative reputation certainly seems to be a sound one, and I think it was a good idea to use popularity on reddit as a sort of proxy for “mainstream internet opinion”. Your point about the meaning resting in an article of clothing itself, rather than in the act of wearing it, is an interesting one. I wonder if it might be worth exploring this a bit more, to see whether it is true in a general sense or whether different articles of clothing hold their meaning differently (i.e. whether the “act of wearing” matters).

  3. This blog posting that expands on McLuhan’s characterization of clothing as a medium choosing a particularly rich object of study in contemporary internet culture as a signifier of mocked affectation and PUA aspirations. It might be interesting to explore the gender politics of this anachronistic sartorial choice a bit more, particularly since at one time it was worn by women adopting androgynous dress (http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Fedoras) and was part of the history of what Jack Halberstam has called “Female Masculinity.”

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