Trilby hats, pork pie hats, and fedoras. Before jumping into their differences, let’s cover what they have in common.
All three hat types look very similar, feature small or short brims (although the wide-brimmed sub-category of fedora is clearly distinguishable from the short-brimmed versions focused on here), and initially became popular in the late 19th century into the early 20th century, then experienced various resurgences through the mid-to-late 20th and 21st centuries.
Today all three styles are popular with fashionable hipsters, musicians, and hat enthusiasts.
The Difference Between Pork Pie Hats, Trilby Hats, and Fedoras
First we’ll cover the two broadest categories, which are pork pie hats and fedoras.
Pork Pie Hats vs Fedoras
As covered in our mens and womens hat styles guide the fedora first hit the fashion scene in 1882 when the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt wore one in the play “Fédora.”
In the 1920s, Prince Edward of Britain showed men that they too could style the iconic handmade hats. The fedora hat has since become associated with late night activity of gangsters, musicians, actors and models.
It has an edgy yet sophisticated and elegant look, which is precisely why you’ll see many celebrities - from Justin Timberlake to Lupita Nyong’o - sporting this iconic hat style.
Pork pie hats, also called English pastry hats, first hit the fashion scene in Britain around the late 19th century, but became popular in the 1920s after silent film star Buster Keaton wore them in several of his movies.
They flourished among college students in the 1930s, during which they were further popularized by Hollywood stars, such as Fred Astaire and Cary Grant, and jazz musicians, such as Lester Young.
The classic small round hats with a narrow curled-up brim, slightly domed crown, and band fastened around the crease were more recently given attention after Walter White’s alter ego ‘Heisenberg’ wore one in Breaking Bad.
To add to the limelight, fashion writer Glenn O'Brien of GQ magazine once said pork pie hats are, "the mark of the determined hipster, the kind of cat you might see hanging around a jazz club or pool hall... a Tom Waits, Johnny Thunders kind of hat."
Fedora is a rather broad category of hat that can include many styles, such as stingy brim, trilby, and wide-brimmed. Wide-brimmed fedoras are clearly distinguished from pork pies due to the size of their brim.
Short-brimmed, also called stingy brim, fedoras can, however, be distinguished based on the following characteristics:
Even short-brimmed fedoras tend to have slightly larger brims than the very stingy brimmed pork pies. Typically, fedora brims are 2.5 inches or longer, whereas pork pie brims are less than 2.5 inches.
Pork pies typically feature snap brims (named because they can be snapped up or down) that point up around the entire circumference of the hat, whereas fedora brims can be shaped in many different ways.
Pork pie hats always feature a telescope crease (for more info on the telescope crease and the precursor of the pork pie hat, otherwise known as the Gambler, see our post on cowboy hat styles and creases).
Fedoras, on the other hand, can feature many different crown creases, including - unfortunately - the telescope crease. If your hat has a telescope crease, you’ll probably need to use the brim to determine whether it’s a fedora or pork pie.
Fedoras are historically considered more formal hats than pork pies, which have a flatter, more squat appearance.
Pork Pie Hats vs Trilby Hats
It’s quite difficult to distinguish between pork pies and trilby hats, as there are frankly more similarities between the two hat types than differences. Below we’ve broken down what they have in common, and how you can distinguish them:
Pork pies and trilbies both feature stingy (short), snap brims.
Although both trilbies and pork pies can have upward-facing snap brims, trilbies more commonly feature brims that are turned up on one or both sides, or in the front or back, as opposed to universally.
As stated above, pork pie hats always feature a round, flat crown with a telescope crease. Trilbies typically feature a creased, tapered crown with a front pinch.
Trilbies are considered less formal that most other fedoras, but more formal than the pork pies.
When to Wear Pork Pies or Classic Fedoras
Regardless of fashion rules, you should choose whatever hat best fits your style and aesthetic. However, if you want general guidelines, trilbies and fedoras tend to be slightly more formal than pork pies.
Also, pork pies don’t always compliment shorter people, or people with round faces as they have a more ‘squat’ appearance.
So if you want a hat that can be dressed up or down, and can compliment all face shapes and sizes, your safest bet is buying a fedora or a trilby.