A hat wearing gentlemen of the 1940s continued the tradition of wearing most style of hats from the 1930s. The classic fedora, homburg and flat caps were worn with only subtle adjustments in style. The Derby or bowler was still worn in Britain by a few older generations, but the overall trend was for more casual styles and colors. Most trends started on collage campuses, moved to the country and finally into the city. The newer hat of the 1940s was the Porkpie, and it carried on in fashion through to the 1950s.
Stylistically the main difference between hats of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were how they were worn. Most hats were worn tilted to one side. Hat brims took on many shapes with the back brim curved upwards being the one common feature among many styles of 1940s men’s hats for sale. The width of the brim was quite wide in the early ’40s and again at the very end of the decade with the middle year reducing a little. The material was also lighter, especially felt, which was no longer very heavy but softer and more comfortable to wear. This lighter hat also reduced the cost of material making them more affordable after the war.
Most men shopped for a hat from a local haberdasher. The shop owner would advise the customer on the shape of hat that suited his face, body build and fashion style. He would then take a blank hat and shape the crown and brim to perfection. A hat was an investment, something to be worn with pride, taken care of, and treated with more respect than any other part of his wardrobe. A good straw hat lasts a year or two. Many straw hats only last a month or two, requiring frequent replacement. Thankfully, they were much cheaper as well.
Unfortunately, hats were beginning to experience a downward trend after the war. Casualness in men’s fashion was becoming more and more common to the point most hat wearing was done for leisure activities, sports and blue collar work. Business men wore hats, too, as they had done for the last several decades, but the younger generation was not keen on the concept. They had nicely combed hair. Why cover that up with a hat? Or deal with the hassle of storing it, taking it off inside or while driving and not loosing it to a hat stand thief? They complained that they were uncomfortable, giving them headaches, and perhaps unhealthy, too (hats + sweat=acne). They also cited hat styles as old and boring. A young newspaper writer, Sydney J. Harris, in 1944 said that he and his friends “resented the bland uniformity of the dumb-looking hat.” The young wanted something completely new or else nothing at all.
Another reason for hatlessness was improvements to indoor heating and heaters in cars, They made wearing a hat in winter unnecessary. By the late 1940s, only about 40% of men were wearing hats on a daily basis. The rest simply went out without a care in the world.
Since hat wearing isn’t common anymore, putting on a 1940s hat seems necessary when dressing vintage. Determining what hat to choose begins with an exploration of men’s 1940s hat styles:
1940s Fedora Hat or Trilby Hat
Most men’s hats were just called felt hats, not by any specific name. Of all the variations, the fedora hat was the most common and in general most felt hats fit the style of the fedora. It featured a snap brim that curved down in front and up in back. The tall center crown had a crease that was either flat or sloped toward the back. The front of the crown featured a pinched indentation on either side. The finish of the felt was usually smooth, but some styles did have a light fur texture and even very heavy fur in cold areas.
Brim sizes varied through out the decade. The average sizes was 2 5/8 inches, but brims ranged from 2 and 5/8 to 3 inches. Small faces needed small brims; larger faces needed wider brims. Crowns were also tall but had shrunk down an inch or so for most of the 1940s.
- Colors: Blue, Green, Tan, Grey, Brown
- Materials: Fur felt, cloth, or light woven straws
- Shape : Tall pinch front crowns with a center crease that was either flat-topped or angled to the back (sloped)
- Brim: Turned up at the back, flat around front and sides or a brim turned down in front and up at the sides and back
- Band: Wide petersham ribbon band in the same color or shade as the hat body. A solid black band on any color of hat was also very common. A flat ribbon bow fastened on one side with a feather added to some. A thick leather band was worn on “western” style fedoras.
- Style: Worn at an angle to one side (usually the right side)
- Worn with: Everything, business to casual. It was the most versatile hat.
- Best Starter Hats: Hat , (2.5 brim, many colors)
1940s Homburg Hat
The homburg hat gained popularity beginning at the turn of the century and 1920s. It was a more formal style than the fedora with a deep center dent and rolled brim edge. It was only worn with nice business suits.
Colors: Dark Blue, Dark Brown, Grey (Black was out of fashion by the mid ’40s)
- Material: Fur felt
- Shape: Tall crown with moderate center crease
- Brim: Curled edges on the side and only slightly curled up at the front and back. Brims were wider/less curled than the previous decades
- Band: Black Petersham ribbon band and optional binding on the brim or matching band to hat
- Style: Worn pulled forward and down slightly on the forehead
- Best Starter Hats:
1940s Porkpie Hat
The porkpie was a hybrid between a felt hat (fedora or homburg) and cloth summer hat with a round brim and flat round crown. They became popular on college campuses first in a khaki summer color with colorful band. Summer hats usually had a crown that was a little taller in the front with a mild slope to the back.
The felt version was worn with business suits and semi casual dress. They were the least common felt hat style.
- Colors: Black and Brown year round, Khaki for summer.
- Material: Fur felt, cotton cloth for summer styles
- Shape: Short, oval flat top with deep crease around oval
- Brim: Wide curled up brim all around
- Band: Thin leather band matching color of the hat or wide petersham ribbon with flat bow. For summer, colorful paid patterns appeared on the band. Feathers were usually added from the mid 40s onward
- Style: Worn at an angle
- Worn with: Casual clothing in summer, business attire for felt models.
- Best Starter Hat:
1940s Straw Hats
From May to September, men wore summer hats made of straw. They came in all the shapes that felt hats did and in a variety of weave materials such as coconut palm, sennit straw, watersilk palm, cocoa baku, banana palm, and hanoki. Some classic shapes were boater, Panama, optimo Panama, porkpie, fedora, and sloped fedora.
Shape: The 1940s fedora, porkpie, Panama and boater came in straw hat varieties. Crows were usually flat but could have a center crease or pinch front.
- Color: Light khaki straw, medium yellow straw, and dark coco straws and every shade in between.
- Brim: Wide, round, brim that shaped downward all around.
- Band: A wide silk or cotton pleated band in any number of colorful solid colors, stripes and patterns like polka dots. Bold combinations, like pink and blue, were popular. Tropical or native prints were trendy as resort wear.
- Style: Worn centered on the head. Only the straw fedoras were angled.
- Best Hats: , ,
1940s Bucket Hats
A casual, sporty summer or work hat was the bucket cloth hat. It was first worn on golf courses. It was then picked up by young collage kids and men living in the country. It had a floppy snap brim and side air vents. Popular colors were khaki, green, blue, and brown. As a work hat, it often matched the color of the work uniform. They were made of cotton twill, rayon, gaberdine, or corduroy.
In winter, the hat came in a lined cotton twill with attached ear flaps.
Another sport to work hat was the classic cap. Just called a cap, dress cap or work cap in the 1940s, it has many names today like flat cap, newsboy, ivy cap, big apple cap, and more. The traditional cap was made of 8 triangle panels sewn together in a circle and snapped to a short front visor. It could also be sewn from one piece of material, called a one piece crown. Caps were rather flat in appearance, unlike the fuller 1920s version. Caps came in tweed, cotton gaberdine or wool. Solid colors were for summer such as blue, grey, and tan. In winter, tweed like blends of speckled grey, dark blue and brown were common.
Flat caps were worn with casual clothing, sporty attire, driving, and working labor jobs. They were still worn on golf courses and other outdoor sports but otherwise were mostly associated with working classes.
Best Hats: (anything called an 8 panel cap, Gatsby cap, or newsboy cap is usually the right style)
Other styles of caps were worn for rugged outdoor sports, like hunting and fishing, or for extremely cold climates. These hats had a visor like a baseball cap and ear flaps that tied up on top of the head or over the visor when not in use. They were fully lined in warm cotton or shearling wool. The outside was usually corduroy, leather or a plaid blanket cloth. Beige, brown, black, dark blue, or red plaid were common colors.
Buying 1940s Hats
Whenever possible buy a vintage men’s hat (ebay or Facebook groups). They can be pricey to buy but well worth it if you want the most authentic 1940s hat. Otherwise, new men’s hats continue to be made in vintage styles. Quality fedoras often come with flexible brims so that you can change the brim shape to match that of 1940s style.
You, too, can buy a new 1940s style men’s hat with or without a shaped brim. Most modern fedora hats have smaller snap brims that were not worn in the 1940s. They are also usually black, which was not a very popular color, even for gangsters. Dark grey with a black band is your best choice to wear with suits. Brown is good for brown suits or semi-casual clothing. You could also stand out with a blue or green fedora hat.
Start your 1940s men’s hat shopping here from these popular, affordable hat choices: