The term fedora was in use as early as 1891. Originally a women's fashion into the 20th century, the fedora came into use in about 1919, as a men's middle-class clothing accessory. Its popularity soared, and eventually it eclipsed the similar-looking Homburg by the early 1920s. Fedoras can be found in nearly any color imaginable, but black, grey, tan, brown, and red are the most popular.
The word fedora comes from the title of an 1882 play by Victorien Sardou, Fédora, written for Sarah Bernhardt. The play was first performed in the U.S. in 1889. Bernhardt played Princess Fédora, the heroine of the play, and she wore a hat similar to a fedora. The fedora became a female fashion which lasted into the early part of the twentieth century. When the fedora became a male fashion, it was popular in cities for its stylishness, ability to protect the wearer's head from the wind and weather, and the fact that it could be rolled up when not in use. (Richard Davy, of New York, claimed to be its first male wearer.) Since the early part of the 20th century, many Haredi and other Orthodox Jews have worn black fedoras and continue to this day.
The hat is sometimes associated with Prohibition, Great Depression-era gangsters and the detectives who sought to bring them to justice. Popular stars in the 1950s such as Gene Kelly wore fedoras often in their movies, like Singin' in the Rain. In Hollywood movies of the 1940s, characters often wore a fedora, particularly when playing private detectives, gangsters, or other "tough guy" roles. A trench coat was frequently part of the costume, a notable example being Humphrey Bogart's character in Casablanca. Although the fedora became popular 30 years after the cowboy era (1865–1890), the use of fedoras is common in most TV/movie westerns. The fedora is widely recognized with the characters of The Blues Brothers, Freddy Krueger, and especially Indiana Jones. The fedora is also closely associated with film noir characters.
Like the bowler hat, the fedora was popular from the early 1920s to the mid 1960s on the east coast. In the late 1950s the hat began to lose favor on the west coast of the United States, which is known for its more casual clothing. The late 1950s switch from large lapels and ties to thin ones resulted in shorter-brimmed hats, and this likely played a role in the fedora eventually being deemed a non-essential item. Also playing a part were the shrinking automobiles of the mid-1950s, which often made it difficult to wear a hat while driving. By the early 1970s, the fedora was seen as a dead fashion, typically only worn by older and/or more traditional men. However the fedora has seen a revival in recent fashion seasons. In the early 1980s, pop star Michael Jackson began using a black fedora which became one of his trademarks.