Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Does wearing a trilby make me look like a prat?

The question

I like to wear a trilby. Do I look like a prat?

The answer

Story continues below advertisement

Actually, if you must wear a hat (I am nervous of hats generally, unless they are serving solely to keep your ears warm), a trilby is the least prattish way to go.

A trilby is a – wait, before we get to that, what is a prat? I love this insult, as it is so specific and so frequently clothes-oriented. Dictionaries will tell you a prat is a fool, plain and simple, and that it comes from slang for buttocks. But I find in use the word has class overtones: It seems to mean not just a fool but a pompous one, a conservative one, a guy so conventional he looks like an advertisement for pedantry. Brits in ascots and tweed, carrying silver flasks, are often called prats. So I'm not surprised at your hat-related fear. Hats with brims, particularly wide brims, can seem like the terminally boring person's most flailing attempt at appearing interesting.

A trilby, however, is restrained. It is a soft felt or tweed hat with a narrow brim and an indented crown. It is the most commonly worn type of men's dress hat in North America. If it is smooth felt it is dressier; tweed versions are only for walking in the country. Its back brim is always worn snapped upward.

Now there is great and impassioned debate about what distinguishes a trilby from a fedora. Some will say that a fedora is a larger hat with a wider brim. I have always maintained that a fedora was any hat with a brim that could be snapped up or down – in other words that fedora was the larger category and trilby was a subset of it. (In other words, all trilbies are fedoras but not all fedoras are trilbies.) Current usage, though, seems to have settled on the former distinction: In Canada at least, a fedora is known as the more dramatic Indiana Jones-style hat with a wide brim. In other words, it is goofier. Wear a big fedora and risk looking like a guy who also wants the biggest boat and the biggest signet ring and the biggest pinot noir.

Note that neither one is a porkpie, which has a flat crown.

A trilby is neat and gentlemanly. Just keep the hatband plain – no feathers. And remember to take it off as soon as you step indoors.

Interestingly, both trilby and fedora are words that came from the theatre: a play called Trilby (1895) and a play called Fedora (1882). Trilby, the play, was based on the novel of the same name that also gave the world the word Svengali, after a charismatic character in it. You see what I mean about drama? Hats are drama, drama, drama. You want to go easy on that.

Story continues below advertisement

Novelist Russell Smith's memoir, Blindsided, is available as a Kobo e-book. Have a style question? E-mail

Report an error

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨