A trilby hat (or simply trilby) is a soft felt unisex hat with a deeply indented crown, and a pinch at the front. The brim is narrow and often sharply upturned at the back known as a Snap-Brim. Traditionally it was made from rabbit fur felt (Fur felt), but is now sometimes made from other materials, including Tweed and Wool. Later versions from the 1920s and 1930s tended towards a wider brim, better known as a Racing Trilby. The Trilby is softer than the Homburg, and has a flexible brim, being less formal. Trilbies are similar to the Fedora, and the Trilby vs Fedora argument is a Transatlantic one, more potato/potata than any one, defining feature. Our hat's name derives from the stage adaptation of George De Maurier’s 1894 novel Trilby; a hat of this style was worn in the first London production of the play, and promptly came to be called 'a Trilby hat'.
Trilby hats were widely worn from the late 1920s onwards, initially as a casual sporting hat, primarily at the races. By the end of World War II, it had largely supplanted other hats such as the Homburg and Bowler for wear with a suit or more casual country wear, although it never replaced the Flat Cap. It continued to be commonly worn until about the mid 1960s.
The Trilby really is a hat for all seasons, being smart or country, worn as a safari hat, a sturdy winter hat, if lined, or a summer hat if not lined. It is a very good travelling hat and in many cases can be crushable or folded. As a walking hat you see many examples.
The hat has been associated with Jazz, Ska and soul musicians (Blues Brothers hat), as well as members of the Indie, Rude Boy, Mod, Skinhead and 2 Tone subcultures, with a Stingy-Brim or Porkpie Trilby style. Brit Rock, making a resurgence in the 1980s and and 90s and again thanks to the Chap culture, vintage hats and the rise of the Dandy Hat and gentlemen’s hat coming back into fashion now. At a recent Goodwood Revival, I could see a sea of Trilby hats with 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 1960s suits, as well as with country suits and shooting suits in wide-brim, short brim, down-brim and even Tyrol Hat style; all come under the broad Trilby style.
The Trilby was a staple of the British movie industry from 1930s onwards, worn by Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter, and is essential in film noir as a detective’s hat or gangster. In the US the Trilby, or Fedora as it is called there, is a staple for Gene Kelly in Singin in the rain to Indiana Jones and by Don Draper’s hat, in Mad Men.
More recently the Trilby, in black, has seen a resurgence due to Pete Doherty who has almost single handedly started a revival for the Trilby and hat wearers like James Bay or Tom Hardy.
For a hatter, the felt trilby is the most enduring piece of headwear, stylish and practical.