Most writers hope to be remembered for their writings, and the characters they create, but in some cases they are also remembered for the fashion crazes that their characters inspired.
At the end of the 19th century, two French writers created heroines whose names are both in the dictionary, listed as hats for men – the trilby and the fedora.
Humphrey Bogart may have been surprised to know that the fedora he wore pulled low over his eyes in his famous Casablanca scene was first worn by Russian princess Fedora Romanzoff. She was the heroine of Victorien Sardou’s play Fedora, published in 1883.
Eleven years later, George du Maurier (Daphne’s grandfather) wrote what has been described as the first runaway bestseller. Across England and America , the critics and the public alike adored Trilby, the story of a vivacious French girl and a satanic hypnotist.
Indeed, the name of the hypnotist, evil Hungarian musician Svengali, is also in the dictionary, being synonymous with a person who controls another’s mind with evil intentions.
Trilby O’Farrell, the vivacious artist’s model, wore a soft felt hat with a lowish crown. Suddenly, everyone was wearing a trilby – and they weren’t just hats. There were Trilby slippers, coats, dolls, chocolates, even waltzes.
The fedora/trilby was worn right up to the early 60s. When John F Kennedy made his inauguration speech, he wore no hat, and the fedora lost its flavour in the United States (apart from Indiana Jones, never seen without his fedora).
It is curious, therefore, that the hat became known as the trilby in Britain and as the fedora in the States. A few years ago, I was asked by a Lovatts reader why we use both 'fedora' and 'trilby' in our crosswords. My answer is that with a theatrical history such as theirs, how could we not?
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