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Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora and the Death of the Hat Paperback – August 1, 2005

3.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Neil Steinberg is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. His books include 'Complete and Utter Failure: A Celebration of Also-rans, Runners-Up, Never-Weres and Total Flops', 'The Alphabet of Modern Annoyances' and 'Don't Give Up the Ship: Finding my Father While Lost at Sea.' His work has been published in Salon and Granta magazine.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (August 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862077827
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862077829
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,334,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Imagine if all of a sudden men starting going outside without pants on. (Let's for the moment ignore the teenagers who wear them so low they are essentially pantless, wearing tall socks rather than trousers.) We would be startled, shocked, confused, and wonder what had happened. Well, this is what occurred during the 20th Century with hats. Look at old photos of busy New York streets and you'll see every head covered. Rich, poor, young, old. No difference. Yet this essential piece of attire virtually disappeared within a generation. And no one really noticed.

The traditional tale is that Kennedy's inauguration did it in. But this book clearly establishes that is not true. No, it was a gradual slide that picked up steam, and in my father's generation (born in 1930) completely vanished. For him a hat was what old men wore, and though he had one for the rare occasion when he wanted to look more mature, after about 1960 he never wore it again. Look at the famous photo of Ruby shooting Oswald. The old guys in authority, and Ruby himself, are all wearing their hats; the younger guys are not. A fedora today is an affectation, an attempt to stand out. Whereas, as Steinberg so vividly points out, NOT wearing a hat, or wearing the out of season hat, could bring anything from insults to assaults.

I was fascinated by the entire book. Well written, well organized, well constructed. I only wish there had been illustrations to show me what all these various headpieces were. But as social history, this is one of the most illuminating and insightful looks at cultural change I've ever read.
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This book is meticulously researched and for the most part fascinating, hard to put down. Unfortunately Steinberg has a tendency to undermine himself with cringeworthy basic errors that detract and distract from his exploration of an intriguing premise. He doesn't know a transom from a threshold, "hung" from "hanged," "portent" from "portend," "cache" from "cachet," "tantamount" from "paramount," "Phileas" from "Phineas," or one Corinthian epistle from another, and he enjoys a dangling modifier like Truman enjoyed a fine hat. His subject-verb agreement also isn't what it could and should be. While the number of mistakes is nowhere near great enough to ruin the book, the alert reader must wonder whether the writer who makes those errors is fully dependable in other respects. Steinberg also appears sometimes to suffer from a cliched view of the '50s and a prejudice toward the belief that authenticity, independence, and self-expression depend on informality. (Surely, too, it would have been possible to mention Barry Goldwater in passing without calling him a troglodyte.) All in all he strikes me as an original and good-natured but somewhat immature writer whose teachers and editors have not shown him the right way. This is an interesting and informative book that suffers from the typical weaknesses of the contemporary publishing industry and the people in it. More than anything else, it lacks a capable editor. Few authors can think of everything; the editor of this book couldn't think of anything.
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I wanted a book about men's hat history for research on my fashion history blog. I couldn't find any, at least still in print. One reviewer mentioned this book had some fascinating fashion history so I bought it to see for myself. I am so glad I did. Mixed in the context of why president Kennedy didn't wear hats entwines tails of hat etiquette, hat inventions, hat check rooms, hat retailers, and riots caused by wearing the wrong hat! The author clearly did his research and managed to write in a very engaging manner. His book is long (perhaps too long) and not organized by type of hat or decade (makes it harder to pull out specific historical information) but it is still worth reading and keeping on your shelf as a reference. I found it an invaluable aid in writing an article about the history of men's hats in the 1920's. If I could have copied his book word for word I would have! He said it as best as any book could have. Very well done.
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