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


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Paperback, August 1, 2005
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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 (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #795,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. C Clark VINE VOICE on November 19, 2007
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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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Deborah Sessions on October 18, 2013
Verified Purchase
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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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bartok Kinski on December 4, 2013
I'm not so sure I buy the author's main thesis that outlines that the hat died because of anarchists, bald men and communist groups that wanted to overthrow Imperialist culture.

Bald men didn't even exist in the years before 1970 when nuclear waste was dumped in all communities, thus creating genetic mutations in the human gene pool.

It'd probably be better to examine the economic cost of producing hats in the years from 1929-1945, where you will notice that all materials went up in costs. Alpaca hair, goat mutton and felt from camels shot up because of the depression. The economic collapse of the hat was inevitable. To place the blame on 60's "hippies" who had long hair and fleas is blatantly absurd.

Bald Men Always Come Out on Top: 101 Ways to Use Your Head and Win With Skin
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By D. Edwards on October 29, 2008
Steinberg has written a thought provoking book about how men's hats went the way of the buffalo in America. He views the event largely through the lens of JFK and his aversion to hats, something that seems to be largely an urban legend magnified by newspaper writers eager to perpetuate Kennedy's youthful and maverick image.

When it sticks to recounting the history of hats the book is fascinating, and reading about such forgotten things as the sometimes violently enforced "Straw Hat Day" and the hat check racket powerfully convey how prevalent and important hats used to be. More images would have helped here, since the most modern readers will have little clue as to to the difference between a boater and a stingy brim fedora.

Less interesting is the recurring thread of the hat industry trying to get Kennedy to feature a hat more prominently in his wardrobe. It gets repetitive as the requests must have seemed to JFK. The backdrop of the history of the hat is better than theme of Kennedy as an icon rebuffing the hat industry as it tries to turn back the tide of bare headed men.

Hatless Jack failed to convince me that Homburgs and fedoras were cast away because they were inconvenient symbols of soulless conformity, and the lack of hats nowadays is a symptom of windblown free spirit and more liberated times.

The author makes more sense when he sites an increasingly indoor, motorized and informal society moving almost unconsciously away from a fashion than when he tries to show some sort of meaningful revolution against hats.

It's a well written, interesting book and it only drags when it goes to the JFK/Hatters angle too many times. I'm glad I read it, and it has prompted me to consider aquiring a real hat, baseball caps be damned.
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