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Hatless Jack Paperback – November 30, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Besides being a fascinating sociological story, Steinberg's book is also a treasure trove of presidential trivia. -- The Boston Globe

About the Author

Neil Steinberg is a columnist and editorial board member at the Chicago Sun-Times. He has written for many national publications, including Rolling Stone, Readers’ Digest, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, and Sports Illustrated. This is his fifth book.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (November 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452285232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452285231
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,736,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mr. Joe TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 3, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'll never look at the top hat, from which the magician conjures the bunny, in the same way ever again.

HATLESS JACK is one of those fascinating treatises about a subject with which you wouldn't otherwise think to concern yourself. In this case, it's men's hats - Stetsons, derbies, fedoras, straw boaters, toppers - and the history, customs, etiquette, and practical pitfalls surrounding their use in America . More importantly, the book examines the demise of the hat as a necessary component of the well-dressed man's wardrobe. As the title implies, the disappearance of the hat from American male fashion can perhaps be largely attributed to President John Kennedy's aversion to wearing such. In debunking this theory, author Neil Steinberg, while incidentally writing an engaging (albeit superficial) narrative about America's youngest President, traces the decline of fashionable headgear back to the 1890's when female theater patrons found it obliging to remove their large and elaborate hats so people sitting behind could see the stage. From there, despite the heyday of fedoras and straw hats in the 1920s, it was all downhill, much to the consternation of the nation's hatmakers.

HATLESS JACK is also a compendium of historically interesting trivia. Did you know that the Hat Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1732, forbade American colonists from selling hats abroad or to each other, as well as the physical conveyance of hats by boat or horse? Or that the wearing of summer straw hats beyond September 15th could cause social unrest to the extent of rioting in the streets? Or that hatcheck girls of the 20s and 30s occupied a social position "halfway between a sister and a slut"?

HATLESS JACK cries out for a photo section; its sole deficiency is that it has none.
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Format: Paperback
I'm of two minds about this book. Neil Steinberg has produced a great history of the form and content of hat-wearing, and the decline of the behatted male in the United States. I learned a great deal about the industry, the importance of hats to the idea of the well-dressed man, and the many forces that came together to send the noble fedora and its cousins into their long decline. And also about John F. Kennedy.

But while the author has done a fine job with the facts, I'm still not sure I buy all his interpretation of them. He strikes me as far too willing to buy into the cliché -- true in its most basic form, perhaps, but far too exaggerated in the popular mind -- of the dull, conformist, gray 1950s and the lively, individualist, color-saturated '60s.

Perhaps he should, as the Randians would say, check his premises -- particularly his evident assumption that informality equals authenticity and self-expression. But if it is "conformist" for a man to wear a hat at a time when all men wear hats, why is it a sign of rebellious nonconformity to abandon hats when all men are abandoning them? Are we really any more individualist today, when forty-something men go to the mall dressed in the same long t-shirts, baggy shorts, and giant sneakers worn by their twelve year old sons? If you want to demonstrate individuality and self-expression through your dress today, gentlemen, the best way to do so is with suit, tie, and a well-maintained snap-brim. But, check out this book first to make sure you know when to tip the fedora, and to whom.
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I was pleasantly surprised by how much this little book captivated me. I was looking for a well written book on men's hats and the fraternity of hat wearing culture. This turned out to be so much more and yet not distinctly about either subject.

Telling a historical tale about hats, the hat industry, and male hat wearing customs the author spends most of his time in the era of JFK mainly because most fashion historians identify this period as the demise of hat wearing as a cultural imperative in the western world.

During this journey we are pleasantly led back and forward through history for many interesting and valuable anecdotes on hat culture and history. Once the journey is complete the reader is much more versed in hat culture than simply reading a "how to" book about wearing hats. He leaves with a gut understanding of why a "gentleman" would go to all the trouble and expense of wearing "fine" headwear and a more than inquisitive yearning to join the dwindling fraternity of men who live in felt & straw hats.
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Format: Paperback
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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