Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora and the Death of the Hat by Neil Steinberg - review by Ian Whitcomb

Ian Whitcomb

Hats Off to JFK

Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora and the Death of the Hat


Granta Books 342pp £12

I had no idea that there’s a sociology of hats. Does there also exist one of gloves, walking sticks, or underwear? I already own an edition of the century-old Illustrated History of the Rod and have derived much pleasure from it, if no edification. Such byways and back passages are a comfortable entry into hardcore history. In this case we are presented with an alternative window into that ever-hot personality President Kennedy, heroic Everyman of his age and the bane of the United Hatters’ International Union. Cheated by chance out of achieving much in his presidency, he was lucky to wear a crown of haystack hair. As with James Dean, death brought him glory, and his hatred of hats and casual schoolboy rejection of old-time dress codes place him squarely as a man of his time. He was the first American president to bare his hair and is blamed for destroying the hat trade. Yet he was actually following a trend of hatlessness that had started decades earlier.

Neil Steinberg, a Chicago newspaper columnist, has assembled a mass of facts concerning men’s hats, erected a thesis about how decorous uselessness is a safeguard against chaotic individualism, and made from them a book of almost 350 pages. It’s a funny and fascinating read and, at the end, a sad

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