Everyone, Then No One
- Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora and the Death of the Hat by Neil Steinberg
Granta, 342 pp, £12.00, August 2005, ISBN 1 86207 782 7
To paraphrase Roland Barthes, hats are worn to be seen and to be read. They are signs of who we are or want to be. Because hats, unlike shoes or coats, are worn near eye-level, they are the first item of apparel offered for view. The stranger approaching from a distance reads the hat before he sees the face or figure and, at a glance, learns a lot about the person beneath it.
Vol. 28 No. 6 · 23 March 2006
As a dedicated hat-wearer, I take great exception to the final paragraph of David Nasaw’s review of Hatless Jack (LRB, 23 February). Hats are not at all uncomfortable and far from being unnecessary, even with a full head of hair. Where I live in South Tyrol many people wear them, particularly in the winter, and they can still mark a boundary, although here it is between the two language groups in the province and not between classes. When I see a woman wearing a knitted woollen hat with ear flaps of the sort associated with the Andes, or a man wearing a stiff, peaked cap of the sort that used to be called a ‘cheese-cutter’, I know that the wearer will speak Italian. On the other hand, a man wearing a felt fedora in dark blue or green will speak German, especially if there is a feather in the hatband.
Nasaw appears ill-informed, too, in the matter of the demise of the corset. If the advertising channels on German television are a reliable guide, then the corset is thriving in the Federal Republic. The technology is modern and the comfort of the garments is stressed, but there is no doubt that, despite the absence of whalebone, the principle is the same, as is the intended result.