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it was all JFK's fault and it was the millinery-industrial complex behind his assasination!


From The Sunday Telegraph:

My vote goes to the man in the flat cap
By Nigel Farndale
(Filed: 17/04/2005)

I've been trying to work out when the hat disappeared from the traditional
British general election. I think it must have been in 1974, the last time the
trilby-wearing Jeremy Thorpe stood as leader of the Liberal Party. Two years
later he was accused of attempting to murder his former lover, Norman Scott and
that may have had some bearing on the matter.

It's true that William Hague did try to revive the hat, or rather the baseball
cap, as a political prop when he became leader of the Tory party in 1997,
perhaps with the hat-wearing Winston Churchill in mind. But he had limited
success. Indeed there are many who still feel his defeat in 2001 was directly
linked to that one act of impetuosity four years earlier. I think, then, we have
to settle on 1974 as the more likely date.

In America there has been no such ambiguity. The demise of the hat in political
life is traced to Jack Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. He didn't wear one and,
after that, when he persisted in going bareheaded in public, the hat industry
fell into decline. Milliners did all they could to persuade the president that
hats were still a good thing - one company dispatched to the White House a dozen
gift hats in a range of popular styles - but Kennedy resisted and, to this day,
a conspiracy theory persists that it was the millinery-industrial complex that
was behind his assassination two years later.

Kennedy's antipathy to hats is usually seen as a response to Khrushchev's
fondness for them, specifically for a large homburg with a high crown and rolled
brim. But a fascinating, soon-to-be-published book on the subject, Hatless Jack
- the President, the Fedora and the Death of the Hat, questions this orthodoxy.
The book's revisionist author, Neil Steinberg, argues that the real reason was
that Kennedy was extremely proud of his hair. He also wanted to set himself
apart from his Stetson-wearing vice-president, Lyndon Johnson.

I wonder if, in this country, there might still be the odd vote to be garnered
from wearing a hat. Charles "Duracell'' Kennedy - a copper-top who goes on and
on - might benefit, given the prejudice some feel against his hair colour. Not a
baseball cap, obviously, or a bowler, which would send out the wrong class
signal, but possibly a tam-o'-shanter, or, better still, the more neutral flat

Perhaps I'm prejudiced because I grew up in a northern farming community where
the wearing of a flat cap was pretty much compulsory. Men wore them whenever
they stepped outdoors, whatever the weather. If you failed to conform you were
held up for ridicule, hissed at by strangers and spurned like a rabid dog at
auction marts. The arrival on a farm of a man without a flat cap, moreover, was
a cause for alarm, fear and suspicion.

Even so, I do think that the flat cap is a reassuring symbol of Englishness. Any
politician pictured wearing one would warm hearts and inspire trust. He would
also suggest to potential voters that he was steeped in common sense. The flat
cap is, after all, an eminently practical piece of technology - like a potato
peeler, or a shoe-horn. It keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer. It
protects your eyes from glare and your hair from rain.

And any politician wearing one could tip it in greeting as he canvassed on the
doorstep; a much less threatening gesture than the thrusting out of a hand, or a
fumbling attempt to kiss a baby's head, especially a baby wearing a bonnet.
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