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Obama & JFK; Neckties & Hats


As a hatter, I find the brouhaha over Barack Obama’s aversion to neckties very reminiscent of a prior day (I am holding back from using the now cliché “déjà vu all over again”). The neckwear industry is certainly holding their collective breath (and likely putting their bucks behind Hillary). John F. Kennedy’s objection to wearing hats is legendary in our industry. As the story goes, JFK killed the hat business. And here’s where the comparison to Mr. Obama and his necktielessness becomes noteworthy, because the fact of the matter is that the trend toward hatlessness had been building since the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. Neil Steinberg’s very good book, HATLESS JACK: The President, the Fedora, and the History of an American Style debunks the JFK hat murder myth [I suggest the book to anyone interested in the details]. Suffice to say, Kennedy’s preference for going bareheaded was part of a trend that had been building for decades. He did not start the trend – as he is commonly accused - but he did accelerate it.

There surely is a trend towards abandoning neckties. Few men willingly put on a tie these days. According to Wikipedia, “While still common as late as 1966, over the years 1967 to 1969, the necktie began falling completely out of fashion nearly everywhere, except where required. After a brief fashion resurgence in the 1980s, the 1990s saw the appearance of Internet-based (or dot-com) companies, where most workers did not feel the need for formal dress when facing clients, since the business’s public image and appearance was websites rather than face-to-face meetings. There also was a sentiment of independence (general liberalism) and a new way of doing things.”

Media pundits are fond of making comparisons between JFK and Obama. Well, here is another. If Barack Obama makes it to the White House, history may very likely blame Mr. O for neckwear going out of fashion. Like Kennedy and hats, it won’t be true. But, he certainly may give the current disinclination for wearing neckties a big boost. Now, if he’d just put on a hat.


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