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Manners, morals and codes of conduct, Clive Aslet observes in his social satire, Anyone for England?, have been ‘privatized’ and modern man ‘has never been more on his own’. Hats are now no longer part of a generally accepted code: as we no longer wear them as a matter of course their former significance is difficult to appreciate. But the fact that they were once so central to daily life, and for men so bound up with status and class, makes these ‘significant trifles’, as novelist John Galsworthy said, a key to the ‘whole’, a way into the life of the past. In this article I draw on visual sources, as well as novels, memoirs, autobiographies and advice manuals, beginning around 1780 - when the size and significance of hats began to grow - focusing particularly on the last half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the heyday of the hat.
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