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Social Guidelines for Wearing a Hat

woman wearing a hat

Remove your hat! Don’t set it on the table! Never let someone see the lining! Women, keep your hat on! Women, take your hat off! Ahhh…..I’m so confused!!! The old rules of hat etiquette were so straight forward, and everyone knew what to do. A gentleman removing his hat inside a building was as second nature as brushing his teeth. In today’s changing society, there is much confusion about hat etiquette, for both men and women, so let’s solve this mystery by starting with the “why” of hat protocol.

The purpose of a hat was to keep you warm and the sun off your face. It also served as a barrier to dirt and dust. Imagine walking down a road where horses and carriages were passing. The amount of grit tossed in the air meant those walking nearby were coated in a layer of grime. The brim of a hat functioned to keep dirt and water away from the head and face. We see the hat had a purpose other than style, but why was it proper for men to remove their hat when entering a building? For the simple reason, the hat was usually dirty. If a man were to leave his hat on while sitting at the dining table, dirt and dust would fall from the brim and likely into his food.

Today, if you walk into a restaurant with a trench coat covered in rainwater, would you keep it on at the dining table? No. You would remove it at the entrance of the restaurant and retrieve it upon leaving. If you are working in your garden before dinner, do you wash your hands before sitting down at the table? Yes. Why? You do not want to contaminate your food. A man removing his hat, especially in the industrial era, was a matter of personal hygiene.

Why were women not required to remove their hats? Because their hat usually served a different role. A woman’s hat could keep the harsh elements away, but these head coverings were more for fashion than function. They were also used for modesty. In some religions covering a woman’s head was (and still is) required.

Some female hats had brims, but others were simple caps that coordinated with their attire. Pins, ribbons, and bows were used to secure them in place, and removing the hat was a big ordeal as they did not come off easily. The purpose of a woman’s hat was not as much for hygiene as it was for fashion. Therefore, women were exempt from removing their hat.

Now that we understand the background of hat etiquette, let’s discuss what is expected today.

Men still need to remove their hat when entering a building. If you are simply walking through a corridor or a public place, you may leave it on. Once you enter an area where you will be staying (office, restaurant, theatre), remove your hat.

“Do I remove my hat at the dinner table?” If you are expected to remove your hat when you enter an establishment, then, yes, you remove your hat at the dinner table. In reality, your hat should be off before you approach the dinner table, since you would have removed it as soon as you entered the building.

Other places you are expected to remove your hat:

1. Places of worship (unless your religion requires you wear head covering)

2. When you stand for the National Anthem (if you are attending an outdoor baseball game, you are probably wearing a hat, therefore remove it during the anthem)

3. Whenever the U.S. or state flags pass by (as in a color guard ceremony)

4. During a funeral procession (even if you are outdoors)

5. During a prayer (even if outside, the hat is removed)

6. Weddings (even if outside)

7. Dedications (inside or outside, the hat is removed during a dedication)

8. Photographs (if a picture is being taken of you, remove your hat, unless part of your costume)

9. When you are being introduced to someone (this is a sign of respect)

How to take your hat off when greeting someone:

Remove the hat with your left hand so your right hand is free to shake. Place the hat lining towards your body so only the outside of your hat is visible to those around you. Why? The inside of your hat is dirty.

Where to put your hat during the anthem (or another ceremonial event):

Remove your hat with your right hand and place your hat over your heart. You may also set your hat on a chair. It is up to you.

When entering an establishment, ask if they have a hat rack. If not, place your hat on a nearby chair. Do not put your hat on a table. Why? For the same reason women should never put their purse on a table. Hygiene!

Most hat rules for men have not changed throughout history. The biggest change in hat etiquette has been for women. Even today, women do not need to remove their hat when they enter a building unless they are wearing a unisex covering. An example would be a baseball cap. This is a hat worn by both men and women; therefore, a woman is expected to remove this type of hat. The easiest way to remember this is when wearing a unisex hat, women should follow the same rules as men.

Example: If a woman is attending a ballgame in her baseball cap and the national anthem is played, she should remove her hat. Why? She is wearing a unisex covering.

Overall, women still have more leeway than men when it comes to hat etiquette. A decorative hat, for example, does not need to be removed. A unisex hat does need to be removed. The exception to this is if your fashionable hat has a wide brim and will obstruct someone’s view. If you are attending a theatre performance, remove your hat if it interferes with other’s ability to see. Side note: Wide brimmed hats are meant for daytime. Why? A wide brim kept the sun off your face. If it is evening, then the purpose of the wide brim is no longer relevant. If you are attending a theatre performance in the evening, you should not have a problem with your hat interfering with others if you stick to the protocol that brims are only for daytime.

Let’s wrap this up and make it simple. Men, remove your hats. Women, remove your unisex hats. If you cannot remember…remove your hat.

Together with you,

Lisa Lou

(The above points are for civilian men and women. Military protocol regarding head coverings is quite different.)


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