Etiquette of hat wearing for men

by hatrevivalist on August 10, 2010

Hatequette for Men

The days when every man and every woman wore a hat to go out are behind us at last for the time being. Perhaps universal hat wearing will return who knows? With universal hat wearing came a whole host of social conventions that developed over the years. These conventions developed out of politeness and respect. If you watch the old classic black and white movies as I do you can see many of the customs in action.

The first thing to note is that there are completely different rules for men and women. This post covers the rules relating to men and hat wearing.

In short the rules cover:

  • When to remove your hat: and what to do with it when you remove it
  • Tipping, or otherwise known as doffing, your hat

Removing Your Hat

When should men remove their hats?

As a general rule men should remove their hats when indoors, as follows (not necessarily comprehensive):

In a home (particularly in another’s home)

Indoors at work (especially in an office). This rule would not apply of course to protective headgear such as construction helmets.

At a movie or other indoor theatrical performance.

In a Christian Church (or perhaps in another place of worship depending on the rules applicable) except for the priests. There are different rules for different religions and they also relate to the type of headgear to be worn. For example, Jewish men wear a yarmulke, skull cap, as a sign of humility before God. Some Jewish  men wear the yarmulke all the time except for swimming or bathing at least.

In a court of law (wearing a hat has often been treated as a contempt of court).

In a restaurant ( sometimes it is deemed acceptable to keep a hat on while at the lunch counter of a diner or café).

When outdoors a man should remove his hat in the following circumstances:


When he is being introduced to someone.

When saying goodbye to a woman or elder (or someone of higher social status).

While talking with someone, especially a woman, an older man, or clergyman (talking man to man of same status one would generally keep the hat on – unless a woman passes by or some other event happens).

During prayer (Christian ceremony, or as another religion dictates) at an outside event.

While the National Anthem is being played or the flag is passing (this is especially true in the USA but likely true in other countries. It is good to check out local customs).

While at a funeral or in the presence of a funeral procession.

While a Catholic procession is passing where a crucifix is on display. This is an old one. In 1766 (error corrected) France a teen was sentenced to death for not removing his hat while a procession was passing. (There were other charges as well but hat wearing was specifically cited). There is no death penalty now (maybe in some countries?) but why take the risk?

When speaking to another about a virtuous woman or a dearly departed loved one (what if the woman was not virtuous I ask and how do you know?).

Sometimes when passing someone on the street who he knows, particularly a lady or a superior such as your boss (hat tipping could be used as a substitute but best be careful here)

There are exceptions to the rule of hat removal and hats can remain on in the following circumstances:

In some public buildings or public places such as railroad stations and post offices.

In the main parlor area of a saloon or general store (in Westerns you can see this hat wearing thing going on).

In the entrance halls and corridors of office buildings or hotels.

In the elevators of public or office buildings, unless a woman is present when hats are removed if it is practical – if you are carrying packages, parcels or bags and both hands are occupied you are excused).

If the man is an actor or performer and the hat is part of the costume.

There are special rules for the military as to when to remove their “cover”.

What do you do when you remove your hat?

In the old days a hat check area was big business and often it was outsourced and staffed by service companies. I have previously written about hat check girls. It was considered glamorous and not a job for men.

These days one leaves a hat in the checkroom or cloakroom. Due to labor costs these areas are often unattended. There are obvious risks even in the attended checkrooms. If you leave your smart trilby on the top rack someone might crush it with a briefcase or gym bag – ouch! Better to keep it with you unless you are certain that your prized hat will get the TLC it deserves.

So what if you have to hold your hat after temporarily removing it? There are actually rules here too. On no account should you show the inside lining of your hat. This was considered a sign of disrespect. I am not sure how this all came to pass but if anyone knows please let me know.

Doffing Your Hat

In some cases a man will tip or “doff” his hat. This can be a gentle touching of the brim or it can be gently lifting the hat off the forehead. This is a lost art I am thinking.

Some say that this doffing of the hat dates back to the medieval days when a knight would tip the visor of his helmet as a sign of respect. (Truth or Urban Legend?)

Here are some of the circumstances when a man would doff his hat:

When passing a lady you know (or someone of higher status) on the street (the hat is sometimes totally removed at the discretion of the hat wearer).

Any time that a lady who is a stranger thanks you for a service or assistance

Any time that a stranger (man or woman) shows courtesy to a woman you are accompanying, such as picking up a dropped item or opening a door.

When asking a woman or elderly man for directions.

When in close quarters with a woman stranger This includes accidental jostling or passing between people conversing. It accompanies an apology.

CAUTION
In general great care should be taken in removing your hat or tipping your hat to another man except in special circumstances discussed above. It will be taken as an insult.

Whoa all this is a lot to remember and is generally contextual to the day of widespread hat wearing . Who is not to say that modern practices cannot be developed? Some practices such as hat removal during the playing of the National Anthem would still continue. Just use commonsense and be respectful and all should fall into place.

A word about baseball caps

To some referring to baseball caps as “hats” is an insult to the whole genre of hats. Marion Horvat in her article “Getting the ball rolling on hats” says the following:

The rules of distinction were thrown out with the baseball cap. It does not lend itself to protocol. No one lifts the baseball cap to a passing lady. In fact, today the young man may well see a similar cap on the head of a passing lady. It is found today on youth in homes, classrooms, even in fine restaurants. Regardless of its other consequences, this is a breach against civility. A civilized man should avoid this mania

Others would add especially do NOT wear your baseball cap backwards.

Some celebrities have made the wearing of baseball caps as a signature – Michael Moore for example is usually seen in interviews wearing some kind of baseball cap even indoors. Just look at Michael Moore’s website!

The Horvat article is well worth looking at – – it has some great illustrations.

Oh yes I almost forgot to say never, never wear an unkempt hat that is particularly shabby that would be a real faux pas.

This article has been compiled by looking at a whole host of references. If you believe I am incorrect please let me know please also let me know if you have anything to add to the discussion. Other than the Horvat article I am particularly indebted to www.bcvc.net which had quite a comprehensive listing (the site does not seem to be currently  active). I have expanded on the references however.

Hat wearing for women will be covered in a later post.

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