Recently my local church began a fun practice of declaring the last Sunday of the month “Fedora Sunday.” An event that allows the normally down dressed guys to spiff up a little, don their fedoras, and enjoy some quality fellowship during the post-service pot luck. A discussion came up about proper hat etiquette and it occurred to me that most men today don’t understand the proper rules of hat wearing. This guide is the result of my research on the topic and an attempt to reeducate a generation of ball cap wearers with no manners on the appropriate times and places to don a hat.
Before we begin, we must first define some hat terminology.
- Don – To don ones hat is to put it on.
- Doff – To doff a hat is to remove it.
- Tip – To tip a hat is to grab the rim and lift slightly, without removing the hat.
- Crown – Some occasions require a slight removal of a hat by lifting the crown, the top of any bowl shaped hat, and actually removing the hat an inch or two from your head before replacing it.
Donning and Doffing
To don one’s hat simply hold it by the crown and place it on your head. If your hat is crownless, you may hold it by the brim.
To doff a hat, again hold it by the crown (or brim) and remove it by lifting up and forward. When removing, ensure that the hat interior always faces you. Never hold a hat so that the inside is exposed to present company.
When to wear a hat
This most basic question has a simple rule, and dozens of sub rules and exceptions. First the major rule: Wear a hat outside, remove a hat inside. It’s that simple. If you cannot remember anything else about hat etiquette, remembering this will serve you 95% of the time. It is acceptable to wear hats at large public arenas. Large in this case means football stadium, not lecture hall. Lobbies and elevators are also considered ‘outdoors’ unless in the presence of a lady. Which brings us to another major rule: Remove hats in the presence of a lady. You are in a lady’s presence when you are conversing with her or her companions.
Those are the basics. Now let’s look at some specific situations where the rules are not that simple.
- While it is ok to wear a hat at a football stadium, once the setting becomes more intimate, such as box seating, the hat must be removed.
- Doff your hat in the presence of dignitaries, religious leaders and other respected individuals. This is a sign of deference and respect. As a gentleman you must respect an office even if you do not respect the man holding that office. Should the President of the United States approach you, remove your hat regardless of personal feelings toward the man himself. Even if you didn’t vote for him, he’s earned your respect simply for holding the office. The same goes for other elected officials, judges, or anyone currently in authority over you.
- Should you have somehow made it inside with your hat still on, you MUST remove it prior to sitting down for a meal. You should place your hat somewhere other than the table. Hanging it from your seat is also not a good option. Find some other location in the home to place it, usually an entry table, hall tree, or coat rack works best. If no such location is available, place the hat on your lap.
- Remove your hat in reverence and respect. This includes prayers, scripture recitations, funeral processions, weddings, dedications, national anthems and pledges of allegiance. This holds true indoors and outdoors.
There are a variety of flavors when it comes to greeting somebody while wearing a hat. Even a simple head nod to a friend becomes somehow more stately and pronounced when wearing a hat. You may also tip, crown, or remove a hat depending on the level of formality demanded by the situation.
- Greeting a man of equal status should be done by tipping your hat or simply a nod if you’re very familiar with the individual.
- Greeting a lady requires the removal of your hat. Lady refers to gender, not social status. Remove your hat in the presence of the queen, the scullery maid, and everyone in between.
- Crowning your hat is a more formal form of tipping, and is reserved for outdoor greetings of people you respect, or that are in authority over you.
Military and special uniforms
If you are wearing a hat as part of a uniform there are probably already set rules for when and how to wear your hat (cover, headgear). Each branch of the military, the boy scouts, the police force, and everybody else that issues hats as part of a uniform has their own unique set of rules, regulations and traditions. Here is a small smattering of interesting military rules.
- Honor guards in full dress never remove their hats, even indoors.
- Do not wear a hat on a flight line or the deck of an aircraft carrier. Having your cover sucked into the engine of a multi-million dollar jet fighter is a sure way to never be promoted ever again.
- Hat brims must always be worn parallel to the ground.
- Wear a hat indoors if you are caring a firearm.
- When you get to a water source, dismount and fill your hat with water and offer it to your horse before drinking any yourself.
This is by no means an all inclusive guide as there are many unique situations that can arise in daily life that blurs the lines for hat etiquette. Common sense and decency must be employed in all situations. Nobody will fault you for not removing your hat if you are currently helping a friend move his 500 pound lay-z-boy recliner into his living room.
As to my original query of wearing hats in church, I will be removing my fedora during service out of respect for my pastor, in reverence of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and out of a genuine fear that if I did not my grandfather might just come down from heaven to personally knock it off my head.
If I’ve missed any significant hat rules, feel free to offer your own insights in the comments below.