Social Etiquette when to Remove your Hat

One hundred years ago, all adults wore hats whenever they left home. Hats  contributed to the air of elegance and decorum which characterized the Victorian years and those immediately following. They also served as protection for the hair in the days of excessive air pollution due to burgeoning industrial activity.

The pendulum of style often swings back to the past trying to recapture those happy memories of “the good old days”. Who knows? Hat-wearing may again become fashionable and it will be important to know when and where it is proper to remove one’s head covering.

If you hope to learn and practice the rules of proper etiquette regarding the removal of your hat, it will be enormously helpful if you are a female. Ladies’ hats were considered part of their ensemble, and as such, needed only to be removed when they were at home, dining with friends or when someone’s view was being blocked, as in a theatre or at a movie.

Men had more complicated and potentially confusing rules to remember.

* Hats were always removed indoors, except when the site was similar to a public street, such as the lobby, hallway or crowded elevator of a public building.

* If the elevator was in an apartment building or hotel, it was considered to be a small, interior room in a residence, and gentlemen removed their hats. 

* If  the elevator in a public building was not crowded, but a lady entered, the gentleman removed his hat.

* Gentlemen removed their hats when talking to a lady, a group of ladies, or to another man if there were ladies present. When the conversation was focused on a respectable woman, or a dear, departed relative or friend, one’s hat was removed.

* As a gesture of respect, hats were removed when talking to an older man, a member of the clergy, or a dignitary of any gender, such as the mayor or governor.

* Hats were removed at a funeral or as a funeral processions passed, as a gesture of reverence. When the national flag was displayed, or the National Anthem played, gentlemen removed their hats as a sign of patriotism.

* At outdoor events, such as weddings, dedications, or picture-taking sessions, men were expected to take off their hats.

* In any small, enclosed space, such as a theater box or private dining room, hats were routinely removed.

* In general, when in doubt, it was always safer for gentlemen to remove their head coverings.

In the early 1960s, during President John F. Kennedy’s term of office, the style of dress became much more casual. Those involved in the hippy movement of the day embraced and extended the trend to less formality.

Today, men are hardly ever seen in formal headwear. Baseball caps, head scarves, helmets and toques are the order of the day, and the need to remove them except at bedtime, seldom arises. Maybe, considering the lengthy list of rules our fathers and grandfathers had to remember, that’s not a bad thing. 

However, it may be wise to keep the above list on hand. One never knows when the wheel of fashion may shift into reverse.