Thursday 26 September 2002

Hat etiquette

“He can’t think without his hat.”

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

What’s the current thinking about men wearing hats indoors?

Growing up, I was taught that a gentleman takes off his hat whenever he enters a building. Therefore I wasn’t surprised when, in an early episode of The Sopranos, Tony takes offence at a fellow diner’s wearing a baseball cap in an upmarket restaurant. The restaurant owner is embarrassed but powerless so Tony walks over to the table and “persuades” the (initially reluctant) young man to remove his cap. I took this as evidence that David Chase, the show’s writer/producer, believes the rule about not wearing hats inside still holds firm.

But in The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), Sir Nayland Smith, the eminent Scotland Yard detective, leaves his hat on throughout a lengthy conversation in a suspect’s office. Though, given that he takes off his hat in every other interior scene, this single instance might signify contempt for the criminal class.

Saddam Hussein with hat and rifleThis morning I saw some news footage of Saddam Hussein meeting with his generals. They were all wearing their berets in the conference room whereas Saddam was bareheaded. He does have a hat though, which he wears whenever he holds his rifle in one hand and fires a few shots into the air whilst celebrating his weapons of mass destruction. In this case, he’s outside—on a balcony or a podium. Saddam clearly understands hat etiquette though his generals seem not to. Perhaps he’s just too well-mannered to order them to take their hats off during meetings.

I know how Saddam feels. In a Flash class I taught a month ago, two of the students wore their baseball caps the entire time. Even if I hadn’t felt like the restaurant owner in The Sopranos, I could hardly ask them to take off their caps because at the end of the course I had to hand each student their free baseball cap!

So, is it acceptable for men to wear hats indoors? I followed Michael Webb’s advice and asked AnswerBus, a natural language search engine.

The most useful response was a complete guide to hat etiquette by Gary Warth, staff writer for The Village Hat Shop. Although Mr Warth doesn’t actually answer the question—no doubt he’s reluctant to offend prospective customers who see nothing shameful in wearing a hat indoors—his reveals his true sympathies by quoting Miss Manners and Emily Post:

Tony Soprano understood: a society with no respect for hat etiquette is only a step away from lawlessness.



A news story I saw the other day said that, in our weakened economy, employers are returning to pre-boom formal dress codes. Suits, ties, the works. All of which makes me thrilled I'm not in for-profit work. The story also included the opinion that men's hats (especially formal felt ones) will be making a major reappearance.

All this because, as a haberdasher said on camera, 'You think better when you dress better.' Never mind that our recent boom of creativity was fueled and masterminded by t-shirted kids who looked like they'd just crawled out of bed.

Personally, whenever gentlemen's hats are mentioned I think of old pictures of steamship engine rooms where men in suits--woolen waistcoats and jackets!--labor under their hats to shovel coal into a furnace, and ask myself, 'Why?' Sometimes even conservative fashion is impractical.

Posted by: steve on 26 September 2002 at 11:31 PM

"I took this as evidence that David Chase, the show's writer/producer, believes the rule about not wearing hats inside still holds firm."

Do you think the rest of the behavior seen on the Sopranos reflects Chase's beliefs about proper behavior and rules to live by?

Posted by: Anita Rowland on 26 September 2002 at 11:57 PM

Not all of the behavior seen on the Sopranos, Anita, but some of it at least.

Posted by: Jonathon Delacour on 27 September 2002 at 12:22 AM

As the British Hat Council ad said in 1965, Steve: If you want to get ahead, get a hat.

Posted by: Jonathon Delacour on 27 September 2002 at 12:38 AM

The big trend in American hats over the last few years has been for pasty-faced office drones to wear rugged, outdoorsy, Akubra-type hats while commuting and sitting inside. After all of that, I don't think I'll ever be able to take hats seriously again.

There was a time, though, when I was obsessesed with 1930's detective stories and wanted to wear a gray felt fedora and trench coat (except that they made me look stupid).

Posted by: steve on 27 September 2002 at 12:48 AM

I wore a brown fedora through most of high school...our school's dress code forbade hats (mostly because of gang problems), but officialdom was rather lax about my fedora.

unfortunately, my peers were not, but I persevered. :)

(where did my box of hats get to in the move....)

Posted by: elaine on 27 September 2002 at 01:12 AM

I wear hats. I wear hats in indoor spaces when they can plausibly be construed as public, shared space (shopping malls, hotel lobbies and corridors, open space in office buildings, airports, and so on). I take off my hat when the space in question would probably be construed as personal space by its occupant(s) (so, homes, offices, smaller businesses). Vast department stores constitute a liminal region, and I let intuition and convenience guide me.

I wasn't aware that anyone else thought about hat etiquette any more--but if someone told me that one of my blogleagues did, I'd have picked you, Jonathon, in a heartbeat.

Posted by: AKMA on 27 September 2002 at 12:01 PM

I think that high schools should allow their students to where hats! Don't they have to right to choose? In small school, should it matter if girls wear bandana's? How much is a bandana really like a hat anyway?

Posted by: lizica on 21 February 2003 at 03:22 AM

I have a question not a comment. I am looking for opinions as to whether or not a do-rag should be considered a hat. I was raised 'old school' as my children call it and believe any head covering that a man wears should be removed when he enters my home.

Posted by: mptb on 9 March 2003 at 02:22 AM

This is the best hat article that I have ever seen. And the writer uses humor effectively: "[Saddam] does have a hat though, which he wears whenever he holds his rifle in one hand and fires a few shots into the air whilst celebrating his weapons of mass destruction." I am still laughing at this sentence!

Posted by: Seefar on 24 April 2003 at 07:34 PM

Good to see that AKMA is a fellow hat-wearer. Steve, when I see people shivering in the cold, I reflect upon the fact that a large percentage of your body heat is lost through the top of your head, and upon the impracticality of modern fashion. I tug my fedora to a rakish slant and smile debonairly. And let me tell you, nothing keeps the summer sun from beating you down like a good panama.

Posted by: language hat on 25 April 2003 at 02:35 PM

That large percentage of body heat lost through the top of your head, Language Hat, is about 90% -- a fact I picked up while watching a documentary about the problems of designing a survival suit for people who'd inadvertently fallen into the North Sea in winter.

Although I don't wear hats regularly, I prefer something like the lightweight traveling trilby described here:

Posted by: Jonathon on 25 April 2003 at 02:53 PM

This was an essay i wrote to try and change the hat policy in our school.

Why must students of Hawthorn Secondary College take their hat, cap or beanie off when indoors? Is it to keep in line with the social norm? Is it to respect an age old tradition? This will be my sixth year as student in Hawthorn Secondary College and not even I know why this rule is in place (apart from the overwhelming sense of power teachers get from telling students over and over again to take their hat off). Surly there is no correlation between the wearing of hatís indoors and the loss of concentration by students, so whereís the problem?

If the reason is that hats are to be taken off when inside because itís in line with the social norm, then our school is out of date with what is now the social norm. Everywhere you go you see people wearing hats inside. At Coles and Safeway supermarkets, McDonalds, Hungry Jacks and KFC fast food outlets, bakers delight and brumbies, many different religionsís plus many other places. It is obvious that the greater part of society has accepted the wearing of hats inside and I just wish that our school would too.

If our school is trying to keep the tradition of the Hat etiquette alive, then it has forgotten easily like the majority of society has the complex and confusing rules that are accompanied with the warring of a hat. The Hat etiquette is quite a hard set of rules to remember. A gentleman must take off his hat when a woman enters an elevator in an apartment building or a hotel, as those are considered dwellings. He puts it on again in the hall, because a public corridor is like a street. In public buildings, however, the elevator is also considered public, and the hat must stay on. Men tip or lift their hat only to strangers, not to friends. A hat also is tipped to a woman when passing in a narrow space or when the man speaks to her. If a man runs into a female acquaintance, he must take his hat off when talking to her, but can put it back on if they start walking. These set of rules are out of touch with todayís standards and our school community must make a decision to either go with the hat etiquette or catch up with the rest of society.

Students wear hats for many different but all being perfectly right reasons. Some wear hats so as to save time in the morning not having to use hair gel. Others wear hats to match the clothes theyíre wearing. The list is endless with reasons because hats are surprisingly useful things. They keep your head warm in winter and cool in the summer. This is quite important especially in the winter months as you loose most of your body heat from your head area. This can lead to bigger problems of you having to concentrate on keeping warm which can distract you from your learning. Knowing this, our school has a choice to make. Improve the inadequate heating system that only provides heating to the office area or let the students wear hats and beanies inside and while in class. I believe that wearing a hat or beanie could greatly improve the studentís learning capabilities and Iím not alone in thinking this way. "He can't think without his hat." Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot.

There is no reasonable answer to the question of why must students take their hat, cap or beanie off when indoors. You can argue that it is polite but what is reasonable is that it has the potential to improve the learning capabilities of students. Our school must realize that we the students donít ware hats to offend or to make a statement, we simply ware hats because they are ergonomically viable. We the students have no voice in this argument that effects us, but we plead to you in the hope that our best interest our at hand when making a decision.

Posted by: Michael Korjen on 3 May 2003 at 05:12 PM

Does wearing a hat indoors do anything to your that could hurt your hair???????

Posted by: Todd on 25 May 2003 at 07:25 AM

Simply a question re Michael Korjen's essay (May 3): is his disregard for the conventions of communication (e.g. spelling and occasionally punctuation) at all connected to his disregard of the conventions of social interaction (e.g. the hat as symbol of interpersonal relationships)?
Just asking...

Posted by: Randy on 27 May 2003 at 06:03 AM

Excellent point, Randy.

We had a conversation this morning at work that threatened to erupt into an argument, had I not stood back and stopped talking. Actually, I had expressed my point of view, and chose to let the other party blabber on until she turned and fled down the hall.

She was upset because a teacher had continually asked her son to remove his baseball cap in her classroom. He refused, and they hate each other.

The mother, of course, feels that the son should be allowed the freedom to wear the hat, and what does it matter anyway? After all, this is a school for dropouts and those with drug problems.

This was all said with a great deal of gum-smacking.

It's so simple to learn a few good manners, and life is so much more pleasant because of them, don't you think?

Posted by: Barbara on 30 May 2003 at 02:29 PM

Your reflections on hat wearing has given me a little more strength for the impending exercise of re-reading The Golden Bowl - Henry James; it left me considerably weakened on the first attempt and wondering ... Hats in the world of Henry James I am sure speak volumes! Unfortunately I wasn't listening last time I entered.

Posted by: Colin on 30 May 2003 at 04:22 PM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour