Just as the gentleman should have a variety of hats for different seasons and occasions, he should also be aware of the rules for when to have his hat on and when to take it off.
A great many menswear sources, if they do offer advice on hat etiquette, will typically advise that the most basic rule to remember is to wear your hat when outdoors and to take it off indoors.
While this advice may end up working out for the wearer, let’s say 75-80% of the time, we believe that there’s a better central starting point for approaching hat etiquette which is as follows:
Wear Your Hat In Public & Take It Off In Private Spaces.
Stated simply, a private space is any place where people live, work, or pay a fee to enter. Anything else is generally going to be considered public. Here then are some more specific examples of this philosophy in practice.
- A house is a private space but the foyer or entryway just inside the door can be considered a public space. This goes back to the era when a butler would typically greet guests at the door and take their hats and coats. Similarly, an apartment is a private space but their surrounding hallways, as well as the lobby, are public.
- This same general rule is typically true for hotels with the added caveat that spaces reserved specifically for hotel guests such as the pool or lounge are also considered private spaces.
- One unique distinction for apartment buildings, hotels, and other such multi florid spaces, an elevator is considered a private space. This goes back to the days when most elevators still had human operators. As such, you would consider the elevator the operator’s office.
- Related to the concept of entry fees are membership dues. As such, any club with specific members is also considered to be a private space.
- Office buildings where the lobbies and hallways are are public spaces but specific offices are private spaces. In addition, cubicle areas are collectively treated as private, basically functioning as one large office. This isn’t limited to the specific space inside each individual cubicle.
- If a doctor’s office has a separate reception area, that’s considered a public space but the waiting room is considered a private space because you’re already waiting for the doctor’s services and in a manner of speaking, already in the office.
- Also in the medical field, a hospital building is treated as an all private space. This goes back to the days when most hospitals were still run by churches.
- A theater is a private space since you have to pay for a ticket to get in, however, since you have to buy the tickets in the lobby most of the time, the lobby is considered a public space.
- Despite usually requiring a ticket for entry, an outdoor stadium is still often considered a public space because it’s outdoors and fairly large. An indoor stadium, on the other hand, is a private space.
- A restaurant is a public space, in general, but once you’ve been seated at your table, it becomes a private space since, in theory, you’re paying to be there. Curiously enough, however, the bar is almost always considered a public space at all times.
- Stores are typically public spaces with the exception being if you’re given specific attention from a salesperson. Because you’re requiring their services at that point, the interaction then becomes more private at which point, it’s best practice to remove your hat.
- Places of worship are generally considered to be private spaces but of course, some religious traditions do have specific rules related to men’s headwear as well as women’s headwear. If you plan to attend a place of worship and don’t know the rules relating to headwear, be sure to ask someone in the know. Hats can also be removed at certain specific times for such activities like prayer, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the United States, or for the singing of hymns or national anthems.
- If you’re in motion, your hat should remain on regardless of the method or openness of transportation. This harkens back to the days when transportation was pretty much all done out of doors, either walking, on horseback, or in an open carriage. Even though we have many new methods of transportation and a lot of them are enclosed, the tradition of keeping your hat on while you’re moving still remains in effect.
And there you have it! Using this public space private space motto, the hatted gentleman can be sure that he’s always observing proper etiquette when wearing his hat or as the case may be, not wearing it.
Why Remove Hats In Private Spaces?
The answer is that the uncovering of the head is a sign of deference that goes back millennia. It’s usually done to signal an acknowledgment of intrusion or to show basic gratitude. In other words, the hallmarks of a gentleman.
The Practice Of Hat Tipping
The tradition of tipping one’s hat has its roots in bowing to show respect. A practice that was common across various cultures for centuries. When hats became the dominant fashion for men and bowing was still common practice, the hat would have to be removed when a man bent from the waist so that it didn’t hit the floor. Bowing would gradually become less extreme over the course of the 19th century, culminating in the simple hat tip by the 20th century. These days in the 21st century, even that practice can seem a little outdated.
If you’re a regular hat wearer and feel totally comfortable in headwear, you can give a hat tip to people regardless of gender these days too but if you feel that the behavior would seem affected coming from you, you can go ahead and skip the tip.
Even if you don’t commit to memory every single example we outlined in this guide, you can still be sure that by following the basic model of the public space-private space paradigm, you, as a hat-wearing gentleman, will be courteous with your stylish headwear.
Note: the majority of the information for today’s article was sourced from the writings of menswear historian Bill Thompson.