Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hat Etiquette

This morning I had a doctor's appointment. I felt like dressing up, so I wore a suit and my straw boater - this was unfortunately before I knew the temperatures were going to hit 80 before 10am... Nevertheless, I think I looked pretty snazzy. My father and I were in the waiting room, and he looked over and mentioned under his breath that I should remove my hat. Quietly, I wondered aloud if a gentleman really needed to remove his hat in what I considered a public place, but removed my hat to please my father.

I was already thinking a lot about headgear when something else hat-related happened. The nurse attending me gave me great praise for wearing my boater, and told me she wished all her patients wore hats regularly. This got me thinking of the legitimacy of wearing hats in the 21st century, and why we as a society choose not to wear them on a daily basis. Even fifty years ago a well-dressed man or woman did not leave the house without a hat. So what had happened?

Millinery and Haberdashery (women's and men's hat making, respectively) were very closely tied to Couture style fashion. With the rise of ready-to-wear in the 1960s, it became "uncool" to wear hats, since they were associated with the "old world of fashion. Nowadays, most people completely overlook the practical aspects of the hat.

Dermatologists agree that prolonged sun exposure speeds up the aging process. Wearing a hat protects not only from that but also from the UVB rays that are linked to skin cancer. Obviously, in winter a hat will keep you warm.

Another overlooked aspect of hat etiquette is the layer it once added to social interaction. In olden days, when a gentleman tipped his hat to a passing female acquaintance, it was not only a means of showing respect for the woman but could also be a subtle flirtation. A woman could flirt right back by playing hard-to-get under a merry widow.

Of course, the fashionable aspects of wearing a hat go without saying. Emily Post was quoted in 1959 as saying: "It is impossible for a hatless woman to be chic."

Well, I can definitely say that I am officially a hat person. My new goal is to collect hats and eventually be able to wear a hat whenever I leave the house. Because of this decision, and because I was still curious as to who was right between my father and myself, I did some research and found several accounts on hat etiquette from reputable sources such as Miss Manners and Amy Vanderbilt.

If I've convinced you that hats are not only healthy but are also a great way to express your sense of style, stick around for a brief lesson in hat etiquette. You'll be able to wear your hat next time without any embarrassing faux-pas! Before I explain hat etiquette, though, it is important to know some hat anatomy:

(A) Brim: This is the part of the hat that extends from the head, shielding you from the sun.

(B) and (C) Crown: This is the part of the hat that generally sits on the head.

(B) Hatband: This term applies both to the sides of the crown and to the decorative band of fabric on the hat.

(C) Tip: This is the top of the crown.

The last thing to know before I start is a little terminology. To don your hat is to put it on your head. To doff your hat is to take it off. Finally, to tip your hat is to grab the brim of the hat and either bow your head, or briefly remove the hat - both as a greeting or sign of respect.

For the Ladies:

Your rules for etiquette are really quite simple. You get to keep your hats on under any circumstances, even for the national anthem. However, if you choose to wear a hat that is considered "unisex" (like a baseball cap) then the rules for a gentleman apply. See below. I hope the above diagram sheds some light as to the "ladies' exception - women's hats traditionally cause more problems when being removed. Thus, she is never required to take it off.

For the Gentlemen:

Your rules are much more complicated, so if you want to know all the dirty little details I've provided a link in the sidebar. I'm just going to cover some basics here. Generally speaking, if you're outdoors or in a public place (such as a lobby or waiting room), your hat should stay on. When passing a lady outside, a gentleman need only tip his hat if he addresses the lady to say such things as "good morning", "hello", or "excuse me". When indoors, a gentleman always removes his hat, especially in the presence of a lady. Also, indoors or out, a gentleman always removes his hat for his or any national anthem.

I'm sure some of you are thinking that these are a bunch of boorish, outdated social conventions that went out with corsets and chaperoned dates. I'm sure some of your are wondering why hat etiquette should matter. I'll tell you. I think hat etiquette is important because it shows people that we care about and respect them. For you male readers, it's a great excuse to get complimented and catch someone's eye. For a lady hats can be flirtatious and provocative. Plus, learning manners where hats are concerned is a gateways to better manners all around... and couldn't the world use a bit more courtesy and kindness?

Nostalgically Yours

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