March 17, 2012

Style Etiquette: Hats Off!


Style is more than just the clothes that we wear, but also how we wear them. Being well dressed doesn't do very much good if your behavior is rude and uncouth. Part of being a gentleman is taking the formulaic rules of etiquette and adapting those that still carry relevance in the modern world. It is not about putting on airs or showing your superior upbringing or class, but simply about being polite and considerate to everyone you interact with on a daily basis.

I wanted to start this series based on the number of questions I've gotten from readers about various aspects of etiquette and manners as it pertains to style. To start off, I thought I would cover the question that I get asked most (in one form or another).

Unless you regularly attend afternoon tea at the St. Regis, knowing the proper placement of your spoon or the correct way to stir in your milk will probably be of little use. But what about knowing the proper instances to take off your hat? With the resurgence of turn-of-the-century inspiration in menswear, classic hats, like the fedora and driving cap, are making a comeback, but often without the accompanying knowledge that men had as recently as 40 years ago.

There are many differing views on when you should and should not wear a hat. These can generally be attributed to different combinations of the author's time period, location, and social upbringing. The nice thing about making etiquette a part of your daily life, is that it is a personal choice aimed at betterment, not a rigid system of rules imposed by society, so you can decide what is applicable to you and your life. You don't have to remove your hat when greeting or in conversation with a woman, but it can be a nice gesture if done naturally and sincerely.

Generally, for men, there is one guiding principle for when to remove your hat. It is simply that you should remove, of doff, your hat anytime you enter a private space. Now this is pretty straightforward for private interactions - when you enter someone's home, office, or apartment, take off the hat. When talking about public interactions, such as shopping or dining, it can be a little more difficult to differentiate between what is considered a 'private' space.

Some people remove their hats any time they enter a building regardless of the type of establishment. It is really about what feels appropriate to you in each situation you encounter. For myself, I consider shopping malls and the lobbies of hotels and office buildings to be public places. For example, in a large mall I will often leave my hat on while walking through, but once I enter a store the hat comes off. Alternately, when entering a large museum or gallery, I will immediately remove my hat because the ambiance is deserving of it.

This leads me to my next point, which are the instances when it is always proper to remove your hat. Many of these are quite logical, growing out of a natural display of respect, and were ingrained in us as children, but I am constantly shocked by the amount of times when hats (usually ball caps) are left on in these circumstances. I will list them briefly, parenthesizing any necessary explanation – during the singing of the National Anthem, as the flag passes as part of a procession or parade, during a funeral service (graveside or otherwise), when meeting or conversing with a dignitary or other person of importance or someone with seniority (age, rank, or otherwise), and during religious services (unless the hat is a yarmulke and it is a Jewish service).

The ‘how’ of removing your hat is much less complicated. If the hat has a firm crown, you should pinch at the crown and lift up and forward. If it is a soft-crowned hat (such as a newsboy or ball cap), you should hold it by the brim when removing it. With any type of hat, it is proper to keep the inside from showing by either holding it towards your body or down to the ground.

Though it may seem tricky, many of the rules for wearing a hat become second nature very quickly and following them helps set you apart both in style and carriage.

As always, email me with any questions you may have regarding this or other matters of style.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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