I’ve always liked wearing hats, from my teenage interest in fedoras, to my current standard of a wool trilby in winter, and a raffia trilby or floppy sun hat in summer.
Recently, hats have made a big comeback in the fashion world. There seems to be a “hats are back” article in the New York Times every few months or so, and yesterday’s article on how the big fashion designers are embracing hats in their new collections seemed to seal the deal, at least in Guy Trebay’s mind. (As is often the case, the big designers are now acknowledging a trend that’s been happening in the street/ad hoc fashion scene for years.)
As a result of this growing popularity, a lot of people are wearing hats who’ve never thought about proper hat etiquette. It’s been a few generations since hats were in wide use, so the tradition of how, when, and where to wear a hat on one’s head has been lost to the sands of time.
I sought out some references for proper hat etiquette, but what I found was either a very traditional explanation or a somewhat insubstantial take on how it could work today. Along the way I realized that I have developed a pretty solid sense of modern hat etiquette. So I spooled it out a bit and this is what I came up with.
First off, we need to keep in mind that I’m talking about men’s hats here (fedoras, pork pies, trilbys, etc) but nowadays, those hats are being worn by both men and women. Hat etiquette used to be divided down gender lines, as women’s hats were often pinned to their elaborate hair arrangements, and thus hard to remove or replace. But for a modern hat etiquette to work, I think it needs to apply equally to men and women who are wearing (traditionally) men’s hats in public.
The main issues with hat etiquette are 1) when to take them off and 2) how to tip or remove your hat to greet another person.
For some reason, I have an innate sense of when to take off your hat or leave it on. I must have had a good Victorian Fiction teacher in high school or something. It’s deeply embedded in my mind.
My basic rule is, if you are in transit, leave the hat on. If you’re stopping or sitting or staying for a while, take it off. Given that many public places do not have proper hat racks or hat storage, there are a lot of exceptions and strategies to keep in mind, too.
For example, if you’re sitting at a restaurant, coffee shop, or lunch counter, remove your hat if at all possible. Please. (Sorry, Dad.) The exception, though, is that in a crowded or busy spot, there may not be a clean or secure place to put your hat. So be flexible (and I will too).
If you’re on a bus or train, my thinking is that whether you wear your hat or not depends on whether you’re standing or sitting, and for how long. If you’re standing, leave it on (obviously, as there’d be nowhere to put it). If you’re sitting for a while and can comfortably stash your hat (i.e. on a train from Portland to Seattle), take it off. In between are a lot of situations that will require case-by-case decision-making.
As to where or what to do with your hat in a small café or restaurant, I’ve seen (but not yet tried) a little tool called the Purse Butler. This doohickey is designed to hold your purse while you sit at a table. The idea is that it’ll keep your bag off the floor, and away from potential theft. It looks like it could hold a narrow-brimmed hat, or certainly a cap.
Saving that, I have become fairly proficient at scouting out coat racks and hooks in cafés and restaurants. But if the only option is to set the hat on a table crowded with drinks and food, I just leave it on.
As for how and when to tip your hat to another person, or remove it as a form of courtesy, I don’t have such an innate sense of this. I often think, moments too late, that I just missed an opportunity to tip my hat to someone. Maybe someday it’ll be ingrained enough for me to actually carpe sombrero! Until then, you ladies will have to put up with this coarse fellow.
Speaking of ladies and coarse fellows, the other difficulty I have with the tipping-hat business is that it is so starkly gender-based and power-structure based. Traditionally, men are to tip their hat when greeting women, or remove the hat when stopping to converse. A man should also remove his hat when greeting or speaking to a superior. I feel blessed that I live in a time, place, and community that blurs (or dispenses with) those values of gender and power structure, but it makes traditional hat-tipping a bit confusing and hard to apply.
I do try to remove my hat when stopping to converse, as to me this is the same as stopping for a meal or sitting on a train. It is a pause in the movement of the day, and removing your hat acknowledges that. There’s a sense here that the hat accompanies movement, and I like that. It’s almost as if we become hat-powered (!). Perhaps this is one reason why many hats have an aerodynamic or winged look to them.
Removing your hat in conversation also makes it easier for your companion to see your eyes, and judge your trustworthiness (this is why we should endeavor to remove our sunglasses in conversation also). Many apparently arcane bits of etiquette developed as ways to make judgments about our fellow citizens in a world that was becoming increasingly anonymous . . . a need that persists in modern times.
As I said, I often forget to tip my hat as a form of greeting, but it seems to me that it is a practice similar to holding the door for another person (of either gender); it’s a way of subtly greeting and acknowledging someone. I like the idea of it, but I need to work on the execution. The art of hat etiquette is so lost that I couldn’t even find any instructional videos on YouTube. This begs the question, if you can’t find it on YouTube, does it really exist?
At this point you may be asking yourself why you’re reading about hat etiquette on Vélocouture. One answer is that I am trying to include more writing about personal style on this blog, regardless of whether it specifically relates to bicycle transportation or not. After all, personal style is personal style, on the bike or off. Another answer, though, is that hats look great on a bike. And since this is Vélocouture, after all, here are some photos of pedal-powered hat-wearers from the Vélocouture group. A tip of the hat to all of them for their dashing style!
Photo by Flickr user Mikael Colville-Andersen in Copenhagen
Photo by Flickr user Cycle Chic Malmö/Lund in Malmö, Sweden
Photo by Flickr user cleverchimp near Portland, Oregon
Photo by Flickr user -Caryl in Los Angeles
Photo by Flickr user poetas in Portland, Oregon
Photo by Flickr user Dapper Lad Cycles in Seattle
Photo by Flickr user henry in a’dam in Amsterdam
Photo by Flickr user phil_dag in Lyon, France