Friday, July 1, 2011


Chapter 21
Hat-deficient folks today make up the bulk of Western society. By and large, they fall into two camps. The first camp don't wear hats, ever. For whatever reason, they are irrationally hatophobic. Even when the situation demands a hat, they, like David Beckham at the royal wedding, would prefer to stand outside in the sun, awkwardly holding their hat, than deign to let headwear block their coif from view. The second camp wear a single piece of headwear with disturbing regularity, even when it doesn't make any sort of sense; whether it be a baseball cap to church, a knit toboggan in the middle of summer, or a head-scarf...well, ever.

Both groups of people, even though they manifest different symptoms, have similar psychological hangups: the obsessive not-hat-wearing, and the obsessive always-hat-wearing, are both loathe to change their ways. Just as one will never wear a hat, the other will never take it off. These people need to address a greater issue before they can be truly well-dressed, and that is a situation between themselves and their psychiatrists; I do not have the time nor the patience to deal with such hangups in this venue.

The balance, of course, and as always, is right in the middle. Hopefully it is where you live your life: the take-it-or-leave-it middle of the road non-obsessive, who desires to dress properly, and understands it will take changes in your habits and customs occasionally. To be well-dressed includes being hatted, but here lieth the minefield: to merely plunk on a hat at the beginning of the day, and take it off at the end, is a much worse offense than simply not wearing a hat at all.

Just as there is not one proper hat for all occasions, (and in fact you should have a variety of hats for different seasons, weather conditions, and degrees of formality,) there are myriad rules for when to wear your hat during the day, and when to remove it. You should remove and replace your hat many, many times during your average day. Should you watch any vintage film, it is apparent that men used to know these rules, until following them became nearly an unconscious act, and if you're not familiar with them, it can be frankly befuddling.

There are books, websites, and blogs galore that attempt to make the arcane art of hat-removal accessible to modern men. Most of them are lists of dos and don'ts, with exceptions, and exceptions to the exceptions. It usually starts with "wear a hat outdoors, don't wear one indoors," and goes on from there. The indoor/outdoor matrix, I think, somewhat misses the point, however. A much more logical starting place is based upon the premise of public/private spaces.

If you want an easy-to-remember rule to guide you with your hat-wearing, here's the cornerstone on which to hang your hat (pardon the pun:) You have the option to wear your hat in public spaces. Doff it in private spaces. Everything else you need to know is just elaboration upon this thesis.

Always wear your hat outdoors works, simply because "outdoors" is nearly always a public space.

A private space is defined as "cash or key:" a place where people live, work, or pay a price to enter. More simply -- it's any space that is not a public space.

Some examples of how this works:

A house is a private space, but the entryway, foyer, or vestibule just inside the front door is considered public. This goes back to the history of great houses, when the butler greeted guests at the door and took their coats and hats.

A church is a private space; it is after all "God's house."

An apartment is a private space; but the lobby, corridors, and parking areas of the apartment building are public.

A hotel lobby, check-in, and corridors are public. The rooms of course are private, but the areas only open to guests (gyms, pools, game rooms, lounges, etc.) are private spaces as well. 

In an office building, lobbies and corridors are public. Offices are private space. The area of a cubicle farm is all private, not just the cubicles themselves. (In other words, the area is treated as one large office.)

In a doctor's office, if there is a separate reception area it is public, but the waiting area is private (the concept here is that you have paid for the doctor's services by this point.)

A hospital building is treated as all private beyond the main entry; this goes back to the days when hospitals were run by the Church.

Any club that requires dues of its members, i.e. not open to the public, is treated as a private residence.

A theater is private space, since you pay for a ticket. If you buy the ticket in the lobby, the lobby is public, since anyone can enter. If you buy the ticket outside and then enter, the lobby is private as well, since presumably you cannot enter without a ticket.

An outdoor stadium sporting event, even though a private ticketed venue, is still treated as public, by virtue of its being al fresco -- unless it's in a domed stadium. Then it's hat's-off.

Get it? With a little bit of brainpower, it's very easy to figure out hats-on or hats-off, without memorizing a bunch of rules. There are a couple of oddball situations that aren't intuitive, since their origins are in antiquity. The "foyer rule" is an example of this. The other examples:

An elevator is a private space, even when the corridors are public. This goes back to a concept that you are in the elevator operator's "office." Human operators are long gone, but the tradition remains.

A restaurant is a public space, but when you are seated at your table, your table becomes a private space, as you are paying for being there. The bar, however, remains public, even if you are sitting and drinking.

If you are in motion, your hat remains on, whether the transport be public, private, enclosed, open, indoor, or outdoor. This harkens back to the days when transport was basically all done outside: walking, horseback, or open carriage. Today, we have planes, trains, automobiles, moving sidewalks and tramways, trolleycars and cable lifts; but the old way persists, despite new technology.

And that's all there is to it. With the public/private model, you have everything you need to cultivate proper hatiquette, but we still need to touch on the foundation of why we do these things. Uncovering the head is a sign of deference, subservience, or reverence going back to the beginning of time. In private spaces, it is a concession of intrusion into another's domain, a show of gratitude for favor, or a foment of intimacy among equals: in each case, it is an unconscious symbol that one has let down one's guard and has endorsed a non-threatening behavior. It has at its root a common genetic behavior among not just men, but many animals as well.

Behold mine neck, wilt thou
loppeth it from mine noggin asunder?
This brings us to the old tradition of tipping the it of any use today, or just a musty anachronism? Bowing or genuflecting is a hard-wired animal behavior, that physically puts oneself at a lower level than another, and displays oneself in a vulnerable way whilst diverting one's eyes. Anyone who has a cat or a dog is aware of this behavior: it's a familiar stance in the animal kingdom. In Men, to bow deeply from the waist was the accepted affectation for millennia: removing one's hat was necessary to prevent it from hitting the floor.

I would bow, but I fear my
collar prevents it.
As bowing became less extreme through the nineteenth century, removal of the hat became less necessary, but was performed anyway. By the twentieth century, the bow was curtailed to a nod of the head and a slight lift of the hat, and the hat-tip was born. Social changes in the West made broad class distinctions among men inconsequential, and hat tipping was reserved for women.

A bit more subtle than
Mr. Kadiddlehopper here.
Here in the twenty-first century, not just class, but gender distinctions, are increasingly unimportant. Refinements such as removing your hat when talking to a woman on the street, can today be inexplicably seen as sexist. Taking the deconstructed hat-tip to the modern day, when greeting a women while wearing a hat, a subtle touch of the brim is sufficient. It is enough to be selectively appreciated or ignored as needed. And never tip your hat to another man: it was traditionally an insult, the equivalent of calling him a girl.

An automatic hat tipper, for when
your hands are occupied.
Yes, it was that important.
Hats are selectively removed at certain instances where your hat would otherwise remain on, most notably at outdoor sporting events. This causes some men undue consternation, but it need not be so. Just remember that removing the hat is a sign of deference, subservience, or reverence. A prayer is directed at God, as is a hymn, so it is obviously a hat's-off moment. In the U.S., the Pledge of Allegiance is a prayer to the State, and the National Anthem is a hymn to the State, and is accorded the same reverence as is given to God. Your mileage may vary according to your particular country, of course, but this guideline will do for most.

Dressing like a grownup, as we are continuing to see, extends beyond simply what you wear. It's how you wear it, and what you do with it: not merely a stiff mannequin who stands static like a fashion plate, as many are wont to do. Start making mental notes of public/private transitions, even when you are hatless. Practice, and more practice, will make a man who will effortlessly doff his top without thinking, without self-consciously drawing attention to his actions.

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  1. Very educational Bill. The link to Allen Edmonds is a nice touch. After reading, I removed my "Park Avenues" and treated them to an even higher gloss shine. Salvatore Ferragamo also makes a nice cap toed derby. Great stuff you have here.

  2. Mr. Thompson,

    Can you please give specific guidance as to doffing in stores: grocery, hardware, specialty, etc.? I judge them to be public spaces because anyone can enter and no one is obliged to buy anything, for example, "window shopping." So I surmise that one leaves one's hat on in those places, right? Thank you for your patience.

  3. Kelvin,

    You are perfectly right, in both your judgement and your reasoning: stores are public spaces. The only exception is if you are given personal attention from a salesperson, in which case the "restaurant rule" would apply -- you create a bubble of private space within a public area.

    In, say, a high-end shoe store, where you are attended personally throughout the process, you can consider the salesman's presence as his "office space."

    In a grocery store scenario, where you walk the aisles alone and fill your own cart, the experience is public from beginning to end, including check-out.

    And a hardware or convenience store is public, even though you may be given assistance "across the counter." Behind a counter is office space, in front of it is public. (This is, incidentally, also why at a restaurant, sitting at the bar is public, while sitting at a table is private!)

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify the "counter rule."

  4. Thank you sir! This information is something that needs spread far and wide. It is upsetting to me to see so many people who have forgotten what manners are. I hope and pray that you will not mind me sharing this on my Facebook page. Maybe, with the help of your information, I can educate someone.

  5. Thanks for the great info. A couple more points, doff your hat if you walk closely past a war memorial and also as a hearse carrying a coffin goes past.