Home Articles Menu

Valid HTML 4.01 Valid CSS!

Evil Swede's Guide to Proper Hat Etiquette



I think it is important for the younger generations to be familiar with what many now consider to be "by-gone" traditions of civility. If kids are going to live outside the conventions of proper etiquette, at least they should know they may be offending people and/or showing disrespect and a lack of self-respect in the process.

If they are doing it out of contempt, that is fine.. it is akin to refusing to shake someone's hand when they offer it. If they are doing it out of ignorance, that reflects poorly on their upbringing and makes them look foolish, inept and uneducated. It would be like not knowing what a handshake was and recoiling or looking at someone oddly when they offered their hand because you didn't know how to respond (like a caveman would maybe?).

It's a matter of history..

The "tipping" or removal of a hat is said to have originated from the same place as the military salute. Knights would lift the visor (face guard) on their helm, showing their face as a sign of respect and their empty hand as an indication they meant no harm. This tradition evolved into the modern military salute. Similarly, the removal of a helm (helmet) or other headgear indoors and as a sign of respect or reverence is said to have originated before the Dark Ages. This tradition was carried on throughout the centuries by men of arms (soldiers) and nobility, as well as their staff, servants and slaves. After the Dark Ages, manners and etiquette grew to become an essential part of everyday life and the conventions of hat etiquette became ingrained in civilized culture.

It's a matter of culture..

Up until the late 1940's and early 1950's, hats were worn by gentlemen, particularly outdoors. It was considered "bad manners" for a gentleman or a lady to be seen outdoors without proper headgear. Pompador hair styles and popular icon of the time, such as Tony Curtis and Elvis Presley had a significant impact on the decline of hat wearing in the US. President Kennedy was the first U.S. President to be seen outdoors without a hat and from the 1960's on, the use of hats declined considerably. According to the Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette there are many accepted traditions concerning proper rituals that should be adhered to by gentlemen while wearing a hat. In the 1800's, hat etiquette was strictly followed and thus became second nature to gentlemen in Victorian times. Being that the frequent (or nearly constant) wearing of hats is a tradition of a by-gone era, it is important that those choosing to reenact that era be particularly aware of the proper rules of conduct that should be demonstrated by the wearer.

The Rules..

There are two degrees of politeness demonstrated by a gentleman wearing a hat:

  1. Lifting or tipping it, which you generally do for strangers.
  2. Taking it off, which you generally do for friends (or in some cases, as a sign of patriotism or reverence).

Both are done as a sign of respect toward the other and dignity toward oneself.

Tipping your hat is a conventional gesture, done by barely lifting it off your head with your right hand (or the left hand if the right hand is occupied): By the crown of a soft hat, or the brim of a stiff one. Your cigarette, pipe or cigar should always be taken out of your mouth before removing or tipping your hat. This is a subtle gesture that should not be confused with bowing.

A man takes off his hat outdoors (and indoors):

  1. when he is being introduced to someone, or when saying goodbye to a woman, elder, friend or ;
  2. as a greeting when passing someone he knows, particularly a lady, on the street (In some cases, tipping or lifting a hat and bowing slightly may be used as a substitute for removing a hat, as a passing gesture);
  3. while talking, particularly with a woman, an older man, or a clergyman;
  4. while the National Anthem is being played, or the American Flag is passing;
  5. at a funeral or in the presence of a passing funeral procession,
  6. when speaking to another of a virtuous woman or a dearly departed loved one.

A man tips or lifts his hat:

  1. when walking with a friend who passes a woman only the friend knows;
  2. any time a lady who is a stranger thanks you for some service or assistance;
  3. any time you excuse yourself to a woman stranger, such as if you accidentally disturb or jostle her in a crowd, or when you ask for pardon when passing in a tight space or when forced to walk between two people that are conversing, particularly if one is a woman;
  4. any time a stranger shows courtesy to a woman you are accompanying, such as when a man or woman picks up something she has dropped, or a man opens a door for her or gives her his seat;
  5. when you ask a woman (or an elderly man) for directions.

Indoors, a man should always remove his hat, (particularly in a home, church, courtroom or restaurant) except:

  1. in some public buildings or public places such as railroad stations or post offices;
  2. in the main parlor area of a saloon or general store;
  3. or while seated at the "lunch counter" of a diner or cafe;
  4. in entrance halls and corridors of office buildings, or hotels;
  5. in elevators of public or office buildings, unless a woman is present;
  6. if carrying packages, parcels or bags and both hands are occupied upon entry.
  7. If the man is an actor or performer and the hat is being worn as a part of a costume or performance.

If in doubt, it is best for a gentleman to remove his hat indoors as soon as practical.

It is considered a sign of contempt and/or disrespect to leave your hat on when it would be proper to remove it. It is surprising how many people do not remove their hats for the National Anthem or a passing funeral procession.. a shame really.

The question has been posed, "What is a man to do with his hat when he removes it?"

I have not found any rule specifying where or how the hat is to be held (except for rules governing military personnel). Common sense dictates that if it is removed and will remain off while conversing, it could be held in your "off hand", keeping one hand free to shake hands, open doors or lend a hand at stairs or steps. In cases where it is removed for the National Anthem or at a funeral (or procession), it is generally removed by the left hand and held at your side, or more often, removed by the right hand and held against your chest.

I can tell by your hat.. you're a Cowboy!

A significant part of the sport/hobby of CAS is appreciation for the traditions of past generations. I hope that many of you will find this helpful and would be grateful if you (yes, you!) personally considered making an effort to "set an example" while passing on these traditions to the next generation of cowboys... whether they wear a hat of quality fur felt while participating in CAS events, or wear a modern baseball cap in their daily pursuits. Respect and good manners are not only "the cowboy way" but, are a part of our history and culture that we are slowly losing!

Please distribute or reproduce this column freely, please reference or link directly to it at

top of page