Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hat Etiquette in the Post-modern Age

The Wall Street Journal recently had an article discussing hat etiquette in today's world. If you think about it, guys nowadays either don't know hat etiquette at all or have an outdated view of hat etiquette. Let's face it, hat etiquette hasn't changed since the Golden Era but the rest of the world has.


Discovering Hats, a New Generation Brims With Anxiety Over Etiquette
Old Rules Flummox Young Hipsters; 'I'm Wearing an $80 Fedora!'


Hector Ramirez sort of knows, from watching old movies, that men are supposed to take off their hats when indoors. But the 19-year-old Brown University student wears fedoras in class—with jeans—anyway.

"If I'm wearing a hat and it's part of my look, I don't think I should have to take it off," he says. On a recent trip to New York, an usher at a church had to remind him to take off his fedora. "I was wearing it all day and I guess I kind of just forgot I had it on."

Inspired by designer runway shows, celebrities such as Justin Timberlake and even, in some cases, old pictures of Frank Sinatra, more young men are going mad for hats. But the hat renaissance is creating a quandary for a generation of men and boys who grew up without learning hat-wearing etiquette from their fathers. Many are making up their own rules about when and where to take them off.

The trend may be old hat to hipsters in areas like Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who started wearing fedoras, rounded derby hats and, in warmer weather, straw hats, more than two years ago. But now hats are starting to catch on among some men in suburbs, the Midwest and beyond. Gap and J. Crew say they have witnessed strong hat sales this spring and summer while department stores like Barneys New York have been expanding their assortments after years of general indifference to hats. Sales of designer-brand "blocked" hats such as fedoras and straw hats in particular "are definitely robust," says Jay Bell, a vice president at Barneys.

It's a bittersweet turn of events for hatmakers, who witnessed their business fall off a cliff in the 1960s, when legions of men abandoned wearing hats.

Many companies are no longer around to see the current revival. The number of manufacturers of fur-felt hats, wool-felt hats and hat forms in the U.S. totaled 185 in 1947, according to the Census Bureau. Now there are only three big hatmakers in the U.S. making fur-felt hats and wool-felt hats, says Jack Lambert, a former vice president of the Headwear Association.

Just 20% of hats sold in the U.S. are made in the U.S versus 90% in the 1940s, estimates Mr. Lambert, who is vice president of headwear company Dorfman Pacific.
In the 1930s, '40s, and parts of the '50s, a man wasn't considered fully dressed unless he had a hat on. But by the 1960s, hat wearing fell off, partly as a result of longer hairstyles, cars with lower roofs and resistance from some World War II vets who didn't want to wear things on their heads after wearing helmets for so long.

John F. Kennedy's habit of not wearing a hat was seen as the final blow for hat wearing.

Today, confusion over the rules of hat wearing is leading to some awkward situations.
Eric Soler of Hackensack, N.J., took offense when he tried to enter a bar in Hoboken recently with a fedora atop his head, only to be told there was a no-hat policy.
"It just floored me," says the 38-year-old. "I said 'I'm not wearing a baseball cap or a ski hat, I'm wearing an $80 fedora!' He grudgingly obliged and held the hat in his hand all night.

The fashion trend has prompted some rethinking of indoor hat etiquette at the Emily Post Institute. Spokeswoman Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, says it is now OK if a man is wearing a hat at a bar or nightclub as part of his style. "In that kind of situation, I'd feel cool with it," she says.

But when being introduced to someone, "that's when I'd remove the hat or maybe tilt it back a little so the brim isn't in your eyes and the person can see your face," she says. "It really comes down to people like making eye contact during an introduction and a hat can sometimes block that."

Several students at Lycee International de Los Angeles in Los Angeles started wearing pageboy hats and fedoras to school in the past year. When reminded of the school's dress code barring hats in the building, some students became defensive about why they should be allowed to keep them on.

"Responses range from complaints that their hair is messed up, that it is part of their outfit, it doesn't affect their work, et cetera…" says Sarah Davis-Weyman, an elementary English teacher at the school's Los Feliz campus. "Most of the time, the kids rush to put their hats back on for recess and lunch."

Sometimes, students are in too much of a rush. Harper Rubin recalls getting into a little "incident" with Ms. Davis-Weyman, who reprimanded him when he put on his hat in the hall as students were lining up to go outside.

"I didn't totally agree with that," says the 11-year-old, who admits he made a big deal out of it. "I know you take your hat off inside but I didn't think it went that far," he says.

Other guys base decisions on whether to remove their hats on how classy a joint is. Luis Quaresma, of San Jose, Calif., who likes wearing fedoras, says "If I'm going for fast food, I'll leave it on. If I'm having a nice sit-down dinner, I'll take it off." When out at a party or club, the 30-year-old says, "I don't take my hat off unless girls want me to take it off."

Some younger men do follow the traditional rules of indoor hat etiquette but it isn't always appreciated. "It came back crushed," recalls 30-year-old Vasabjit Banerjee, of the fedora he turned over to the coat check at a restaurant a little over a year ago.

The general decline in hat wearing led to the demise of proper hat racks in restaurants and bars. Mr. Banerjee, who lives in Bloomington, Ind., says he now puts his hats on a chair beside him or on the table when in restaurants.



~Tessa~Scoffs said...

Thanks for this link. I have my sons remove their hats when we enter someone's house or a restaurant (and church, obviously). It's kinda hard to explain to them why all the "grown ups" are still wearing theirs.

Titus said...

It might also have been worthwhile to note that this is what those little clips on the back of pews in old churches are for: they're hat clips.

garofit said...

what a fantastic post! it's been really interesting reading this.

Horatio said...

You always take off your hat inside a building, except in those areas that can be considered public, such as a hotel lobby, or an elevator. You're supposed to take it off if a lady gets on the elevator, but if the choice is between a crushed hat and violating a rule that only I know about, I choose the latter.

You take off your hat when being introduced to a lady, but just tip it, or even just touch the brim, to a man. Men used to start fights with other men who doffed their hats to them! (It was an insult to be treated like a woman, doncha know.)

At a restaurant, you take off your hat if you sit a table, but may leave it on if you sit at the counter. I guess it comes from counters not having places to put one's hat.

Of course, you always, always, always take off your hat in church--unless you're a clueless moron. As much as I wanted to say something, I was so upset that I couldn't even talk to the buffoon who was wearing his d-bag hat in my church a couple months ago.

And of course, women's hat rules are different. They can even keep them on in church!

angyl_roper said...

Hat wearing etiquette seems to differ from country to country as well, though the same basic rules appear to apply. I remove my hat if I'm planning to stay indoors, say at a restaurant or as a guest at someone's house, much the same as I would my overcoat. A nod of the head or a touch of the index finger to the brim of a hat is a polite way of saying thank you, if accompanied with a smile, to a stranger. My biggest problem is restaurants, many of which have nowhere for me to put my coat, let alone my hat, and I find myself balancing whatever headwear I have on whatever pot plant or furniture is nearest my table.

Hats are an important element to any ensemble, they, like footwear, can make or break it and can be used to adjust how formal or informal you wish to appear to others. I'm glad to see them come back, but I'm sad to see so many people treat formal hats as informal items.

Venturian said...

Young men who serve in the Military learn hat etiquette. It varies little from that practiced by civilians (or that should be practiced).

Greg said...

I think these arbitrary rules (that no one even remembers) are very STUPID. The young students are perfectly right. A hat is a part of your attire and should not be removed especially for archaic and irrelevant reasons.

One pragmatic reason for keeping your hat on is that hats and styled hair, especially curly hair, do not play well together. Wearing a hat is likely to result in a messy head which you'll be forced to expose according to these etiquette rules. Another commenter already cited reasons such as there being nowhere to put your hat after removing it whereas you have a perfectly fine head on which belongs!

Honestly, I wish people wouldn't give so much credence to outdated traditions. My solution is to not wear hats since it doesn't make sense to remove it at my destination where I'll be spending most of my time.

Will said...

Greg, tradition is what gives us identity. I'll agree that some old rules can be overly outdated, but others should be followed. Tradition is a foundation to build upon and adds character to any otherwise characterless society.

I've never had problems with my hats messing with my hair.

Pico said...

Each genration establishes it's own character and set of traditons that suit its lifestyle and trends.There was a time when denims were worn strictly for work int he factories and farms. Now they a worn together with a jacket and are considered acceptable. Hats generally are fashion accessory, that's it. Let's not take it too seriously,and as a fashion accessory, one, especially the male, (since we are so limited as far as donning a hat. women are encouraged to wear hats during high teas and churches)should be able to wear a hat as a part of his outfit and therefore may keep it on. Baseball caps belong to a ball game, parks and casual wear. Again as part of casual fashion statement and sun protection.

QEFWET said...

While I think I know most of the hat etiquette, I too am sometimes puzzled where the rules come from. Many of them seem very arbitrary, e.g. that - as Horatio said - you can leave the hat on if you sit at the counter (which this 1942 oil painting shows it was custom) but not at the table. Yes, somtimes you won't have a place to put the hat, but this is also true for tables.

I think the slow death of hat etiquette may be attributed to the shift of our attitudes towards hats. While in the past, when basically anyone wore headwear, hats were regarded as practical things. Now that hats are rare, we seem them purely as fashion items (as I do), so many people don't fully understand why it's bad etiquette to leave such a beautiful thing on the head.

Etiquettes are not monotonously degrading either. For example in the past decade, it became unacceptable to smoke in restaurants and even bars in many countries. The men of the Golden Era would be very unpleasant people to have around in a restaurant by today's standards.

Etiquettes change with time. IMHO, it is important for serious hat-wearers to know classic etiquette, but also take them with a grain of salt.

Olle Jonsson said...

I had just bought a new, very fine hat outside Rome, and later checked it in at the wardrobe of a quite excellent art museum. Came back crushed. I had not expected that from a quite archaic and fancy museum in Italy.

I like donning my hat upon exiting a building. A good feeling.


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