I have been reading about your hat controversy with interest and decided to write about the origins of hat etiquette.
In the medieval period, military men commonly wore headgear, and when they gethered in groups, they all removed their "hats" in deference to the king or chieftain, the only one who kept his crown or head covering on. It was considered worthy of punishment if one did not show this respect. In addition, knights who wore armor into battle or tournaments would life their helmet visors to show friendliness and trust to other warriors, perhaps laying the foundation for the tipping of hats later on.
Fashion evolved over the centuries, and in the Victorian period and into the early 20th century, hats became very popular with both men and women. Traditions continued, and men were expected to remove their hats indoors and in the presence of women. There were some exceptions, however. Men did not have to remove hats indoors if they were in a "public corridor resembling a public street"--like an elevator or Grand Central Station, for example--unless they were in the immediate presence of ladies. Men also removed their hats for the anthem of the flag, funeral processions, outdoor weddings, and for photographs. Men's hats were not worn in Christian churches, although men's head coverings were common in Jewish synagogues and some Moslem mosques. men always removed their hats for meals and tipped or removed their hats to acknowledge women.
Women did not have to remove their hats indoors, probably because of fashion. Their hats were much more difficult to remove due to ribbons, hat pins, and hair styles of the day. Today, with "unisex" hats like baseball caps, women are expected to follow the same etiquette rules as men because styles no longer hinder them.
It did not surprise me to read that removing one's hat today is considered "old fashioned." Just because we consider ourselves modern and more advanced doesn't mean tradition isn't worthy of recognizing--like using decent language in public, a man holding the door for a woman, respecting elderly people, wearing clothing that covers underclothes, using grammar that sounds educated, and not using cell phones or talking all the way through a concert or theatrical performance. I may be "old fashioned," but I think respect never goes out of style.
When I take my students out in public, I teach them to remove their hats in restaurants and the theater, the boys to allow the girls to get on and off the bus first, to say "please" and "thank you," to allow older people to go first in line, and shake hands with people who take the time to meet them. They grumble about it at first, but it is interesting to watch them stand a little taller and start to take pride in acting like grownups. It's also amazing to see their appreciation of each other change when they act with civility. I am glad they are open to at least trying tradition on for size.
I admit that it makes me smile when a man holds a door for me, and when my dinner companions remove their hats at the table. I appreciate their consideration--and being able to see their eyes when I talk to them. In our society, "anything goes," but my vote is for chivalry every time!
Thanks for the fun publication; I look forward to reading it each month.
--Cordially, Shelly Turk
Thank you for your well-researched and carefully thought-out letter. Since publishing my original editorial, I have been educated quite thoroughly on the history of headwear and the etiquette related to it.
Judging from several of the comments in your letter, however, I must not have explained myself adequately. Yes, I do wear my hat in bars and other indoor venues. But I do feel that I act like a grownup. I open doors for ladies, remove my hat in theaters, say "please" and "thank you," don't use my cellphone in theaters or concerts, doff my hat for the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem, use proper "educated grammar," and wear clothes that cover my underwear. I don't swear in front of the ladies (I rarely swear at all), and I consider myself to be respectful and chivalrous.
I respect your opinions and appreciate your letter, but please realize that the decision to wear a hat in 2010 is one of fashion and style, not lack of education, chivalry, or respect.
--Sincerely, Gary Robson, Editor
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