Hat Etiquette: The Definitive Guide

The rules of hat etiquette for men (and women) might have changed over time, but they still exist. By looking at the history of men’s fashion, you will understand both what the original intent behind hat etiquette was and why it is still a relevant tradition to uphold.

Hat Etiquette History

Hats have been an integral part of fashion and high society for decades. Have you ever wondered why men tip their hats?

Here’s why, plus when it is appropriate to do so in modern times.

Donning and Doffing Hats

First, here’s a brief lesson in terminology.

When a gentleman “dons” his hat to leave or “doffs” his hat to greet a lady, his actions are being described by two British colloquialisms that come from contractions of the phrases “do on” meaning “to do”, and the Middle English “doffen”, which became “don off” meaning “to do off.”

Men Still Tip Their Hats – What It Means

Have you ever seen old movies where a man lifted his hat slightly when greeting a lady? This is called tipping the hat, and it is still known as good manners today.

Young man In pinstripe suit, tipping his hat as a sign of respect or greeting.
Young Man In Pinstripe Suit and Hat. Tipping his hat.

This hat tipping custom has the same origin as military saluting, which all stems from medieval knights.  These knights wore face visors as protective gear for battle but would tilt them open to show friendliness.

Men tip their hats (aka doff their hats) by slightly lifting it off their forehead when meeting or greeting a lady.

Hat etiquette dictates that a gentleman removes his hat completely if he stops to talk with her.

You can also tip your hat to communicate the following messages to either a male or female nonverbally:

  • Thank you
  • Excuse me
  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • You’re welcome
  • How do you do
Gentleman tipping his hat at a lady

Why did men wear hats all the time?

Hats are worn much less now, but at the turn of the 20th century, all adults wore hats whenever they left the house.

It was considered a matter of good personal hygiene since hats offered protection from industrial dirt.

In modern times, the vast majority of us no longer live or work in these conditions.  Hat wearing is more for fashion than protection these days, although it can still offer excellent shade from the sun.

Hat Etiquette Rules

Let’s talk more about the current hat etiquette rules. There are still some important rules all men should follow if they want to display good manners.

When To Remove Hats

There are a few proper times and places where you should remove your hat. Some of these rules have practical reasons while some others are steeped in history and have been cemented in place as traditional manners.

Additionally, some of the best practices surrounding when to remove hats are seen as a way to show honor or a sign of respect.

Gentlemen should always remove their hats in these situations:

  • When indoors – this started decades ago as a way to remove filthy hats when coming inside the house
  • While eating  – it was considered thoughtful to take off a dirty hat when sitting down to eat
  • During the national anthem – as a sign of respect
  • When passing the flag
  • During funeral processions
  • Inside Christian churches
  • At outdoor weddings
  • At dedications
  • During photographs

How to Hold Removed Hats

Believe it or not, there is a correct way to hold a hat you have taken off for one of the above reasons. Removed hats should be held in your hand in a way that only the outside of the hat is seen. The lining should never be visible.

Head Coverings in Places of Worship

The hat etiquette is different depending on which religion and place of worship you are at. Here is a breakdown of the main types and expectations.

  • Christian Churches – men’s hats are always removed, but it is acceptable for women to wear hats or headscarves
  • Muslim Mosques and Sikh Temples – head coverings are required for both men and women
  • Jewish Synagogues – men are required to cover their heads but only married women wear hats or scarves

The Custom of Head Coverings in Jewish Synagogues

The married women in a synagogue wear hats or scarves representing a display of her increased modesty towards those other than her own husband.

For men, the small, round skullcap worn is called “yarmulke” in Yiddish. The wearing of the yarmulke is a reminder of humility before God and a mark of respect in a Jewish congregation.

It is also seen as an outward symbol of recognition of something greater above oneself, which is why many male Jews wear a head covering whenever they are awake, with the exception of bathing and swimming.

Hats in Christian Churches

It is acceptable for women to wear hats in Christian churches, (it was once required, but the custom has all but disappeared) but disrespectful for men to wear them.

Hat Etiquette in Lobbies and Elevators

Yes, there are some best practices surrounding when to wear hats indoors in buildings, and when to remove them.

Hats are removed when inside, except for places that are akin to public streets, like lobbies, corridors, and crowded elevators (non-residential).

In a public building where there are no apartments, the elevator is considered a public area.

You may choose to remove your hat in a public elevator, but in the presence of a lady, your hat must be removed.

A gentleman takes off his hat and holds it in his hand when a lady enters the elevator in any building that can be classified as a dwelling, such as an apartment, house or hotel. He may then place it back on again in the corridor.

When Should a Woman Remove Her Hat?

A woman may leave her hat on indoors or during the playing of The National Anthem unless it is considered unisex like a baseball cap. 

When wearing such a unisex cap, a woman should follow the same guidelines as for men.

Hat etiquette for women. Young woman wearing hat.
Hat etiquette rules for women differ from men.

Why Are Hat Etiquette Rules Different for Men and Women?

Wondering why the rules are different for women and men? It may have to do with the difference in the styles of men’s and women’s hats.

Men’s hats are easily removed, but traditional women’s hats with ribbons, bows, flowers and other decorations can be quite a production to remove, especially if they’re anchored with hatpins.

Women might also risk ruffling up their hairdos if they had to remove their hats.

There’s one hat rule for women that hasn’t changed through the ages, however. A lady should never wear brimmed hats after 5 PM, a fashion rule that developed because she didn’t need a brim after sunset.

Now men and women alike can wear their hat with confident style—correctly.

— Andy Gilchrist

For additional hat etiquette references, you’ll find some great information in the following articles:

For more style tip articles, be sure to check out our Men’s Style Tips category.

Have a question about hat etiquette, or wondering what type of hat to wear with a particular outfit? Feel free to ask your question in our Fashion Forum and get some great advice from our style experts!