Say it with Your Hat!



Pamela Perry Blaine

© March 2005





A friend of mine has a large collection of hats.  He has everything from a

lady’s Victorian hat with a plume to a Mexican sombrero.  He sometimes

uses his hats in skits, keeping us all laughing.  With the switch of a cowboy

hat to a bonnet his voice would change from a low John Wayne drawl to the

feminine lash fluttering voice of a young lady.  Although his skits were very

entertaining, he used the hats to make a point and to teach good moral

values and principles.  He also taught children how to “say it with your hat”.


There was a time when hats were more important than they seem to be now.   

Just mention the name of Davy Crockett or Minnie Pearl and a certain kind

 of hat will come to mind.  Hats used to be worn by almost everyone.  They

 were worn for warmth in the winter and to keep the hot sun off in the summer.

 Women sometimes wore hats for beauty and fashion.  There were milliner

stores that offered hats of different shapes and sizes, complete with

feathers, ribbons, and frills.


There were specific hats worn according to a person’s occupation and

sometimes even their status or social significance in life could be determined

 from the hat that they wore.  There was even an old saying, “If you want to get

ahead and be noticed, get a hat!”


Hats are a way of dressing the head, like a crown, and a method of giving

significance to an individual.  Nearly everyone likes the idea of wearing a

crown.  We read of royal occasions in foreign countries but we only need look

as far as our local festivals, school homecomings, or simply attend a wedding

 to see a bride come down the aisle wearing a tiara at the top of her veil.   


We are all familiar with a variety of hats worn according to a person’s

profession.  We have the hard hats of construction workers, the fireman’s

hat, the policeman’s hat, and the chef’s hat that we still see used at times

today.  However, there are some hats that we only see in old photographs. 

For instance, nurses on duty used to wear hats.  You would be able to tell

at a glance which nurse was in authority by the stripe on the hat.  Even a small

child who couldn’t yet read would know who people were by the hat that they

wore.  Some professions had “capping” ceremonies that have now gone by

the wayside for more convenient ways of handling ceremonies. Yet,

ceremonies can be very important, much like a rite of passage.  The ceremony,

itself, signifies the seriousness of the position being earned that sometimes

 took years of study.  There was a certain solemnity to the occasion for

 not everyone earns the right to wear the hat. 


The wearing of a hat in some time periods became a sign of culture and

civilized living.  Etiquette and custom became extremely important.  Some

etiquette articles said it was disgraceful to leave the house without a hat and

gloves.  I read one account of a lady who was reprimanded for venturing outside

to mail a letter without wearing her hat and it seems the mailbox was only a

few feet from her front door! 


Although some customs were rather ridiculous, there are some good things

that have been lost with the passing of time and the elimination of some of our

hats.  The way we handled a hat had a lot to do with manners, respect, and

common courtesy.  Thoughts and intentions could be expressed by the way

a hat was used without a word being spoken…you could “say it with your hat!”


For men, there is the removal and there is the “tipping” of the hat that is a

sign of respect or courtesy.  It is said that the idea of tipping originated from

as far back as the knights in armor who would lift their visors to show their

faces to indicate that they meant no harm.  It is believed that the military

salute evolved from this tradition.  Also, when knights came indoors, they

would remove their helm or headgear as a sign of respect or reverence.


One hat that we are all familiar with is the cowboy hat that has a lot of history. 

It is a high crowned and wide brimmed hat that has many uses.  In the old west

it might be used for shade or for a water bucket but it was one of the most

personal of belongings to the cowboy.  The number one rule was:

“NEVER touch a cowboy’s hat without first asking permission.”


Hat etiquette is important enough that we should be teaching it to each

new generation of young Americans so that they will know how to

 “say it with your hat”, and grow up to be courteous and mannerly.


 Some of these rules are:


Men should remove their hats when:


        The National Anthem is being played, or the American Flag is passing

 whether indoors or outdoors.

        At a funeral or in the presence of a passing funeral procession.

         Outdoor weddings, dedications, etc.

        In the presence of a lady, an older man, or clergyman

        When being introduced to someone or saying good-bye to someone.

        At other times when giving honor is appropriate such as speaking

of a departed loved one.

        A man should always remove his hat indoors, particularly in

a home, church, courtroom, or restaurant.  The only exclusions are

places similar to public streets such as lobbies, hallways, or

 places where the hat is part of an actor’s costume.

        A man can use the removal of his hat as a means of flirting by

 removing it with a more grand gesture or flourish.


A Man should tip or lift his hat:


         As a greeting when passing someone on the street that

he knows, especially a woman.

        Anytime he shows a courtesy to a woman, such as when

a woman thanks a man for his assistance or when a man is

forced to walk between her and others in a crowded place.

       When he asks a woman or elderly man for directions.

        Anytime a stranger shows him or a woman he is with

a courtesy of some kind.


Women need to remove their hats if they are wearing a rain hat or a hat

that is being worn for warmth and then the hat should come off when

they come indoors.  The only other time that a woman should remove her

hat is if she is dressed in a men's style of clothing (jeans, slacks, etc.) and

if she is wearing a man's style hat or cap.  In this case, it would be

considered good manners for her to remove her hat for

the National Anthem or a passing funeral procession. 


Women do not generally remove their hats because they are normally part

of an outfit and decorative in nature.  Also, in times past, women wore hats

that were pinned, tied, or somehow anchored to them.  Also, remember

that many of these customs and courtesies came about in the time of

knights and ladies when chivalry was alive and well.  Perhaps it isn’t

too late to recover some of that gallantry as we teach the

younger generation how to “say it with your hat”.





Pamela Perry Blaine

© March 2005