The Etiquette Of Hats (For Men)

The giants, and also the midgets, of fashion are chirruping that “Hats are backs!” These fine people, who are ever discovering new ways of cladding themselves in black, are wrong. Hats never left us; hats never can leave us. But people can leave hats.

Do you really want to look like this?
Hipster hat

People can also return to hats. And returning they are—at such a fast rate that even Walmart now sells pre-pressed small-brimmed fedoras of the type favored by Williamsburg hipsters.

The Wall Street Journal is aware of the phenomenon and reported the lamentations of men who have begun to wear hats but don’t know how to do so properly.

Since the paper offered no advice on the etiquette, it falls to me to provide it, which comes in two parts: Kinds and Places.

The Kind Of Hat To Wear

  • Baseball caps are just the thing if one is playing baseball, golf, or some other sport in which it is necessary to shade one’s eyes without restraining the movement of one’s arms. They can be worn as a spectator to these events, though it is a cliché.

    Caps are also appropriate while piloting a tractor, building a deck, chatting up the lumberyard salesman, or other activities directly associated with labor. Otherwise, they should not be worn.

    If they are worn cocked at an absurd angle, inside out, or with the manufacturer’s sticker affixed, you will look like an idiot. Baseball cap

    Unless you are an employee of the organization, you should not, without compensation, wear caps emblazoned with a company logo. Jokes or “witty” slogans, such as “Old Fart”, should be avoided at all costs.

  • The main functions of a hat are twofold: to provide balance, and to weatherize your skull.
    • Balance The rules are simple: (1) the more clothes you have on, the thicker your silhouette, the wider the brim of the hat; and (2) the more formal the dress, the more formal the hat.

      If you wear a suit (which you should) over which is a raincoat or topcoat, at least wear a fedora, if not a homburg. The later can only be pulled off by older gentlemen or by ugly, swarthy, or fat men. If you have a baby face, are pretty, or are thin, stick to a fedora. Bowlers and derbies, at least in the States, are lost to history. However, they can be tried if you sport a thick moustache. Opera hats are as ancient as togas.

      Aim for this

      Beaver fur is preferred over rabbit or some other lesser creature. Beaver is more supple, sheds rain better, and is prettier. Without question, Borsalino makes the best, with Stetson a distant second. These hats are expensive, but with proper care, they will last a lifetime.

      Never be cheap in hat or shoes! It always tells.

      The rounder your face, the wider the brim of your hat can be. If, like me, you have a head shaped like it was pushed out by a constipated chicken, narrow brims are a necessity. These are more difficult to find, but do expend the effort. Crown height should be proportional to your physical height.

      Boaters can still be worn, but only by fifty-plus gentlemen wearing summer suits made of linen or seersucker. Everybody else should wear fedora- or Panama-shaped straw. These are also best for more elegant, jacketless summer wear. Hipster hats can be tried, but you run the risk of being mistaken for an Obama supporter or a person in need of a shower.

      Always elegant
      Fred Astaire

      Woven, wool or linen only, caps are fine in nearly all other cases. They are almost required if one is not wearing a jacket. But, please, no logos or other visible writing on the hat!

    • Weatherization
    • A baseball cap is a miserable device for preventing the rain from creeping down your neck, or in stopping the sun from blasting the same location. Hats have brims for a purpose. Exploit them.

      Wool, beaver especially, hats shed rain beautifully, and even retain their insulative qualities when saturated.

      Do not accept plastic imitation “straw.” It is cheap, and may even look OK, but they defeats themselves by trapping heat and moisture assiduously.

The Places A Hat May Be Worn

  • Hats may be worn everywhere out of doors, and at all times except for Spangled music, funerals and other religious services, or when on the flight line.
  • Outdoors, the farther a hat comes off your head when meeting a woman should be directly proportional to how beautiful you find her, or to how much respect you wish to accord.

    For stunning creatures, the hat must come off completely and should be lowered to waist level, held by both hands. For the earnest and unkempt females who accost you on the street with a “Do you have a minute for the environment?” your hat should remain firmly in place.

    With women you know well, unless she is in authority over you, the hat may remain on.

  • Hats may be worn indoors, but only when the “indoors” is an out-of-doors by another name; places such as train stations, airports, lobbies, malls, some public houses, and the like. Unless you are “under cover”, i.e. armed and in uniform, for all indoor locations, take off the hat. Yes, even you.

    This must be emphasized, because, as the WSJ reports it, many men new to hats find themselves “offended”—everyone is in a perpetual state of “outrage” these days—to learn they must remove their hat indoors.

    These young men have grown up believing too much in themselves. But they may also have been led astray by the likes of Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, who said, “[I]t is OK if a man is wearing a hat at a bar or a nightclub as part of his style.” Miss Post is wrong, of course, and is yet another example of Galtonian regression to the mean. She probably had in mind only the hipster hat, which is not so much a hat as it is a decoration, like a lip piercing.

  • A hat always works
    John Wayne
  • Take your hat off in restaurants, but hold on to it, unless you can be sure the coat check girl knows what to do with it. Most of these fair ladies haven’t any experience with head coverings, and will toss your hat onto a pile of coats, where it may be crushed. It is here, as it is in many milieu, wise to tip in advance. Five dollars is sufficient, with a “Would you please take good care of this?” If you don’t want to tip, don’t go out to eat.
  • If you do not want to remove your hat because it will expose your “messy hair,” consider a sex change operation: you will lead a happier life. Real men do not fret over their coiffes. Besides, if upon doffing your cap, you reveal a tangled mess, you probably need a bigger hat. Or a haircut.

Those who want to learn more can visit The Fedora Lounge, an excellent site for men’s classic style.

Update Cowboy hat etiquette (as asked by M Sittnick). These lids may be worn when working on a farm or ranch, when actually riding a horse, or when “walking the fence.” They can be worn with suits or in working clothes.

But if you are an accountant, college administrator, manager of any sort, or the kind of person who cannot identify a transmission, and you attempt to wear a cowboy hat into a working-man’s bar, you may end up in a fight. Which you will, deservedly, lose.


  1. A good article (a couple of typos that you might want to check).

    Some mention should be made regarding hats and cars. In the early ’60’s, as men stopped wearing fedoras, roof-lines on cars lowered permanently. You might also want to make mention of who can wear a cowboy hat, and when.

  2. John Galt

    Good morning, Mr. Briggs,

    I love the hat post. I’ve always called them tractor caps, not baseball caps. Then again, I bailed a lot of hay as a teenager. I work with the military, I don’t know how many times we’ve had to return to a bar or resturant to retrieve a forgotten hat.

  3. Bruce Foutch

    Mr. Briggs,

    You may not be aware of this, but the tradition of cowboy hats having both sides of their brims rolled was started to allow 3 to set abreast in the front seat of a pickup truck.


  4. Excellent and witty advice.

    For the permanent file, I’d add that pre-crushed straw cowboy hats finger you as some sort of hayseed hipster or redneck wanna-be, and are only appropriate for well-endowed young women in beer commercials. To whom I would always tip my hat, and offer to buy them a beer.

  5. Galt:

    After a year or so, a wise GI learns a trick or two about hats:

    (1) Avoid the wheel cap; it’s cumbersome and hot. So of course we wear them in parades, in the sun, in the summer.

    (2) Stow a soft cap on your person so you don’t lose it. A ball cap can fold into your left pants pocket or be stuffed bill-first into your waistband at your back. A flat garrison cap goes back end up under your belt in front on the right side, rank showing–unless you’re a hotshot and stick it under a shirt epaulet.

    (3) Keep an extra of each cap in your car, office, or kit. When the balloon goes up, you can get stressed enough to forget your ass, let alone that damn hat.

  6. Hilfy

    I’d love to see men come back to real hats (not caps) but not just as a fashion fad. My husband looks very handsome in just about any hat and I like to see him wear them.

  7. bob

    Thanks for the advice. One of my problems is that my head is huge, and I cannot wear one of those “one size fits all” baseball caps. Walmart and T J Maxx don’t seem to carry a selection of hats in my size (7 3/4).

    I would love to wear a straw hat here in the sunny environs of the south, but when I wore a Panama style a couple of years ago, a friend said I looked like a plantation owner. Of course I paid only ten bucks for it at T J Maxx.

    It looks like I will either have to pay more for hats, or give up the idea altogether.

    There is one thing. I am old enough to wear almost anything I like and to hell with everyone’s opinions.

  8. SteveBrooklineMA

    Very insightful! I tried to find a plain baseball cap recently, but gave up. They all seem to have corporate logos these days.

  9. Doug M

    Men who don’t take off their hats when they sit to eat really bother me.

    There is a shortage of places to hang hats. Offices, restaurants and bars have removed their hat stands.

    A baseball cap may be worn inside out after the 7th inning if your team is behind. You still look like an idiot, but that is the point.

    Never wear a cowboy hat if they haven’t been near a horse that day. For men, never straw. Women in straw cowboy hats are “woo girls.”

  10. gcb

    When did the myriad of hat sizes get rounded down to “small-medium-large-XL”? A properly-fitted hat is like an old friend, but more than 1/8 difference (in either direction) and it just doesn’t feel right to me after years of wearing a perfectly-sized hat (beret) for the Canadian military on a part-time basis.

  11. I studiously avoided commenting earlier expecting Briggs to rectify a major oversight – those that wear “modified” [not really real] baseball caps with the bills backwards, shading their napes. My suggested addition to the section re: caps: “If they are worn backwards you are an idiot”.

    The professor now needs to follow through on this topic by listing approved automobile makes and models appropriate for a man wearing a hat to comfortably enter and drive.

  12. Doug M

    A baseball cap may be worn backward if you are the catcher.

  13. stan


    Have you been paying attention to all the back and forth in the threads at Climate Audit and Lucia about stats?

  14. Bruce Foutch

    I retrieved my copy of ‘Clothes and the Man’ from the bookcase and here is what Alan Flusser has to say in the opening paragraph on hat etiquette, page 137:

    “…It used to be said that there was one sure way of spotting a true gentleman, and that was to observe the first thing he did when he entered a house. If he took off his hat, he was probably a gentleman; if he did not take his hat off, he was only pretending to be a gentleman; if he had no hat on his head in the first place, there was no gentleman about him, in fact or pretense.”

  15. j ferguson

    49erDweet has already identified a downside of one of the ways a baseball cap may be worn.

    Maybe 15 years ago, a retired British naval surgeon I met in Miami told me that baseball caps worn outside a ball park were called American IQ reducers overseas. The reduction was 25% bill forward and 50% bill aft.

    I suggested that the cap might be an indicator and have no causative effect. He conceded that there could be something to this, although he was loath to investigate further.

    “What about when worn inside a ball park?”

    ” No idea. I don’t know the game.”

    Caps with Caterpillar or John Deere printed on them can sometimes be difficult to come by unless you own “one.”

  16. j ferguson, love the Brits but when you see what some of them wear topside, such as the Trilby, the Tweed, the Bowler or the Baker Boy – and that’s not even calling into question the steering-wheeled sized uniform caps worn by everyone “covered” or “behind the wheel”, one needn’t pay too much attention to their assumptions of Yank IQ’s. Just nod and appear to agree with them and they will be harmless.
    For a goodly supply of tractor caps I recommend your friendly, neighborhood TSC, a store that would strongly appeal to Tim Allen’s TV character.

  17. Speaking of military uniform hats, is it only me or don’t the countries whose uniformed services seem to have the least freedoms and/or successful military exploits have the hats with the largest and “firmest” shaped over-sized rims?

  18. dearieme

    Our French teacher at school sported a beret. It went well with his goatee.

  19. j ferguson

    Always removing hat under roof; done so that I can say that I do at least one of the things my mother taught me.

  20. j ferguson

    Mr. Briggs,

    It may be old hat, but…..

    I wonder if you could hold forth on whether the statistical analyses of “Ensembles” of GCM models requires the commission of a statistical felony. Does the mean of a “group” of complex (multiple and possibly different components) guesses signify anything useful?

    It seems to me that because they are models, they lack the commonality of construction to support a meaningful mean (akk).

    I suggest that the mean of ensemble results is no more meaningful than would be the mean of satellite temperature series and GHCN.

    This topic is being pursued with some vigor at CA these last few days.

    It looks like sophistry to me, but I’m pretty ignorant.

  21. This article is not only informative, but also gave me a good giggle. I wish there had been a paragraph or two about choosing a hat that actually fits a man’s head. San Francisco is infested with hipsters who are wearing hats that would be more appropriate on a circus bear riding a unicycle.

    Also, if you are polite enough to remove your hat in a restaurant and do not wish to leave it with hat check, so not under any circumstances put it on the table. Not everyone is excited about dinning close to your dandruff and hair oil.

  22. Nik

    We are off to a wedding, I needed a good read and real information. Now, my family is down with the hat and proud to be seen with me in it.
    Good day.

  23. Steve

    I am 56. nearly bald and had a skin cancer removed from the crown of my scalp. I now have an ugly operation scar. I feel the eyes look when I am not in a hat. The comments i have read from some in this post are worrying. It is not always disrespectful to wear a hat inside. Because you don’t always know why the person has one on. To condemn anyone for such a minor and unrealistic assumption that people who wear hats inside are rude in some way is very wrong in my view.
    Who really cares? Tradition is not a justifiable reason to condemn anyone.
    I suggest we drop that rule and a few others based on tradition.

  24. terry

    It’s just a hat. Keeps the sun rain and snow off. Just wear it.

  25. Mark Gabryel

    Good afternoon, men. Out of curiosity, is it improper etiquette to have facial hair and wear a hat? Are there any proper and improper types of facial hair to have?

  26. Alon Jonson

    I agree with Steve. No one knows why you wear a hat and choose not to remove it. Who decided that stupid rule anyway? If men must take off their hats, women should remove their wigs and hair pieces, deal? Many men wear hats as apart of the style they are wearing, many are balled or the hair style has gone bad and or if your like me, by removing a hat my hair is messed up.
    In the event of a funeral or church service, knowing I’ll be inside, out respect will groom my hair and hold off from the hat until the service is over. This satisfies the critics, my hair is groomed and I can wear my hat after the service or event.

  27. The all-too-frequently worn ballcap DOES have an appropriate venue: the pistol range. Keeps hot brass from your 9mm from bouncing off your unprotected head and face.

  28. Stetson x3

    It seems to me that, in today’s modern-anything goes society, that you can basically do whatever you want. I doubt seriously that anyone would be offended if you have proper etiquette. However, some might be offended if you don’t. What I have a problem with is when a person’s etiquette goes out the window and then they expect everyone to be perfectly fine with it. Yes, you can wear a hat indoors but you should be man enough to acknowledge that someone might not agree with you. That doesn’t automatically make you right and them wrong, or visa-versa. For example, let’s say you have a job interview. It’s your dream job and it pays millions. You know the interviewer is a stickler for etiquette. Now what do you think about taking off your cap indoors? Basically, you can’t have it both ways.

  29. Brett

    As gentleman, we especially who are over 50, should exercise proper etiquette without getting legalistic about it. My wife likes my Fedora especially when donning a suit.

  30. Steve

    Etiquette was invented in the 1700s by a bigot. It was to show acceptable social behavior. However luckily it evolves over time and should always be questioned. Some things for example (Woman should wear gloves out side at all times. Lace gloves in summer months.) were to help stop the spread of Syphilis when greeting people with hand shaking kissing hands etc.
    Men wore wigs because Syphilis rife in the 17 and 1800s made your hair fall out. So it was made trendy etiquette to wear a wig.
    I can not and have not heard of any reason apart from It is traditional. Why a man should not wear the hat of his choice. Inside or out. Look the way he wishes to look without prejudice or harassment from people who seek to judge others on clothing and looks.
    I find virtually every inch of Mr Briggs Blog to be opinionated and blinkered.
    We should drop hat wearing from the realms of etiquette like we did with woman’s gloves and move on to more current etiquette issues like for example the correct use of mobile phones in society.

  31. Alon Jonson

    Thanks Steve. I totally and whole heartedly agree. Your comment is well taken. (Smiley face)

  32. Bill Bruni

    The purpose of any “etiquette” is to demonstrate an understanding of societal rules. The reason for these rules is to establish a social hierarchy of the “informed.” Period! These norms have little to do with alleged, pre Louis Catorz , anecdotal, unsubstantiated, pre antibiotic era disease prophylaxis. Rather an “etiquette “ is part of the social lubricant, including mutually acceptable language, that makes effective interpersonal communication possible.

    Those who rail against social norms covering everything from dress hat useage to hand shaking simply admit their ignorance of convention and wish to elevate that ignorance to a level of putative “style.”

    Oh please…….

  33. DDearborn


    Bill Bruni; what a fascinating post!

    The purpose of “etiquette”, like political correctness in general, is to demonstrate one’s subservience to and public acknowledgement of one’s place within a social hierarchy, and by extension, society as a whole. By virtue of its complete lack of originality and intolerance of individuality, rather than being part of the “social lubricant”, etiquette acts to stifle interpersonal communication. Such convention being less a means to an end than an end in of itself. Consequently, societal norms are nothing more than a yoke of oppression in the form of somebody else’s rules foisted on the masses.

    Those that refuse to rail against social norms established by those who claim to be “informed” will like all sheep, eventually submit to being shorn.

    “…elevate that ignorance to a level of putative style” Oh please……

    My advice the next time someone asks you to take off your hat in a social situation: tell them you will; right after they take of their pants…..

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