When Should a Gentleman Doff His Cap?

Sensible answers to the questions of modern manhood.
June 5 2013 1:38 PM

On Lid-Flipping

When should a gentleman doff his hat? And on what date should he switch straw for felt?

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson

Photo by Christina Paige

Please send your questions for publication to gentlemanscholarslate@gmail.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Gentleman Scholar,

Hats, thankfully, are back in, and I have an ever-growing collection of various styles and sizes (many vintage). When should one remove one's hat, and why?

Yours,

All Agog in Amsterdam

Dank u wel, dear reader, and check out this coincidence: The Gentleman Scholar last purchased a vintage hat while visiting your fair—or, OK—your partly cloudy city. It was a black rabbit-fur ushanka with the symbol of the Soviet Army stitched into its lining. He found it on the afternoon of Dec. 31, 2002, and lost it later that night not far from the Oude Kerk, after a purse-snatching gang decided to diversify its efforts. So here is one answer to your question: Remove your hat whenever walking through a red-light district on a night of ritual mayhem. Consider it a show of respect for local traditions of scoundrelism.

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The most complete elaborations of hat-removal etiquette are, like a Louis XIV tortoiseshell-veneer clock case, antique and baroque. The established protocol of doffing and tipping is largely obsolete. Consider, for instance, the directive (h/t Glenn O'Brien) to remove your hat when stopping on the sidewalk to talk to a female friend: What if you're wearing sunglasses? It is clearly more important and most respectful to lower the shades than to lift the lid, and to attempt both maneuvers at once while administering a bise and trying to do something about your hat head is manifestly ridiculous. Moreover, the old guides tend to waste ink on the nuances of removing a hat to acknowledge a superior. Now, that kind of thing might suit the temperament of our letter writer, who may feel obliged by accident of birth to bow before his king, but it looks like a load of haberdashery balderdash here in America, where the whole idea is that we pretend to be an egalitarian society. I have Friends who'll back me up on this: Thy need not defer to hierarchal ideas of "hat honor."

The best reason to remove your hat while out of doors is to show reverence for the symbols of a country that guarantees its citizens the freedom to look down on anyone at any time. Americans should always remove their hats for the playing of the national anthem and for ritualized displays of the flag.

The best reason to remove your hat while indoors is that you are indoors, duh. The general rule is that you should take your hat off while you are inhabiting any room designed for people to sit comfortably and stay a while. Off the top of my head, I can conceive of 10 major elaborations on this principle.

  1. You should remove your hat when at a dining table, especially in a private home or while being waited upon.
  2. You may disregard rule No. 1 if you are a college undergraduate, particularly if the hat in question is a dirty white baseball cap worn backward, and most especially if the hat advertises the school’s lacrosse team.
  3. You may disregard rule No. 1 if you are seated outside at brunch, but only after giving careful consideration to the temperament of your companions, the tone of the establishment, the angle of the sun’s glare, the size of your bald spot, and the intensity of your hangover.
  4. You should note that rule No. 1 regards sitting at a table. If you are seated at a diner counter or at a bar, standards are looser.
  5. You may leave your hat on while seated at any indoors athletic event, but use discretion in choosing the right style for the occasion. A porkpie hat suits a boxing match well; a beer helmet at a gymnastics meet, less so.
  6. You should remove your hat while seated for an evening of theater, or any other entertainment, such as a political debate or town-hall forum.
  7. You may leave your hat on in a nightclub, especially if you are kind of a douchebag.
  8. You may leave your hat on whenever you like if it is an immaculately clean Stetson in very good condition, but only if you know how to rope a calf.
  9. You may not wear a yachting cap inside of a yacht club unless the commodore of the club temporarily designates a portion of the indoors as “outdoors” for the express limited purpose of effecting a ceremonial exchange of salutes.
  10.  You may disregard rule 9 if you are not wearing a shirt, but only on a Village People theme night.

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