Tradition firmly states that gentlemen should remove their hats when indoors. But have times changed? We called in Peter Bonventre and John Jannuzzi to save us from impending embarrassment.
Off the top of my head, I’d highly recommend clinging to a simple rule: Never wear a hat indoors. Ok, there are a few exceptions; you can keep your hat on in an elevator or an airport or maybe even a sports bar. Still, going hatless indoors is an accepted form of male etiquette that’s been observed for…well, way before any of us were born. No big deal. When you were a kid and happened to sit at the dinner table with your ball cap on, your mom very likely told you to take it off (probably even added a stern “this instant”). Didn’t leave any lingering emotional scars, did it? And if you grew up Catholic back in the day and were spotted wearing a hat in church by a quick-draw Sister of Mercy, you likely got a slap upside your head. Didn’t leave any lingering concussive effects, did it?
Now, if you’re wondering why you should care about adhering to such a benign social custom, just imagine dining in an elegant restaurant and at the next table is seated a middle-aged husband and wife or a twentysomething rocker and his slinky girlfriend. In either case, the man is eating with his hat on—fedora, beret, ball cap, whatever. Are you going to tell me that wouldn’t look weird to you? What’s more, I’d bet my mortgage the guy isn’t merely a rude dude; he’s an asshole and the woman he’s with knows it.
Come to think of it, there is one guy I would’ve granted an all-access indoor pass: Frank Sinatra. Man, nobody wore a hat like him. He favored snap-brims in expensive black or gray felt, and palmettos and straws with pastel bands, and often wore them in piano bars and at recording sessions. According to Bill Zehme in his delightful The Way You Wear Your Hat, in the ‘50s and ‘60s Sinatra appeared “behatted” on 33 album covers! Wrote Zehme: “The hat was his crown, cocked askew, as defiant as he was.”
In closing, allow me to leave you with two pieces of advice: a) never wear a cowboy hat—unless you find yourself herding cattle somewhere in the Texas Panhandle, and b) never, ever wear one of those god-awful, green-plastic derbies on St. Patrick’s Day. Being so drunk you can’t remember where you live is no excuse.
My grandfather used to say that wearing a hat indoors implies that you were afraid the roof was going to fall on your head. And, presumably because the stability of our host’s home or business was none of our business, we were taught to remove our hats when inside.
Most members of my grandfather’s generation agreed. But things change. And matters of etiquette are often bent or broken altogether in the name of style, evolution, preference (or even outright defiance). So does the hat rule still stand up?
Working in a creative office, there are a lot of people who wear their hats indoors regularly. For these people, the hat completes their “look” and you cannot mess with a creative person’s “look” – lest you suffer their impending, passive aggressive Twitter wrath. These individuals should be let be.
As for me, I think it’s okay to keep your hat on in certain situations, but you have to judge each carefully. For example, I wouldn’t wear a hat in a meeting with my company Chairman, in a more formal office (read: where folks are decked out in suits and polished shoes), seated at a decent restaurant or duh – when the National Anthem is playing. But in a casual bar, or coffee shop with friends? Green light. My grandfather would surely disapprove. But if the roof does indeed fall on your head, you’ll have much bigger problems than a baseball cap.
The next time you find yourself wondering if your headgear of choice is appropriate, just look around. Are other people wearing hats? Is everyone older than you (and possibly giving you dirty looks)? Are you standing in a space that could be considered a construction site? When presented with even a sliver of doubt as to the appropriateness of your hat, take it off. You can never be sure who is watching.