The very nice lady running my millinery course told me, ‘When dressing for an occasion, start with the hat’. There might be reason to what she said; after all, it is the first thing God sees when you leave the house.
In the olden days, hats were a matter of propriety. To step out naked on top was considered rather indecent. Now they are a matter of personal choice. I love the winter months when I can go out donning a hat and it would seem completely natural. In the summer, even the daintiest trilbies worn in town attract attention. And so it should. In a great hat, cheekbones are accentuated, bad hair is concealed and unfortunate face shapes are corrected.
General hat etiquette
As a rule, you cannot go wrong if you take off your hat once indoors. A gentleman always takes off his hat indoors when in the company of a lady. When in doubt, look around you and follow other people’s lead. Gentlemen must also remove their hats whenever a national anthem is played, even if it is not one’s own. Just think of the podium ceremonies in Formula 1.
Traditionally, women are not required to take off their hats when indoors. Any number of Downton Abbey episodes will show the ladies (apart from the hostess, who does not wear a hat in her own home) will keep their hats on all through luncheon and afternoon tea (see picture). That said, if your hat has a very wide brim, they should be removed when dining at a table or in the theatre lest you obstruct someone’s view.
Places of worship
Some places of worship require head coverings for visitors such as in mosques and Sikh temples. Do your research beforehand and observe these rules. It’s a good idea to pack a large scarf for this purpose when travelling.
Historically, Christian churches required women to wear hats or veils to worship. For that reason, women do not take their hats off in church, e.g. at a wedding. Men are required to take off their hats in churches.
How to take off your hat
The inside of the hat should not be seen. To take off your hat, hold the brim with both hands and lift from your head. Gentlemen might find it more natural to hold the top, but avoid doing so as this tends to ruin the shape, especially of fedoras. Place your hat on your lap, next to you, or give it to one of the staff for safekeeping. Never place it on the dining table.
Hats at weddings
Mother-of-the-bride hats, as they are known, are ubiquitous at weddings. These are the beautiful, elaborate numbers that cost as much as the dress one’s wearing. Don’t attempt to kiss in a wide-brimmed hat. It is best to wear the hat at a jaunty angle, thus leaving a clear run-up to a cheek (see photo below of Ms Denise Lewis, looking marvellous in her hat).
Hats at the races
Royal Ascot is all about fast horses and fancy hats. This year’s style guide has been released, and as ever, it reflects the pageantry of the event. Hats must be worn. For the ladies, a headpiece with a substantial base (at least 4’’ in diameter) may be worn as an alternative to a hat. Interestingly, fascinators are no longer permitted in the Royal Enclosure. Gentlemen must wear top hats in either black or grey. For the full style guide, visit the Royal Ascot website.
I read from a contentious source that “only the Pope wears a hat after 5 o’clock.” I thought, ‘Well, what does one wear at night?’ The answer dawned on me, tiaras, of course! Should the muses move me, I shall write a post on tiara etiquette.