Tag Archives: Downton Abbey

Query: Edwardian hat etiquette

Dear EtiKate
In Victorian and Edwardian times, would hats ever been worn in the house by residents or visitors?  Also, did ladies put on their hats in their bedrooms or by the front door?
-Alison via Ask Dear EtiKate

Dear Alison and Readers

Hats and Edwardian etiquette are two of my very favourite topics. “Every hat should serve a purpose,” I once read, and I try to live by this. I am not an authority on Victorian hat etiquette, but since they were the forerunners of the Edwardians, in the interest of brevity, let us accept that the latter followed the rules of the former.

In the Edwardian times, hats would be worn indoors by callers but not by the residents or house guests. A lady would put on a hat when she leaves for town, and will not take it off again until she gets back. I had previously written a piece that briefly touches on this.

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.

I have a book called An Edwardian Season by John S. Goodall; purchased on a whim from a secondhand bookshop in Cambridge. It contains very little prose, but it’s filled with pictures that render everything that’s enchanting of that vanished age. Below is a photo taken from the book; it is a detail from the picture called “Calling”. We can see clearly identify the lady of the manor- she’s the one in green, NOT wearing a hat.

image

“Calling” from the book An Edwardian Season by John S. Goodall.

Ladies would put on their hats in their room (with the assistance of a maid for those who have one at their employ) and not at the front door. This is because their hair is styled to suit the hat they will wear, and this is done at the dressing table.

Similarly, ladies would go to their rooms to take off their hats. Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary declared, ‘I’m going upstairs to take off my hat,’ thereby excusing herself from a potentially awkward conversation. This was met by looks of understanding; But of course one takes off their hat upstairs,’ I hear you whisper. Perhaps everyone should start wearing hats again, if only to have a suitable excuse to leave dull conversations.

The most “Downton” line ever?

Thank you for getting in touch,
EtiKate

We would be delighted to answer all your etiquette-related questions. Send your queries, worries and dilemmas on our Ask Dear EtiKate section. Alternatively, you can get in touch via Twitter.

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Her Ladyship’s Guide to Modern Manners

Greys Court

Greys Court

Not long ago, my friend Ella took me to visit Greys Court. It is a splendid Tudor country house, now in the care of the National Trust. At the time, we did not realise that the house appeared in the TV show Downton Abbey as Downton Place, the secondary property of the Crawley Family. The place was not advertised thus. In my opinion, the beauty of the the house and the surrounding Chiltern Hills are enough to draw visitors, us being a case in point.

After afternoon tea, we wandered into the gift shop. They had a book called Her Ladyship’s Guide to Modern Manners. I already had a copy of course, purchased many years ago. Seeing the book in the shop made me realise I have not written a book review in some months. So this lengthy preface was to explain the inspiration for today’s post. Now on to the book review!

Her Ladyship's Guide to Modern Manners by Lucy Gray

Her Ladyship’s Guide to Modern Manners by Lucy Gray

This is one of the more formal books on etiquette and manners I have in my library. There are no illustrations or photos in the book. Her Ladyship’s writing is unembellished and with just a touch of humour. The rules of etiquette are serious matters after all.

The first part of the book posts and answers questions such as ‘who decides what good manners are?’ (short answer: we as a society all do). The book distinguishes rules of etiquette from good manners.
Her Ladyship explains that rules of etiquette, the formal practices that are expected in more ceremonial occasions such as weddings were put in place to help bind a certain social group together- in this case, the aristocratic class. In these days of modernity, some of the rules of etiquette from the outdated aristocratic system has carried over into good manners, what some would call ‘natural politeness’.

wpid-img_20140505_221027.jpg

In Her Ladyship we trust.

My favourite part of the book is the chapter of Rites of passage. It cover births, weddings and funerals (also known as hatches, matches and dispatches). These are the events that mark our progress through life and are always formal in some sense as it helps to make these occasions special. Her Ladyship offers her advice both for the celebrants and guests. She writes, ‘If you’re the one getting married, do makes sure your answers can be heard. It’s not a private moment as much as a public declaration.’ Altogether, this is an excellent book on manners and decorum. It is written with authority and invokes trust from its readers.

Hat etiquette

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.

Photo credit: fashionmaverickblog

Photo credit: fashionmaverickblog

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.

Lady Violet hosts Lady Rosamund and Lady Mary for afternoon tea. The guests wear hats. Photo credit downtonabbeycooks.com

Lady Violet hosts Lady Rosamund and Lady Mary for afternoon tea. The guests wear hats. Photo credit downtonabbeycooks.com

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.

Ladies kept their hats on in Westminster Abbey at the wedding of HRH Prince William and the former Miss Kate Middleton.

Ladies kept their hats on at the wedding of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

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.

Photo credit comptonhouseoffashion.co.uk

Photo credit comptonhouseoffashion.co.uk

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).

Olympian Denise Lewis OBE at last year's Royal Ascot

Olympian Denise Lewis OBE at last year’s Royal Ascot Photo credit: getreading.co.uk

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.