I was in west Texas, in a town organized by my great grandparents, for a funeral of a relative. Uncle Benny, in his eighties now, a rancher/farmer, saw me and my wife. When she came near to meet him, he removed his old black cattleman's hat, bowed slightly and put out his hand, as he said: "Nice to meet you mam." His eyes never left hers as she glowed with delight. It was charming, elegant and she was simply astonished at what a respectful and beautiful gesture it was. She told me that if he had been 50 years younger, she would have surely have been tempted by a man who knew how to charm and respect a woman with such a simple gesture. Sometimes a "hat" can win a woman, and strangely, 70% of our population today doesn't have a hat to "doff". Neither do they know how to wear one with style and in good taste. The old ranchers and cowboys knew how powerful a symbol and tool that a hat was. They believed, rightly, that a hat told of pride, social status, character and intent.
Seeing how lovely such a gesture could be, I looked around at the funeral and 60% or 70% were wearing western large brimmed hats. But these were not city "wanna be's" these were real cattlemen and real farmers born of the land. Even though I come from west Texas, most of my life has been in the business world of Wall Street, and in banks and board rooms all over the country. I determined that it was time to learn hat etiquette, how to wear one, where to wear a hat, and when to "Doff and Don" at hat. Let me tell you, wearing a good hat, in the proper way, with a look that matches your head and your attitude, is a fun, and powerful thing.
With millions of young people wearing the fedora's and many more out west trying to be 'cowboys' perhaps it is time to learn how to do it properly and with style. To "Don" (put on) a hat, or "Doff" (take off) a hat is simple. To do it with style is something else.
A FEW POINTERS FOR WEARING A HAT:
- Never take a hat off by the brim, always pick it up by the crown.
- Never throw a hat onto a bed, the ancient symbol suggests that you are claiming that bed for yours.
- A hat suggests pride in appearance. When you remove a hat "to a man" you are saying: "I bow to you and humbly respect you and am pleased to be in your presence"
- The longer you keep your hat off, the more respect you show. For example with a king or ruler, you would keep your hat off the entire time.
- To "Tip or Doff your hat to a woman" you take the crown off with your left (your unclean hand) hand, and reach out with your right hand to shake her hand. You keep the hat off the entire conversation with a woman.
- Never hold your hat so that a person see's inside of it. In the old days, precious papers might be in the lining, but you don't want someone to see your sweat.
- In ancient Rome, to remove your helmet meant that you were not at war with the person. To hold out your hand, showed that you were not holding a sword or weapon.
- Wear a hat outdoors for shelter from the sun and weather. Hats were originally made for outdoors, for work in the barnyard or out in harsh nature. Hats should never be worn in a room, where you respect the people or place. If you are seen wearing a hat in a resturant, for example, you are saying, "This place is no different than my barnyard". For example you would always remove your hat in a church, a nice office, a restaurant. You might keep it on in a bar, or a dirty cafe.
- Never wear a hat in a theater, movie, museum, library or place of artistic creativity and art.
- Doff your hat at a funeral, to a passing dignitary, and don your hat when you are leaving, ready to be serious and get down to business!
- Wear a hat slanted back to show casual, happy go lucky attitude. Wear it slanted at an angle to one side, to indicate a spry attitude or mischief.
- Wear it level, "square and low" just over your eyes when you are intent.
- Wear it straight to show honesty and integrity.
- Pull it down tight if you have a battle ahead and you are ready for any challenge.
- Always sit a hat upside down on it's crown, so it can "air out" and the brim keep it's shape.
- "Tip" is a simple gesture with your 'right' hand, to touch the brim or slightly lift your hat, as if to acknowledge another person. (Similar to nodding at someone in passing)
- Cattlemen in the west consider it rude for a man to tip his hat to another man, yet believe it is a gesture of polite respectful acknowledgement to a woman. But the removal of the hat and bowing slightly while reaching out to shake her hand and looking into her eyes, is the ultimate in respect and admiration from a man to a woman. Removal of your hat to a man is to show your humble attitude and honor, total attention and respect to the person you are doffing your hat.
- My grandfather wore a "Stetson 25" which was made of beaver felt and those handmade hats were often treated with chemicals such as cyanide or formaldehyde to waterproof them and make the hats keep their shapes. The phrase "Mad as a Hatter" came because of the fumes of the chemicals that caused brain damage when steaming hats. In the 1960's dangerous chemicals were banned in hatmaking for that reason. Now days your hat maker is not necessarily crazy, although I find most "hatters" to be of good spirit and insight into the price and ego of humanity.
- When a prayer is said, or a national anthem played, or a holy book read, remove the hat by the crown and hold it over your heart. It is a touching and can be a moving sight, to see a man stand tall holding his hat over his heart.
- Whether you have a small Fedora for the city, or a light weight Panama Hat made in Ecuador for the hot sun or a Stetson rancher's hat made in the USA for sun, rain and weather, a hat is very personal and communicates powerfully. My "Hatter" is Peter's Brothers, in Ft.Worth. This family of hatters has made hats for almost a century now and anytime I engage in another important life endeavor, I buy a new hat and have them shape and crease it to give the right image. My look is MY look. An old cowboy who has a sweat stained hat, will fight someone who tries to take it, because that sweat represents his life, his work and character. And like a good pair of boots, the longer a person wears a hat, the more it conforms to his body. They become comfortable together.
- In these days of skin cancer and harsh unpredictable weather, hats make more health sense than ever. Whether it is protection from the wind, snow, hail, or sun, a hat can do the job. A hat retains 80% of body heat for the head on a cold day.
- Or if you just wish to really "sweep a woman away", practice the smooth motion of removing your hat with your left hand, slightly bowing, as you reach out your hand gently and say: "Pleased to meet you mam." From that moment keep that hat off and give her your full and affectionate attention. Alas, she could become yours.
- Actresses have long known the power of a hat to attract a man. If you wonder about this, just watch a beautiful woman sitting in a corner, as she tips her hat to a fellow across the room. She will not be sitting alone very long.
- It has been said that a true gentleman of the West, would not ever share his Hat, his Horse, his Gun or his Woman (not necessarily in that order). If you consider it, all four of those became familiar and comfortable with time together, and all were important to survival of that lifestyle.
- I have seen good quality hats used to hold drinking water, for man and horse. I have seen them used to cover the eyes for a nap. Hats have been used for protection, for style, for honor, to bless or insult another person, and to stay alive in a hail storm or hot desert. Hats have been used for signaling, for dancing, for slapping a horse into a gallop, as a fan on a hot day, and as a decoy on a stick to be shot at in a battlefield.
To all of you who appreciate and value traditions and subtilty of appearance, "My hat is off to you!"