It’s not everyday that you find yourself discussing the nitty-gritty of hat etiquette. However, there are moments when it becomes relevant, such as when you’re about to walk into a wedding or when you’re attending a religious service. While etiquette in general has evolved greatly over the course of generations and has become much more fluid than rigid in recent years, many of the rules are still observed today, especially in the South, no matter if they’re tweaked to fit a modern situation.

The History of Hat Etiquette

For instance, hat etiquette is still widely upheld. Etiquette stickler or not, it can be helpful to know the basics before breaking out the wide-brim. Firstly, manners around headwear go back many, many years. According to the Emily Post Institute, many trace it back to medieval times when knights would remove their helmets to identify themselves, as well as to demonstrate respect.

What Is Hat Etiquette for Men?

Historically, men’s hat etiquette has designated that all hats should be removed upon entering indoors, which includes houses of worship (unless customary otherwise, like at Jewish synagogues), public buildings, and private homes, especially at mealtimes. Exceptions include when attending indoor athletic events, taking public transportation, or traversing public thoroughfare spaces such as airports, hotel lobbies, and elevators.

CROP Kentucky Derby Porch Party

What is Hat Etiquette for Women?

Historically, women’s hat etiquette has designated that dress hats are allowed to be kept on indoors, including at someone’s home, during a religious service, and at weddings, except when blocking anyone’s view. “It is always acceptable for women to wear a dress hat indoors! It’s considered an accessory specific to their outfit, as opposed to an accessory in general such as men’s hats,” says Ilana Kogan, the owner and milliner behind Louisville, Kentucky’s The Hat Doctor and the featured milliner of the Kentucky Derby Museum. “Women are encouraged to wear hats for luncheons, celebratory events including horse racing events, and to church. The only women’s hats that should be removed indoors are ones that are worn for warmth, rain protection and, at times, sun protection, depending on its silhouette.”

Of course, there are exceptions to this general rule, which is rooted in demonstrating common courtesy towards those around you: “Though dress hats may be worn for seated dining events, it is customary to remove them at non-table seated events such as plays, shows, and in movie theaters so as not to obstruct the view from the person seated behind you,” notes Kogan. Otherwise, show off your beautiful head-to-toe look and personality with pride!”

What Is the Etiquette for Hats in Church?

Hat etiquette also has roots in Christianity, as it’s long been considered customary for men to remove their hats upon entering a church. As we all know, however, church hats are a historic tradition for women to wear in the South. Per church hat etiquette, women are allowed to keep their dress hats on in church, unless blocking anyone’s view during a wedding or baptism. The more you know!

Should You Remove Your Hat for the National Anthem?

Additionally, there are rules put forth by the U.S. Flag Code. For example, men—not including those in military service uniform—are supposed to remove all hats during the National Anthem, as well as during the pledge of allegiance. Women are not required to remove dress hats, though baseball hats should be removed regardless of gender. The same goes for when a United States flag passes by during a parade. The U.S. Flag Code is not upheld by law, but is rather an advisory.

Is It Okay to Wear Hats While Running Errands?

While etiquette die-hards may claim that there’s no indoor space where a baseball cap is appropriate, Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, allows for a little flexibility: “Some people are sticklers to the hat rule, while others are not offended when someone wears a hat when they run to Costco or the grocery store.” She says it’s acceptable to wear a baseball cap for these kinds of casual, everyday occasions, like running errands, going to the car wash, or grocery shopping.

The Final Verdict

All in all, hat etiquette comes down to what some view as proper or polite, but just as with any other etiquette discussion, these hat rules can be subjective in different situations and depending on different people, cultures, and beliefs. There’s at least one thing Emily Post could never deny: Hats are always welcome at the Kentucky Derby. The bigger, the better.