By Jennifer Whitlock
Ah, spring. That glorious time of year when the temperature is a balmy 68 degrees and the sun’s rays gently caress you as you tilt your face lovingly up toward its warmth.
But we’re here in Texas, where that gentle interlude lasts about 48 hours. That’s IF we’re lucky. Then the weather shifts from warm to hot, the sun shines fiercely, and we need a little protection from UV rays.
Luckily for us, Texans are famous for the perfect sun-shading accessory—the cowboy hat. Timelessly stylish, pairs perfectly with boots and protects you from the deadly sun. Sign me up for two, please!
Although the felt hat came first, straw cowboy hats became a popular choice for cowboys of the American Southwest because they block the sun while providing some ventilation.
My grandpa (an actual cowboy) always warned me if I was going to wear a hat, I better know the rules. So let’s talk hat etiquette.
Don’t ever pick up someone else’s hat.
First things first. Picking up someone’s hat is considered rude, a bit like a stranger picking up a woman’s purse. Some hats are quite expensive, and besides, no one wants someone else’s grubby fingerprints all over their headgear.
So just don’t do it.
When meeting someone
It used to be that men would remove their hats when meeting a lady, holding it by the crown facing their heart and offer the opposite hand for a handshake. This is a mannerism that has somewhat fallen by the wayside, but many gentlemen still do it—and many ladies still appreciate it.
I’d also advise removing your hat when meeting your future in-laws or any other person you want to impress favorably for the first time. It makes a nice impression and shows you have good manners.
Another way to greet someone is with a tip of the hat. This ranges from lifting the hat off the head by the crown for a few moments as you walk or drive by to a light tug of the brim in acknowledgement.
Save the hat tip for casual instances. It’s not at all rude, just a less-formal gesture.
Inside a building
My grandpa’s rule was when you come inside, the hat comes off. If you’re old-school like him, always take it off when entering a building.
If you’re a bit more modern or casual, there are some occasions when hats may be worn inside, like at sale barns, some meetings, while shopping, inside a dance hall, that sort of thing. We’re more relaxed these days, and some of this is regional and some of this is personal preference.
Let the local customs be your guide. If everyone else is similarly topped, let it ride. If others are taking their hats off, perhaps you should do the same.
At a private home, follow the lead of your hosts. If the gentleman or lady of the house normally wears a hat and doesn’t have it on, follow suit.
But if you’re in a theater, church or courtroom, the hat should not be on your head. Period. Proceed with caution in other state or federal buildings. If it feels like maybe you shouldn’t be wearing it there, take it off and tuck it under your arm, with the crown facing away from you and the inside facing toward you.
Other indoor situations where the hat should be removed, no matter the building, include weddings, funerals, during the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, during prayer and while dining.
And while you’re eating, don’t lay your hat on the dinner table. Not only is it a social faux pas, you might spill something on it. Set your hat in an empty chair, or if possible, hang it up when you come in. Many eating establishments in Texas still maintain a hat rack somewhere near the entrance for this purpose.
The above rules still apply when enjoying the great outdoors, except while eating. It’s perfectly fine to dine al fresco with your hat firmly atop your head. How else will you keep the sun off your noggin?
Another time it’s highly appropriate to take off your hat while outside is when a funeral procession is passing. It’s considered a sign of respect for the bereaved to hold your hat over your heart as they pass by. While you may not see those folks again, trust me, they’ll most likely notice and appreciate your courtesy.
There you have it, folks: the basic commandments of wearing a cowboy hat. Things may have changed some since my grandpa’s day, but when in doubt, follow the highest form of etiquette and take off your hat. Good manners are never inappropriate, after all.
And for good measure, head on over here to see how to lay down a cowboy hat properly.
I tip my hat to you, fellow Texans!