The quick answer to whether you can wear your hat indoors is almost certainly: Sure, why not? Do you, bruh. But let’s probe this question with a less laissez-faire approach. What does society writ large have to say about the uncouthness of the indoor hat-wearer?
First, it should be noted that, according to Esquire Middle East, hat wearing reached its peak from the end of the 19th century to the end of the 1920s, when the practice began to decline. As for why the decline, it had to do with fewer convertible cars and more roofs in general. “The most popular attributed cause is the rise of closed cars and other transportation,” the magazine reports. “As covered cars became more popular, the necessity for a hat diminished. With low roofs meaning you couldn’t wear a hat while driving and generally had no need to cover your head anyway, personal transport often negated the need for headwear.”
But it doesn’t explain when or why wearing a hat indoors became the sartorial equivalent of chewing food with your mouth open. According to Walter Nelson, a historical lecturer and dance instructor, in the 19th Century, the distinction between where you could wear a hat and where you couldn’t had less to do with the indoor/outdoor nature of the setting but rather how public it was. “The decider seemed to be the public/private nature of the space. In a public space like a train station, hotel lobby, a saloon or a public dance hall, the hat usually remained on,” writes Nelson on his blog Mass Historia. “However, in private spaces, the rules were different. When entering a home, a hat was generally removed immediately upon entering (and given to a servant if one were present). In a brief visit, such as a ‘call of ceremony,’ the hat would be removed, but retained in the hand.”
As to why wearing a hat indoors was viewed as having considerably bad manners, the answer is quite practical. On her blog, etiquette aficionado Louise Armstrong writes that the unwritten rule of removing a hat indoors, which was established decades ago when men wore hats more regularly to protect them from the elements, came about simply because hats would get dirty. “They removed the hat indoors so that the elements (rain, dirt, etc.) did not fall onto meals or other people,” writes Armstrong. So wearing your hat at the table would basically be regarded the same way as wearing your raincoat.
But according to the Emily Post institute blog, even before hats were regularly used to protect against the elements, they were taken off indoors as a sign of respect. “Throughout history hats identified social standing and removing a hat was a gesture of respect,” per the blog. “In the ‘old days,’ men took off their hats in Christian churches, when they entered someone’s home, when greeting a boss and always in the presence of a lady.”
Fast forward to the present, where most millennials working in a startup office space wouldn’t bat an eye if they were to see their fellow co-workers wearing a tank top, and you’ll see the indoor hat wearer still somehow remains a fairly divisive creature. Per Lifehacker, while it’s pretty much always okay to wear a hat outdoors, most indoor-hat wearing situations, even by today’s lax sartorial standards, are considered flagrant etiquette errors:
“Guys, whether you’re wearing a fedora, trilby or a baseball cap, you shouldn’t be wearing your hat indoors most of the time (again, some public areas are okay). For example, places where hats are always off-limits include homes, schools, restaurants, cafes, churches, theaters and some businesses (especially if you’re there for business). But even if you are in an area where hats are okay, you should take them off in the presence of a lady. You should also remove your hat during meals, during movies, during the national anthem, during weddings, during funerals, during dedications, while taking photographs and when you’re being introduced to someone.”
Similarly, the same Emily Post Institute blog post on hat etiquette concedes that you should still always take your hat off in most every indoor setting, including but not limited to an indoor office, in someone’s home, at the dinner table and of course at any house of worship (unless a hat or head covering is required). Interestingly, however, those rules only apply for men, because according to the blog post, it’s okay for women to wear “fashion hats” inside all of the aforementioned locations apart from an office.
As you might imagine, most of the Reddit community vehemently disagrees with both the Post Institute and Lifehacker. “Social and cultural traditions that benefit no one serve no purpose and should be reevaluated by the culture/society [sic],” writes one redditor. Another thinks it’s more disrespectful to not wear a hat and let his hair be out in the open. “My hair, now that’s disrespect, you want me to wave this mess in front of your wife and kids,” he writes. “Didn’t think so, I wear a hat most of the time to cover the salad spilled on a take-out tray kind of hair that I have. But hey, if you want my stinky mullet to distract everyone at work, that’s your call.”
Really, it comes down to the fact that as long as the majority of society finds indoor hat wearers not-terribly-stupid-but-still-a-little-bit-stupid in their judgement of manners, wearing a hat indoors will remain vaguely, but not unconscionably, gauche.
Hat wearers: Can you possibly live with that?
I’m guessing… yes.