Tipping the Hat

“Our manners in public, as our manner in our homes, should be based on respect for ourselves and consideration of others, therefore we do nothing, say nothing, wear nothing that will attract attention to ourselves in any way, and we are equally careful not to draw unfavorable attention to others or to disregard their rights and comfort.” So starts a collection of rules of etiquette, donated to the museum by Mr. & Mrs. Lewis McGonagle.

Unfortunately, these rules are not dated. I have been able to figure out that they are most likely from the early 1920s, but they still have a distinct Victorian flavor. They make for interesting reading. Some people may argue that they are not historically important because they do not give any dates of events, or other “hard facts.” I strongly disagree.

Anthropologists thrive on information such as this. Even though the general public usually does not follow etiquette rules to the letter, they give us valuable insight on accepted behavior and societal norms, or the “ideal” that people would strive to be like.

Here is a sampling that deals with the rules governing the tipping or removal of a man’s hat:

Tipping the Hat: A man tips his hat by lifting it from his head for a moment only. If it is a hat with a stiff brim-a straw, derby, or silk-it is lifted by the brim. If it is a soft felt, or a panama, it must be taken by the crown. The hand that is farthest away from the person greeted is always used. For instance, if a woman is passing on the left, a man uses his right hand, in order not to hide his face from her.

Tipping the hat is one of the small courtesies that a man should never forget under the following circumstances:

In passing any woman whom he knows-small daughter, housemaid, or casual business acquaintance.

In passing any woman to whom his companion speaks, regardless of whether or not he knows her.

In joining or taking leave of anyone in any public place.

In addressing or being addressed by any woman, whether she is a friend or stranger. For instance, if a woman whom he does not know asks him a question, he lifts his hat the moment she speaks to him, and lifts it again as she leaves him.

In performing any act of courtesy for a woman, as, for instance, stepping aside to let her pass, opening a door for her, picking up a parcel, or giving her a seat in a public conveyance. If a man is accompanying a woman, he also tips his hat in acknowledgment of the courtesy which has been paid her.

In asking or accepting a favor of a woman. If a woman were standing directly in a man’s way he might ask her, “May I pass?” As she steps aside he would thank her and tip his hat.

In meeting a man who is older. But in meeting men of their own age, they frequently merely touch the brim of the hat.

Removing the Hat: The occasions when a man removes his hat-that is, takes it off his head and holds it in his hand are:

In entering a room where there are women.

In stopping on the street or in any public place to talk to a woman. But if his greeting is of more than a minute’s duration, the man replaces his hat, and if he does not a woman may suggest his doing so. He tips his hat when he leaves her.

In entering a private elevator-that is, an elevator in a house, a club, or an apartment house or hotel-where there are women present. In the public elevators-in office buildings, shops, railroad terminals, etc.-hats need not be removed; to do so would in many cases be impossible, since most of them are so crowded.

When the national flag is passing in parade. He then not only removes his hat but remains bareheaded and standing at attention until the flag has passed. He shows the same respect for the national anthem, replacing his hat only when the last note has been played. He pays the same respect to the flag or anthem of any country in which he is visiting.

It is not the general custom of this country, as it is in European countries, for a man to stop and to remove his hat when a funeral passes, unless it is that of a public man, when all men along the route would remove their hats as a last tribute to an honored citizen.

Have you kept all that straight? If I were a man in that time period, I would think twice about wearing a hat. Or if I did have one, I think I would just hold it in my hand at all times!

Obviously not everyone followed these rules exactly, or was even able to remember them all. But despite this, we get a feel for the ideal that people strove for.

I would think that information like this would be especially helpful for people who make movies and write books about yesteryear. This information is also interesting for those of us who are curious about the culture and day-to-day life of past generations.

These etiquette rules are another fine example of a resource tool that gives much more information than the average history book.

By Julie Tomala
Copyright 1997, Morrison County Historical Society

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *