Donna Kim-Brand

We finally escaped Groundhog Day and are well on our way into the full bloom of springtime. Along with garden flowers and cherry blossoms that burst onto the scene, so also do ladies’ hats. There are hat etiquette pointers, traditions and protocols to get aligned with, and special events to which wearing a hat is “the thing” to wear.

Early on the scene are Easter Bonnets, a holdover European tradition celebrating the onset of spring, where flowers were stuck onto hats by way of strutting their stuff to family and friends. The timing dovetailed with the Easter holiday, providing a recurring event around which to one-up other ladies in sporting the most spectacular hat, one more ornate or goofy than the next. Growing up it was common for our family and others to buy one new outfit a year, and Easter time was it; new dress, shoes, ruffled ankle socks and even gloves and a hat. I still remember the elastic band choking me under my neck to keep the hat on in stiff spring winds!

In England, where they have perfected hats as an art form, there are three main events where hats are the featured item of clothing in order to attend, unofficially of course. These events all fall in late spring or early summer, so there are actually practical uses of hats by way of keeping the rare English sunshine off their owners’ faces while attending all-day outdoor events. You have Ascot, the premiere horse racing event, Wimbledon Tennis Tournament and Henley Boat races and follow-on festival. Particularly at Ascot, women vie for TV and print media press coverage and prizes for their head-top wonders, and you’ll spy everything from live floral arrangements to feathered features and miniature artworks perched atop their head coverings. Themes range from high fashion to frivolous, from fabulous to funky or funny. Super-sized hats may garner attention, but not all of the kind you want, for they can block the view of anyone unfortunate enough to be sitting behind a hatted architectural structure. Let the clucking begin; and it does!

Of course, at any Royal occasion year-round hats are required, as a means to show respect to the Queen and Royal family. In this case, less flamboyant hats are in keeping with the modesty expected. I have been to Buckingham Palace on two occasions; one, a garden party in the grounds to the rear of the palace, and another, an indoor event where my husband received an Order of the British Empire (OBE) medal of honor from the Queen. My hats were basic but elegant.

But, it’s not only the Brits or women with traditions around hat wearing or head-covering. Hats through the ages often revealed either one’s profession (chef, nurse or fire-fighter, for example), one’s hobby or one’s social standing. In medieval Europe, a knight who failed to lift his visor or remove his helmet on greeting others could be slain as an enemy or imposter. It was nearly universal across the ages for men to remove their hats as a sign of respect in front of ladies, in religious establishments, at restaurants or in private homes; also when the national anthem plays or the national flag passes by in a parade or public event.  Ironically, women are not usually subject to those same rules when wearing fashion hats, while they are if wearing sporty hats or baseball caps.

For those with medical reasons to keep your head covered, you are technically excused from the cultural norms, but not everyone will understand without a visible sign of your condition.

So it’s not always easy to know what the rules are in any given culture or specific situation. Keeping a hat or scarf handy for protecting your head from sun or rain is always a good idea, which then makes it available should you need one for cultural reasons to cover your head or shoulders. If you are traveling this is one area to check into so you don’t unwittingly violate cultural norms. We know how touchy some are over issues perceived as disrespectful. Or if you are out to impress at a hat-expected event, then putting some forethought into your spectacular hat will make you feel part of the extravaganza and maybe put you in the running to win a prize. That’s enough to put that hippity-hop spring into your step!

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