Once upon a time, hats were an essential part of every woman's wardrobe, with both everyday and dressier styles. Today, women still wear hats for fashion, warmth or practical reasons like sun exposure. While women may often leave their hats on, even when men cannot, you must follow some basic rules to ensure you not only look your best, but also use your best manners.

Fashionable Hats

Fashionable hats, from a neat pillbox to a stylish beret, can be worn in nearly any circumstance and can vary in style, color and shape. Women's hats are relatively difficult to remove without damaging the hairstyle, so different rules have developed. These hats may be worn indoors, in homes or restaurants and to cultural events. You should not, however, wear a fashion hat in most workplaces or if it impedes the view of someone else, so it may be polite to leave your tall hat at home when you're going to the theater.

 When You Should Wear a Hat

It is particularly appropriate to wear a fashionable hat for traditional church services and funerals, as well as some dressy sporting events, like horse racing. Some religious services mandate head coverings for women, making a stylish hat a near-necessity. Daytime weddings and luncheons are good opportunities for hat wearing, if you have a suitable one, but hats are no longer expected. None of these occasions are appropriate for a functional or athletic hat. Outside of these occasions, fashion hat wearing is up to you -- so if you love them, wear them.

Wedding hat etiquette according to top milliner Rosie Olivia

The 12 Golden Rules of Wedding Hat Etiquette

Dress Code

If you’re set on only allowing specific headpieces at your wedding or would prefer larger creations to be left at home, make sure that your guests aware of this as soon possible. Guests will need to know any dress code requirements at least six weeks prior to the wedding day.

Suit Your Style

Remember, you’re wearing the hat and not the other way around. Be confident but choose a style that ultimately you’re comfortable in and can wear all day. Also, remember to choose something that complements your shape and height. If you’re tall avoid tall hats and go for wider brims. If you’re short avoid large hats and go for smaller structured creations.

Hat Etiquette

The mother of the groom should always choose a smaller wedding hat than the mother of the bride. This is a set rule across all social situations that dictates that guests should never out-shine their hosts. If you and your groom are hosting the wedding then the two mums can opt for equally grand creations.

Don’t Block the Shot

Ensure that your guests wear hats that don’t drown their head and shoulders in pictures. Ask the photographer to kindly remind guests to adjust their hats for group photographs so that their faces are clearly visible.

Stick to Tradition

When accessorising a hatband, or indeed your bridal headpiece, with flowers, feathers or any other embellishment, keep in mind that traditionally ladies decorate hats on the right-hand side. The opposite to that of men who always stick to the left.

Bigger is not Always Better

The time of day your guests are wearing their hat should directly impact on their choice of headwear. As a rule of thumb, the size of the hat should decrease as the day progresses. Large brims in the morning or evening are considered too extravagant as there’s no need for them when the sun isn’t out. 

Ensemble Accessories

Women’s hats are fashion accessories and are part of their ensembles. Therefore, ladies are not required to remove their hats when going indoors. Gentlemen, on the other hand, should do so – especially in religious buildings. That means no top hats in the church or inside the reception venue – even for photographs.

Venue Etiquette

Make sure that your groom and groomsmen know their etiquette if they’re wearing top hats. As well as removing them when indoors, they should remove their hats whenever they’re speaking to a lady – in particular, their new mother-in-law. It’s a sign of respect that dates back generations.

Tipping the hat

A rule for gents and mothers in particular, it is considered rude to show the inside lining of your hat. When removing, tipping or doffing your hat. Always ensure that only the outside is visible. If you remove your hat for any reason, hold it with the lining facing towards your torso.

Mother Knows Best

The mother of the bride dictates when other ladies may remove their hats and fascinators. Until she removes her hat, other ladies are expected to leave theirs on.

The Golden Rule

And finally, the golden rule of etiquette. Couples should not point out the faux pas’ of guests who may not have read these key rules!

Hat Wearing Etiquette For Men

Below are some etiquette points for doffing, or tipping one's hat and of when and where hats should not be worn

  • A gentleman should remove his hat for the national anthem, the passing of the flag and funeral processions (unless they are in the military or clergy and on duty). Ladies likewise should remove any non-formal hat.
  • A gentleman should remove his hat when entering a church (unless they are in the military or clergy and on duty), where as a lady may keep her hat on provided it is a formal one.
  • A gentleman should remove his hat when reaching their destination as outside headwear is not worn indoors (exception being public areas such foyers, lifts, train stations, or antechambers).
  • A gentleman when paying calls, should take off his coat as entering the hall, but keep his hat in his hands until reaching the drawing room. He should wait until being offered to put it down by the host/hostess. The reason being that the visitor is privileged to pay their respects, and should the time not be acceptable then he should be ready to leave immediately. Hence the phrase: Having one's hat to hand.
  • A gentleman in the 19th century would always doff his hat to another gentleman of higher social status, or older age. This practice has declined at and if now the preserve for either meeting a personal acquaintance, of when members of the Royal family pass by (such as when Her Majesty arrives at Royal Ascot in her carriage).
  • A gentleman passing a lady of his acquaintance should doff or tip his hat to her in passing or greeting her. If she stops to speak with him, he should remove his hat whilst standing together (except if in the Royal Enclosure in Ascot, where the Top Hat must remain on) then replace his hat when he (or they both) walk on.
  • A gentleman should hold a hat in such a way that shows only the outside and not the lining


Royal Ascot style rules

The quest to find a suitable hat for Royal Ascot is very much a numbers game. Following an amendment to the rules in 2012, ladies in the Royal Enclosure (the most exclusive spot from which to enjoy the race) must wear a hat or “a headpiece which has a base of 4 inches or more in diameter is acceptable as an alternative” but “fascinators are not permitted ”. Enforcing these rules was “a specially trained team of dress code assistants”, in other words: The Fashion police

The headwear, however, is harder to define. What makes a hat officially a hat?
Obviously, something that covers your head. Yet the line between an acceptable headpiece and a taboo fascinator is blurred. The latter is more of an elaborate hair accessory clipped on the side of the head. Yet, with the minimum diameter leaving plenty room for interpretation, the official definition denotes that a hat must cover the crown. A fascinator is anything smaller that the mandatory four inches.

Ascot etiquette tips

So, you’ve found the hat. Don’t feel too smug. Actually wearing it brings yet more rules to get your head around.
First, adjust your gait. Rushing, sudden movements (or the slightest breeze) could send your crowning glory flying onto the racetrack faster than the odds-on-favourite equine. The golden rule of ladies’ headwear is that it must stay on the head. According to Downton Abbey writer and expert on the aristocracy Julian Fellowes, the only time an English lady may remove her hat is in the bedroom.

Next, prepare for social interaction. "It is notoriously difficult to socially kiss while wearing a wide-brimmed hat "concedes high society bible Debretts.“There is a knack to tilting the head at a suitable angle, but two ladies both in wide brimmed hats should avoid such an 'intimate' greeting”. Duly noted. Though Laura Cathcart, adds that if wearing a more modestly sized pillbox style, kissing is "both acceptable and considerably easier"