Stephen Temkin’s
Hat Primer

© Stephen Temkin 2018


What is Felt?

Felt, as it applies to hat making, is essentially a textile composed of the matted fur or hair of an animal. The degree to which fibres will effectively mat, and the character and quality of the felt, depend upon the type of hair used.


Functionality and Etiquette

Why wear a fine beaver felt hat? I can think of six reasons: sun, rain, sleet, snow, cold, and last but not necessarily the least, wanting to look good while addressing the first five. As mentioned before, a hat is outerwear. When its intention ceases to appear at least modestly functional, it risks devolving into a conspicuous fashion doodad or identity costume.

That’s why when you settle somewhere indoors such as a restaurant, the theatre or someone’s home, it’s not only a traditional courtesy but also a good idea to remove your hat. Not doing so risks making you look buffoonish because the hat becomes non-functional and more easily regarded as a vain ornament.

Now, despite the above observations, removing one’s hat indoors is viewed primarily as a “rule” of etiquette. No doubt, the concept of etiquette is more controversial in the modern world than it once was. For some, the word conjures a wistful nostalgia for a more ordered, genteel time. For others, it represents an oppressive, classist code of artificial behaviours that support a hierarchical social order, and which also suppress individuality and diversity.

And it’s true: at one time, removing one’s hat in certain situations was often an act of deference to a superior. I’m sure most will agree that this has ceased to be valid in a more (theoretically) egalitarian society. However, as a simple gesture of respect for anyone and everyone, it is still relevant as a social courtesy.

Like it or not, failing to remove your hat when socially indoors will be perceived by some as uncouth behaviour. Imagine having someone over for dinner and they kept their overcoat on the whole evening as if they intended to leave at any moment. It would likely make others feel uncomfortable and you none too pleased. It’s the same thing: when indoors socially, we remove our hats as a sign of commonality, respect and social cooperation. (There are many exceptions, like walking through an indoor mall, or temporarily popping into a store, or sitting on a train, or other situations where, similarly, you would likely keep your coat on. Certain religious observances may also have rules of their own.)

Traditionally, this didn’t apply to women because a woman’s hat was regarded as ornamental fashion. Removing it might damage her coiffure—indeed, the hat may be integral to her hairstyle. Obviously, today, such attitudes appear outmoded, even ridiculous, and smack of sexism. That may be, but if you’re a man, I suspect leaving your hat on indoors is probably not an effective way to demonstrate your solidarity with feminist values.

Now, no one would blame you if you thought that such gestures no longer have any meaning in the modern world. And no doubt, the younger you are the more likely it is that you find such things to be, at best, quaint behavioural anachronisms, a part of grandpa’s world.

But we may believe that at our peril. The so-called “old-fashioned rules” of courtesy and etiquette were not arbitrarily snatched out of nowhere, but spawn from innate aspects of social interaction and serve, in part, to make those interactions feel safe and predictable. (One could argue that etiquette evolved from biological imperatives inherent in our instincts for survival.) It also ensures that no one “privatizes” our shared spaces with purely self-serving behaviour at everyone else’s expense.

We may no longer ostracize people for their lack of etiquette, and perhaps that’s a good thing. However, such behaviour still shapes our opinion of them, and them of us, perhaps in ways we don’t even consciously discern.

Besides, where’s the harm? Showing a small gesture of respect for others, even if some find it archaic or arbitrary, is probably something the world could use in greater quantities than what currently seems evident.