Dining etiquette is never quite as simple as it may seem. Many of the “rules” are unspoken and because of this, the confusion rages on relentlessly. The question is, why is it rude to wear a hat at the dinner table?
It is generally considered rude to wear a hat at the dinner table as it suggests that you aren’t comfortable enough to take it off. It can also be distracting to the people you’re eating with, be seen as attention-seeking, and even suggest that you haven’t washed your hair.
Although that’s the short answer, as always, there’s more to it.
Let’s go through the key reasons why it’s considered rude in the first place.
1. Hats Are Traditionally Considered “Dirty”
Traditionally, hats were often worn as protective items -headwear designed to defend against rain, wind, and grime. They were meant to get dirty and they were pretty good at it too.
In those days, the thought of wearing one at a dinner table would be considered disrespectful purely for hygiene reasons.
You’d never think of wearing something like that at the dinner table.
Of course, times have changed. Hats are no longer purely worn as protective headgear. In fact, most of the time, they’re now worn as fashion statements.
This is especially true of “dress hats” and “statement hats”. Fedoras, bowlers, trilbys, boaters, and so on.
In fact, a widely-held belief is that it’s generally acceptable for women to wear statement hats such as fascinators at the dinner table because it’s a part of their overall ensemble.
But ultimately, hats are never going to be the most hygienic items to wear at the dinner table no matter what era you happen to be living in. They just aren’t washed as much as other items of clothing and yet they still come into frequent contact with the oils and sweat of the scalp.
It’s a major reason why it’s best not to wear one at the dinner table.
2. It Suggests You Aren’t Comfortable
It’s important to be fully engaged and present while eating dinner with friends, family, colleagues, or whoever else. Wearing a hat suggests to those you’re eating with that you just aren’t comfortable with them.
Let me explain.
Hats are usually meant to be worn outdoors. That’s why people wearing them indoors usually draw attention.
Wearing a hat at the dinner table suggests that you just aren’t fully there. It’s like you haven’t settled down enough to be comfortable.
You’ve got one foot indoors and another outdoors, like you can’t wait to get out of there.
In many ways, it’s like keeping your coat or jacket on at the dinner table. Although it may not be quite as bad, it isn’t a good look or a good feeling for those you’re eating with.
It’s the little things like this that make a difference between a relaxed, pleasant dining experience and an awkward one.
3. It’s Distracting
Wearing a hat at the dinner table can be distracting to those you’re eating with because it’s simply an unusual thing to see. It’ll be the first thing their eyes are drawn to. They’ll focus less on what you’re saying and more on what you’ve got on your head.
Of course, the type of hat you’re wearing plays a role here.
A bucket hat or safari hat is probably going to be more distracting than a dress hat such as a subtle fedora in a neutral color.
But ultimately, hats at the dinner table will be distracting no matter what.
Once again, it’s just difficult to fully engage with people you’re eating with when you’ve got distractions like this, no matter how subtle the distractions may be.
But it might not just be them that’s distracted.
The hat-wearers themselves could get distracted due to their hat, especially if it’s bulky or dangles long.
They may also be distracted because they’re self-conscious about the hat in the first place. When you spend your entire meal concerned about what the others may be thinking of your hat, it’s impossible to feel fully comfortable while eating with others.
4. It Suggests You Haven’t Groomed Yourself
While it may not necessarily be the case, wearing a hat at the dinner table could suggest to others that you haven’t washed your hair.
It’s no secret that hats are a great way to hide a full head of unwashed and unstyled hair.
While it’s not an ideal solution, it’s hard to deny that it has its benefits when you have to leave the house in a hurry.
But at the dinner table, it could be seen as not having made an effort to be clean for a meal with your family or friends. Of course, eating with people you’re close to shouldn’t ever be formal or uptight.
However, sticking to basic principles of cleanliness is still important.
The key point here is that it may not even be true. Your hair may be perfectly cleaned and even styled under that hat.
It’s all about the impression and the assumptions that people can make about the reasons why you’re wearing it. They may not even express those assumptions out loud.
5. It Can Be Seen As Attention-Seeking
Wearing any sort of headgear at the dinner table could be seen as attention-seeking because it’s simply an unusual choice. Most people won’t wear a hat at the dinner table and so anyone that deviates from this will draw attention to themselves.
It probably isn’t won’t be your intention to do so, but it is, unfortunately, what will happen.
While expressing yourself with your outfit is always going to be encouraged, the dinner table isn’t the place to do it.
The dinner table isn’t somewhere you’ll want your outfit to be a topic of discussion.
Once again, the type of hat you’re wearing will also play a role here. While any hat could potentially draw unwanted attention and a bad impression from others, certain hats will be more likely to do it.
Interestingly, wearing a dress hat is more likely to be seen as attention-seeking within your own home compared with a comfort hat such as a beanie or baseball cap.
Eating at the dinner table is supposed to be somewhere you and your loved ones can let loose and relax. Wearing a comfort hat such as a subtle beanie wouldn’t be ideal, but it probably won’t be seen as attention-seeking.
Wearing a bowler hat or fedora at the dinner table, however, may come across as though you’re trying hard to impress people at a time where you should just be yourself.
While any type of hat could potentially be seen as attention-grabbing, certain styles of hat would be more guilty of it than others.
6. It Defies Traditional Etiquette
The trouble with traditional dining etiquette is that it can be tough to know where it all came from. Hats being considered rude at the dinner table is simply one of them.
Even though the practical use of hats has changed over the years, social etiquette has lingered. It’s still considered bad manners to wear a hat at the dinner table, despite the original reasons behind it being a thing of the past.
Sure, they used to be protective items considered too filthy to be worn at the dinner table.
But that’s often not the case anymore.
Someone could keep their hat just as clean as the rest of their wardrobe and would still be discouraged from wearing their hat at the dinner table.
Simply because it defies traditional etiquette.
In the same way you’re encouraged to use your cutlery in a specific way or to chew with your mouth closed, taking your hat off at the table is just good manners.
There may not be any practical logic behind the etiquette anymore. It’s just that if you want to be considered refined, you’ll have to stick to the rules and principles of that etiquette.
7. It’s Seen As Disrespectful In Many Cultures
The image of someone taking their hat off out of respect is widely known. It’s a practice that crosses so many different cultures, industries, and walks of life.
It almost happens instinctively to so many people, as the thought of keeping your hat on while greeting someone they respect would be unthinkable.
While its importance varies widely depending on who you’re with and where you are in the world, it’s probably hard to deny that taking your hat off would be more respectful at the dinner table than keeping it on.
One exception to this would, of course, be religious headwear.
However, that aside, it’s important to ask yourself whether a hat would be a good idea. This is especially true if you’re abroad or simply eating with people from an unfamiliar culture.