Why We Are Supposed to Take Our Hats Off for the National Anthem

Daven Hiskey 23
Funny Baseball HatToday I found out why we are supposed to take our hats off for the national anthem.

The origins of this tradition happen to be the same as the origins of the tradition of saluting.  Knights, wearing helmets that covered their heads, would typically lift their visors to show their faces to their monarchs and others as a sign of friendliness and possibly respect in some cases.  The tradition of using ones right hand also comes from this.  Most people are right handed and thus, if your right hand is exposed and busy lifting your visor, it can’t contain a weapon.  This then is a sign symbolic of submission.

Fast forward a bit in history and this developed into the salute for soldiers.  At first, the soldiers would doff their helmets or other head-ware as a sign of respect.  However, the Coldstream Guards in 1745 were the first to forbid this: “The men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands to their hats and bow as they pass them.”

This practice quickly caught on, owing to the fact that the helmet or hat is a part of the uniform and thus it began to be thought of as disrespectful to take it off.  It also could be dangerous to take off a helmet in battle with gunfire and other shrapnel about.

Fast forward through history though and doffing a hat is still firmly entrenched as a sign of respect in a non-military setting, excepting in the case of women.  It was once considered very disrespectful for a woman to take her hat off during the national anthem and still is today to some extent.  To find out the reasons why on that, see the “Bonus Factoids” section below.

Here’s the problem though with all of this; there is no other reason besides “respect” for doing so today.  It’s on the fringes of circular reasoning; not quite there, but almost.  We are to take our hats off because it is respectful, but it’s respectful because it’s respectful.  Hats do not typically cover faces and I don’t know anyone who takes weapons to ball games or other sporting events where the anthem is traditionally played these days.

It has even gone so far as to be a law in the United States to take your hat off during the national anthem, but only for those not in the military (once again, those in the military are typically never to take their hats off during the national anthem as the hat is a part of their uniform).  This law is under United States penal code Title 36, Chapter 10.  There is no penalty listed for failure to comply, but it’s still a law.  Specifically:  “During a rendition of the national anthem… (B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart…”

Emily Post, in 1922, says “It is not necessary to add that every American male citizen stands with his hat off at the passing of the ‘colors’ and when the national anthem is played. If he didn’t, some other more loyal citizen would take it off for him.”  It would seem to me that this act of forcing someone to remove their hat would actually disrespect the flag and what it stands for with the more “loyal citizen” she describes, actually more or less spitting on what the flag and the anthem represent.

On that note, I think one soldier’s comments I read recently said it best when he said the following: “I always thought showing true respect for the flag and song itself was in having the right to choose whether to keep my hat on or off.”

Bonus Facts:

  • The correct way for a man to remove his hat for a lady is to remove it with a flourish and in a flirtatious manner, according to Susan Witt, professor of international protocol at San Diego State University.
  • Also according to Witt, even though it is considered uncouth for a lady to remove her hat pretty much at any time other than at certain times in doors (during the daytime at one’s own home with no guests) and if the hat is blocking someone’s view.  If someone takes offense at the lady keeping her hat on during the national anthem, for the sake of civility, the lady should take her hat off.
  • According to “Miss Manners”, the reason behind the difference in rules between men and women in regards to hat etiquette is due to the fact that, traditionally, women wore hats that often would be elaborately pinned into their hair; they also may contain flowers, bows, ribbons, and other decorations that would be difficult to remove and put back in.  Thus, if a woman is simply wearing a baseball cap that is easily removed and put back on, they cannot claim the “ladies exemption”.
  • Among most Christian churches, it is also typically considered very rude for men to wear their hats in church.  Once again, ladies are traditionally exempted from this and indeed, traditionally were required to wear hats in church.  For the reason behind this, read the next factoid.
  • Much older records of etiquette professionals than Miss Manners provides, state that women must be allowed to keep their hats on because when a woman takes off her hat, her hair and possibly more of her flesh will be exposed.  This will cause the men around to think lustful thoughts and thus they will be unable to focus on contemplations of patriotism or in church, unable to fully give their attentions to learning about God.  So in this case, baseball caps should still remain on for women, lest they cause all the men around to be distracted.
  • Yet another idiotic tradition regarding hats is that when men put something on their hatband, the thing must only be placed on the left side.  Anything on a woman’s hatband must only be placed on the right side.  Failure to comply in this will result in death by firing squad.
  • Miss Manners also notes that women who wear daytime hats (hats with brims for blocking the sun), must take them off at dusk… (presumably if they don’t, the universe will be sucked up in the ensuing vortex created by the act of not taking off ones daytime hat at dusk.)  On a side note, one time, I saw this woman who was wearing a daytime hat at night; you should have seen the scandal.  People had to cover children’s eyes and many of us wondered why the police weren’t called in to deal with the situation.  I’ve never been so offended in all my life…
  • According to Emily Post, if a man encounters a woman in an elevator in an apartment building or hotel, as those are places people live, he must immediately take off his hat.  Once he’s back in the corridor, he’s allowed to put it back on without the dogs being called in.  A corridor, you see, is considered like a public street.  Normally, the elevator is also considered like a public street, but not when a lady is present and the elevator is in a building people live in.  If the elevator is not in a building people live in, then he may keep his hat on if he chooses without being offensive. *the more you know*
  • Emily Post also notes, men should never tip or lift their hat for people they know, excepting their wife or if they are passing a woman in a narrow space or if the man wants to speak to a woman.  If a man runs into a woman he knows and wants to talk to her, he must take the hat all the way off and can only put it back on if she walks away or if the man walks with her somewhere.
  • One of the greatest insults a man can give to another man (apparently, according to etiquette traditionalists) is to tip his hat at another man.  This is akin to calling the other man a woman…   So one time, this guy tipped his hat at me and I was like “Hey! You calling me a woman, fella?”  and he was like “I reckon I am ya yella bellied slop bucket!” and I was like “Just so we’re clear, turkey!” then he spit some tabacky and we went our separate ways.  It was intense.
  • Traditionally, in most military etiquette, saluting should only be undertaken if the soldier is not wearing a headdress of some sort.   Further, one should never salute when in a crowd or where the distance from the officer makes it impractical to salute.   Military personal should always use a “quick time” salute when marching double time.  A salute should always be done with the right hand, unless physically unable to do so, in which case the left hand is acceptable.  The exceptions to the above appropriate saluting occasions are when in the presence of royalty, presidents or other state governors.  In this case, one should always present a salute, regardless of circumstance.
  • In traditional British saluting practices, saluting an officer is not meant as a sign of respect to the officer, but rather a sign of respect to the monarch, who the officer represents.
  • In the navy, saluting is done with palms downward.  This is because traditionally, aboard ships, men’s hands would get very dirty working the lines.  The palm downwards or sometimes closed fist salute, hides the grime.
  • At Yankee stadium and now New Yankee Stadium, during the 7th inning stretch, it has been traditional since 2001 to play “God Bless America”.  During this time, people are asked to remove their hats out of respect.  It should also be noted that one fan was recently forcibly kicked out of the stadium by the police for going to the bathroom during said song (he later sued and won).  It should be noted that “God Bless America” is not the national anthem and is merely a patriotic song.  My other proclivities against being forced to take your hat off in a country based on freedom aside, are we now to show any patriotic song the same reverence as the national anthem?  Perhaps when Yankee Doodle Dandy plays, we should all doff our hats and cover our hearts?
  • The words “don” and “doff”, as in “put on your hat” or “take off your hat” respectively, come from the British colloquialisms from the contractions of “do on”, meaning “to do”, and the Middle English “doffen”, which means “to do off”.
  • At the turn end of the 19th century, hats were pretty much worn by everyone when they went outdoors; this was initially not so much about fashion as it was about practicality.  The hats keep the sun off you in the summer and your head warm in the winter.  In addition to this, in the cities where, at that time, there was an amazing amount of industrial dirt and grime about, the hats were good for keeping the dirt off your head and out of your hair.
  • When one removes a hat, proper hat etiquette defines that the lining should never show; one must always hold the hat in such a way that the outside is all that’s visible.
  • In Jewish synagogues, non-married women are not to wear hats or scarves.  Married women may do so as a sign of their increased modesty towards men that are not their husband.
  • Orthodox Jewish men should always wear a “kippah” (which means “dome”) hat as a sign of humility towards God.  The only exceptions for the extremely orthodox are to be when they are swimming, bathing, or sleeping. (note, during the national anthem is not one of those exceptions for orthodox American Jews… lucky) ;-)

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23 Comments »

  1. Lord Whorfin March 10, 2011 at 12:07 am - Reply

    A recent change allows former military members to salute while wearing a hat (civilian). If you don’t have a hat, place right hand over heart.

    USMC 1970-1972

  2. Kanna March 10, 2011 at 12:30 am - Reply

    Regarding the military etiquette factoid… I don’t know about services outside of the United States, but I do know the United States Marine Corps only salutes when they *are* wearing a cover (hat), although you said a salute is only necessary when not wearing a headdress.

    As for the crowd thing, it was explained to us (in the Army) that it wasn’t proper to salute in a social setting, not necessarily just a crowd, although it is proper to give a greeting and acknowledge the officer.

    Another interesting rule… one should always take their cover off when in doors, unless under arms. Carrying the colors (flags) is considered being “under arms.” So, if you’ve got an official flag, or are armed, you are never to take your cover off.

  3. montg March 10, 2011 at 11:42 am - Reply

    I also found it interesting when my son became a cub scout that scouts do not need to take their hats off for the pledge of allegience as long as it is part of their uniform and they salute at the brim of their hat.

  4. Jusin Cocks March 10, 2011 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    Yes, I agree. I also found the military to be a bunch of cross dressing pussys. In fact the salute is a methaphor for a hard on. When you see a senior officer in public you give the secret sign of “I have a hard on for you”, in private they give pleasure to the senior officers. The placing of the hand over the heart in public is likewise a reference to touching the senior officers private parts.

    • Dave Smiling Coyote May 22, 2013 at 4:06 pm - Reply

      Jusin, how far into your buttt did you have to reach to find that information? I’m guessing at least up to the elbow.

  5. Scott K March 10, 2011 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    “I don’t know anyone who takes weapons to ball games or other sporting events where the anthem is traditionally played these days.”

    I think you’d be surprised. :) The National Anthem isn’t a magic talisman against violent crime, you know..

  6. Sarahsaurus March 10, 2011 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    Military regulation is to only salute in a situation where you are outside and wearing a cover(hat of some sort) in your military uniform. Also, all branches of the United States military salute with their palm tilted down and out of sight.

    And I don’t particularly care for the personal touches you added to this post. I felt they took away from the facts that I enjoy reading so much.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven March 10, 2011 at 11:47 pm - Reply

      @Sarahsaurus: sources? From all the sources I’m seeing, the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Public Health Service Corps do only salute when the head is covered. However, the U.S. Army and U.S. Air force salute with both covered an uncovered heads.

  7. Sarahsaurus March 11, 2011 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    I’m in the Navy, we salute only when you’re wearing a cover. I’ve been in air force JROTC, also only salute when wearing a cover.

  8. Ed April 20, 2011 at 10:30 am - Reply

    I make use of my freedom by keeping my hat on during anthems just to remind the aggressively patriotic people that they, like everyone else, must not force others to do what they want merely because they think it’s a nice idea. Sure it’s nice to some people, not all. But true freedom includes the right to do the legal things that other people think are stupid. As ever: be careful in forcing others to do the “right” thing.

  9. Authority Sucks May 29, 2011 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    Because Americans are mindless zombies who just do whatever Authority tells them to do.

  10. Daniel February 6, 2012 at 3:35 am - Reply

    In regard to saluting: In the USMC, you NEVER salute with your left hand, this being a sign of disrespect. To prevent misunderstanding, any items that can be carried in one hand should be carried in the left hand so as to always be able to render a proper salute at a proper time. If both hands are occupied, an acknowledgement and proper greeting of the day are sufficient. As previously stated by Kanna, it is not proper to salute indoors, unless under arms, and a cover (hat) should always be removed indoors unless under arms. A current or former military member should also stand at the P.O.A. (position of attention) during the National Anthem, rather than with a hand over his/her heart. This is just as respectful, and shows significantly more discipline, an exception to this would be if the military member was helping someone else take their hat off.

  11. Michael February 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    This whole hat stuff is gotten way out of hand, why do people really care. Honoring the flag? the flag is a piece of fabric with colors.. JUST LIKE MY HAT. the national anthem is a variety of instruments put together into a melody and recorded, hats do not interfere with the sound waves so I do not see a reason why its necessary to remove it. This is just something people say because its what people have always said but they dont ever question it. Like the great George Carlin said.. “I don’t want to be part of any group that either has to wear a hat, or cannot wear a hat. wearing a hat is simply optional”

  12. RobGrognerd August 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    of course it’s just a piece of fabric with colors, just like your hat.

    the difference is, your hat does NOT symbolize those who fought and died so you can be a selfish a-hole

    it’s not about what’s necessary; it’s about respect. guess your momma didn’t teach you that

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey August 16, 2012 at 2:01 pm - Reply

      @RobGrognerd: I think you’re missing the point. Something that’s only respectful because it’s considered respectful, but doesn’t actually truly demonstrate any meaningful representation of respect, doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. True respect would actually be doing something meaningfully respectful, like perhaps donating to the Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund . That tradition would be one I could get behind (perhaps at every ballgame during the national anthem having a basket passed around each row, church-style, collection for some charity like the linked one above). If the average take from that was even just $1 per person, that would be about $70M collected each season. For something arbitrarily respectful, I could say (and do) that it’s even more respectful to leave your hat on, taking advantage of the freedom afforded by “those who fought and died so [I] can be a selfish a-hole”. By the way, my brother Kelly is one of those who fights (career army man).

  13. bill March 10, 2013 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    Being forced to take your hat off during the national anthem, just because every body else does, and because every body else says it’s the right thing do to…that goes against everything this country stands for…that goes against everything this country stands for!!! I was at a recent ballgame with my dad and he was angry at me for not taking my hat off during the anthem..I understand that its respectful and a tradition but why? Why is me being forced to take my hat off a sign of respect? That goes against everything this country stands for…Please can someone enlighten me on this subject…and don’t just tell me its because its a sign of respect and tradition, WHY!!!! because everyone else does it?!?!?!

  14. Yer Pal May 1, 2013 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    In Canada there is a bizarre tradition in Military Legions. (Legions are clubs for military vets, but the public is welcome to hang out too.) All men are expected to remove their hats upon entering a legion & must leave the hat off until you exit the building. It’s like the shittiest drinking game ever. “hey Frank, let’s go have a few beers & shout at people who wear hats!” I’ve been the hatted guy being yelled at by old farts. What a stupid game.

  15. SAMMY June 7, 2013 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Wow. I am honored to show any respect possible when the national anthem is sung…out of respect for the thousands who have died protecting our country…which the flag represents. To not do so…just because you think you need to represent your freedoms differently or that you don’t want to conform is like spitting in the face of those who gave up their life for you, in my opinion.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey June 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm - Reply

      @Sammy: The main point is not that it demonstrates freedoms by not doing it (though that is a point directed at people who get angry at those who don’t and try to make them do it), it’s that there is no reason that taking off one’s hat shows respect. It simply does because we say it does. If we really wanted to show respect, we’d actually, you know, demonstrate that respect in a tangible way. We’d have traditions like donating time or money (even just pennies) to various military related charities or the like. Taking off your hat accomplishes nothing. It’s the “we support the military” bumper sticker equivalent. Most who sport that don’t actually ever do a single thing in their lifetime to actually support the military other than pay taxes, which they are forced to and probably wouldn’t if the IRS gave them permission not to.

      • Kyle September 16, 2013 at 6:24 pm - Reply

        @ Daven Hiskey: I agree with your point about not removing the hat and that doing so out of “respect” doesn’t really mean anything (except by social agreement), and it’s a nice suggestion you make about donating money or time, however, you are simply replacing one silly tradition in exchange for another because YOU think it demonstrates respect in a “meaningful” way. Your irony is hilarious. After reading all these posts what is clear is that human being like to attach meaning to anything and everything. I don’t remove my hat for the simple reason that I don’t conform to silly social agreements. I also don’t say “bless you” when someone sneezes. To be a mind numbed robot who does whatever they are told is not healthy in my opinion. To make a contest our of what act constitutes respect in a meaningful way and to suggest your idea is “better” or more “meaningful” only suggests that you think your ideas are the good ones and that we should do it your way. If I suggest we should all drop our pants and moon the audience because to me, that is the true sign of respect, what makes my idea any better or worse than any other? I am sure many would be willing to offer tons of reasons “why” which would only go on to miss the entire point. Have fun with making a contest out of the “best” way to be respectful in a “meaningful” way.

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