Cowboy Hat Etiquette

Cowboy Hat Etiquette

Posted by Green Mountain Horse and Tack on 10th May 2022

The Do’s and Don’ts of Cowboy Hat Etiquette

Pre-1960 America was solidly a hat-wearing society and hat etiquette was common knowledge. But when JFK left the hat off during his presidency and the Beatles were imported into the US, America went from a hat-wearing society to a society focused on hair styles. And the once commonly known hat mannerisms slowly faded into history.

But it is still important to know the basics of wearing hats and the associated polite and respectful manners of a hat-wearing man. Considering that your cowboy hat is an important historical item of American history, you should strive to be the one that knows how to handle his hat no matter the company or the place. The rules are simple and easy to remember, and you’ll show a long-respected courtesy to those you meet with, regardless of where you meet them. It’s notable that these manners are for the men. Any woman wearing a cowboy hat can do as they please and it’s perfectly acceptable.

When to remove your hat
A general rule of thumb for respectfully removing your hat is when entering a residence, a church, a theater, or a courtroom. After having removed your hat, it is considered impolite to expose the inside of your hat to the company you keep, so holding the cowboy hat against your mid-section or against your thigh is the proper way to hold it while it’s off your head. Let’s face it - no one is interested in seeing the inside of your hat.

Public establishments
In bars and saloons, it is completely appropriate to leave your hat on, though this was not always the case. In restaurants, if there is a coat rack at your booth or a safe place to put your hat, certainly feel free to use it - we don’t recommend using one near the entrance of the restaurant if you’re unable to keep a keen eye on it. If there is no place to safely rest your hat it is totally acceptable to wear your hat while eating. Years ago, it was commonplace to have a safe “hat-check” room to safely secure your coats and hats while dining. Unfortunately, today you’ll find this personal service available in only the finest restaurants.

Be a gentleman

When a gentleman meets a lady for the first time, always remove your hat out of respect. When meeting a lady whom you are already acquainted with, a tip of the hat is appropriate and will be noticed.

Be patriotic
The hat comes off during the national anthem. End of story. And this means every hat, no matter the type. You can be sure someone will be looking at you with a disrespectful eye if you keep your hat on during the anthem. And we don’t think kneeling during the anthem buys you much credibility either.

Well, now we have the conundrum of traveling. Airplanes simply are not friendly to cowboy hats, which is very unfortunate. Your airline steward will suggest you place it in the storage bin above you or under your seat. We recommend that you do not do this, as the chances of deforming your hat are very high. Wear it on your head if you can or rest it on your lap or your knee. The best solution is to purchase a hat can to put your hat in - then the storage bin is a perfect place to hold your hat. Another solution is to purchase a crushable hat for your travels, allowing you to pack your hat with your clothing in your suitcase. Personally, I rest my hat on my lap during flights.

If you’re not going to wear your hat, then we suggest you don’t bring it with you. And never, ever leave your hat in your car. The built-up heat inside the car will shrink it and putting it back on your head will be tougher than a two-dollar steak.

Keep it under your hat
When John B. Stetson started selling hats to cowboys, cattlemen and West-bound fortune-seekers, many wearers of cowboy hats began putting important papers and money inside their hats for safe keeping. “Keeping it under your hat” then became slang for “keep it to yourself and tell no one it’s there”.

Keep it off your bed
Long ago and far away, someone decided that bad luck will follow you once you lay your hat on a bed. Real cowboys, even today, never, ever put their hat on a bed. No one really knows why. Rarely is this theory tested. We suggest you follow this particular law of the cowboy.

Tip to the ladies only
We’ve already described the manner in which you tip your hat to a lady. But be forewarned – tipping your hat to a man is to be avoided, unless you’re looking for a fight. You may have just as well called the guy a “girly-man”.


Never touch another man’s hat, and don’t even think of trying it on. This is cause for a fight as well. The hat is such a pure personal extension of the man who wears it, reaching out and fondling a man’s hat is firm grounds for a fight. Now if a child touches your hat, you’re expected to crouch down to their height, place your hat on their head, smile and tell them how big they suddenly look.

Wearing a cowboy hat is wearing a piece of history. Such as it is, we feel that the manners of cowboy hat culture are worth hanging on to as well. We hope this brief article can get you acclimated to some of the core cowboy hat culture that’s been around for 150 years.