We have been wearing hats and a form of sunglasses for thousands of years, however the two have only become common place since the 20th century. Sadly, in the 21st century, more people than ever are wearing these items in our homes! Obviously these people are worried they may get wet in your drawing room and may not see you from the glare of the sun in your morning room! This is of course ridiculous and rude and I will explain the correct etiquette shortly, however before we do this lets get a bit of history to hats and sunglasses.
The hat is something that covers one’s head and can of course be worn for different reasons which will include protection from the elements to ceremonial and religious purposes and of course safety, but let's not forget in the 21st century, a fashion accessory.
Hats are also an indicator of social status. It is believed that hats have been around for more than 3,000 BC as Archaeologists believe that the Venus of Brassempouy from 26,000 years ago may depict a hat. One of the earliest known hats was worn by a bronze age man, "Ötzi", whose body including his hat was found frozen in a mountain between Austria and Italy, where he'd been since around 3,300 BC. One of the first images of a hat appears in a tomb painting from Thebes in Egypt which shows a man wearing a conical straw hat, dated to around 3200 BC. Hats were worn in ancient Egypt as any upper class Egyptians shaved their head, then covered it in a headdress intended to help them keep cool. The first known hat with a brim was a Greek petasos St. Clement, the patron saint of felt hat makers and is said to have discovered wool felt when he filled his sandals with flax fibres to protect his feet, around 800 AD.
In the Middle Ages, hats were a sign of social status and used to single out certain groups. The 1215 Fourth Council of the Lateran required that all Jews identify themselves by wearing the Judenhat (“Jewish hat”). In the Middle Ages, hats for women ranged from simple scarves to elaborate hennin, and denoted social status. Structured hats for women similar to those of male courtiers began to be worn in the late 16th century. The term ‘milliner’ comes from the Italian city of Milan, where the best quality hats were made in the 18th century. Millinery was traditionally a woman’s occupation, with the milliner not only creating hats and bonnets but also choosing lace, trimmings and accessories to complete an outfit. In the first half of the 19th century, women wore bonnets that gradually became larger, decorated with ribbons, flowers, feathers, and gauze trims. By the end of the century, many other styles were introduced, among them hats with wide brims and flat crowns, the flower pot and the toque. By the middle of the 1920s, when women began to cut their hair short, they chose hats that hugged the head like a helmet.
The tradition of wearing hats to horse racing events began at the Royal Ascot in Britain, which maintains a strict dress code. All guests in the Royal Enclosure must wear hats.
In prehistoric and historic times, the Inuit people wore flattened walrus ivory glasses, looking through narrow slits to block harmful reflected rays of the sun. These were not exactly a fashion item thankfully! It is said that the Roman emperor Nero liked to watch gladiator fights with emeralds! It would appear that these would have worked in a way similar to mirrors. Sunglasses made from flat panes of smoky quartz would offer no corrective powers, however they did protect the wearer’s eyes from glare and were used in China in the 12th century. Ancient documents describe the use of such crystal sunglasses by judges in ancient Chinese courts to conceal their facial expressions while questioning witnesses! It wasn't until the 18th century that James Ayscough began experimenting with tinted lenses in spectacles around 1752. These were not "sunglasses" as the term is now used. Ayscough believed blue or green tinted glass could correct specific vision impairments. Yellow/amber and brown-tinted spectacles were also commonly prescribed item for people with syphilis in the 19th and early 20th centuries because sensitivity to light was one of the symptoms of the disease.
Now to the etiquette which is quite simpler. Ladies, you are of course permitted to keep hats and gloves on when in someone else's home. You only remove the gloves when dining and these of course are discreetly taken off and placed on your lap and placed under the napkin and put back on before leaving the table. Ladies, only remove hats after 6pm at which point married ladies may wear tiaras to official events or white tie dinners. Ladies, sunglasses are indeed removed when indoors and let's not place them on our heads as they are not a fashion accessory or hairband.
For gentlemen, hats are removed as soon as you walk indoors and either left in the cloakroom or nearby. Thankfully after 6pm you may still wear top hats when at a white tie event or similar! May I add a top hat may not be replaced with a baseball cap as we're not playing baseball during the meal. Sunglasses, as with ladies, are not worn indoors or placed on the head! As a gentleman, you do not require a hairband and a fashion accessory! Finally, when conversing with others you remove sunglasses for eye to eye contact with the other person, only putting them back on when the conversation is finished. Gentlemen, when wearing a hat we of course doff the hat (a hat tip is an act of tipping or doffing one's hat as an expression of recognition, respect, gratitude, greeting, or simple salutation and acknowledgement between two persons).
Recently I ran a poll on social media asking the following question: Ladies and gentlemen a question: do you think it is rude for someone to wear sunglasses when inside?
The result was thankfully the following
This proved to me that the majority agreed that removing sunglasses when talking to another is still an important sign of respect and vital for eye to eye contact during a conversation. As always, a huge thank you to all who took part in the poll and I will be running the next one later this week.