When winter comes, my extremities are always cold. This isn’t really a problem except my head. At home I wear a hoodie or sometimes a wool babushka. But what to do at work or in other closed public places? What is indoor hat etiquette? — Patricia, Manchester Township, New Jersey
Wearing or not wearing a hat inside the house was once a very simple question. For men, a fedora or trilby was an outdoor accessory for moving between home and the office. Once inside, they immediately removed it. For women, a hat worn as part of an outfit was allowed to remain on the head almost always, partly out of sensitivity to the issue of hat styling; partly by recognizing that a hat is part of a look, like a necklace or shoes; and partly because, well, you try to put on a headdress and take it off as you please.
However, as the rules about when to wear a hat became more confusing, like almost all dress code rules, the generally accepted norm was to not wear hats at the table, but perhaps wear hats everywhere (except during the national anthem). In fact, today the question is not so much whether you should wear a hat indoors, but rather what hat exactly you can wear.
I think the answer largely comes down to the usual question of personal freedom versus social contract. You’re always balancing your own needs (warmth of head!) and wants (I like the look!) with those of others. To wit: a wide-brimmed hat, or even a fedora, could easily get in someone’s way at a dinner party if, for example, the seats were close and you turned your head too quickly. Any headdress that shades or hides the eyes is not good in a social situation. And if you’re surrounded by people from an older generation who might be offended by an inner hat, it might be worth the inner cringe to avoid the emotional chill that could result.
Still, although a study published in The British Medical Journal debunked the myth that we lose 40 percent of body heat through the head (the study said it’s more like 10 percent, which corresponds to the proportion of the surface of the head to that of the body), It is also true that an exposed head can be uncomfortably cold. So, having accepted all the above etiquette, what to do?
If you want to test the waters, a beanie is probably the safest option, in part because it is the least intrusive and least demanding type of hat. You can always try calling hats “head blankets” and see if that helps reframe the conversation. I have a colleague who often wears a little black beanie at work with her baggy pants and short jackets, and it looks tremendously cool. Rihanna wore hers to the Met Gala in 2021 and appeared on best dressed lists everywhere.
But there is another solution that completely avoids the issue. What is this miraculous object, you ask?
The knitted ear warmer.
A cross between a very thick headband and a beanie, often made of cashmere or wool, it is a hybrid invention that covers much, but not all, of the head. (Hybrid inventions, like the jacket and coat, are my favorite fashion items.) The ear warmer is the equivalent of comfortable slipper socks, but for the other end of the body, and therefore solves both heat and heat. etiquette issue, as well as a host of other potential dilemmas.
Additionally, ear warmers often look vaguely like a fortune teller’s scarf, with a knot at the top of the head, giving it a sort of mysterious air and offering a possible starting point for a conversation. If you’re feeling crafty, there are many patterns available online. And if you’re running out of stocking stuffer ideas, they’re always a good option.
Your style questions, answered
Each week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can submit to her anytime via email either Twitter. The questions are edited and condensed.