Hats Off

In the Indian Army, everyone, irrespective of their rank are expected to salute a dead body, whether it is of a fallen soldier who may be junior in rank, a civilian – why even if he is the enemy.  The Youtube video above is taken after the Kargil War of 199 where the Pakistani soldiers are collecting the dead bodies of their fallen soldiers.  Note that every Indian soldier is saluting the enemy fallen soldiers, even though they killed many of their comrades.

Our Regiment once had the Quarter Guard – main guard room – located near the road frequented by civilian traffic.  Whenever a funeral procession passed by, the Regimental Guard ‘Presented Arms’ and  offered a ‘General salute’ to hour the dead.

It is a cliché in Indian movies when the police arrive at a scene of death, the inspector on realising that someone is dead, is shown removing his cap as a mark of respect.   Does the Police manuals lay down such an act?

It is rare to see the Police personnel saluting the dead anywhere.  Why they do not even remove their caps as depicted in the movies.  From where did this ‘Cap Off’ tradition begin from?

History of removing headgear as a mark of respect can be traced back to the days of the knights, wearing helmets that covered their heads.  They would lift their visors to show their faces to their monarchs. superiors and friends as a sign of respect.  They used their right hand to lift their visors to show that it did not contain a weapon as most soldiers were right handed.

This practice quickly caught on.  Later, the helmet or hat became a part of the soldier’s uniform and thus it began to be thought of as disrespectful to take it off.  It is surely a lot dangerous to take off a helmet in battle with gunfire and other shrapnel flying around.  The salute with the right hand now replaced the gesture of lifting the visor or removing the headgear.

By the 20th century, hats were pretty much worn by everyone in the West when they went outdoors, as it kept the sun off in the summer and kept the head warm in the winter.  In addition to this, in the cities there was an amazing amount of industrial dirt and grime and the hats were good for keeping the dirt off the head and out of the hair.

Men’s hats are easily removed, but women’s hats with ribbons, bows, flowers and other decorations can be quite a production to remove, especially if they are anchored with hatpins. Women might also risk messing up their hairdos if they had to remove their hats. Hence, only the men were expected to remove their hats as a mark of respect.  Proper hat etiquette defines that while removing the hat, the lining should never show, for obvious reasons.  One must always hold the hat in such a way that the outside is all that is visible.

Men generally ‘tipped’ their hats, or removed them, in the presence of women as a sign of good manners and respect. This developed into removing one’s hat when indoors as a sign of respect and trust.  When entering a home or a building, a hat was generally removed immediately upon entering.

From this originated the expression ‘Hats Off’ normally used when you wish to show your admiration for someone.  Hence it was a ‘male only’ expression.

There is another tradition regarding hats that when men put something on their hatband, it is generally placed on the left side.  Anything on a woman’s hatband is usually placed on the right side.  Is it because men generally commence walking with their left foot and women with their right?

Orators would generally remove their hats while speaking–even when outdoors, so that the audience might observe their facial expressions.  In theaters and while in a church, the hats are removed once the gentlemen took their seats, as a consideration for those sitting behind.

Today many wear baseball caps as a fashion statement with some believing it to be cool to wear it backwards.  It is a good etiquette to remove such caps while indoors as there is absolutely no purpose to keeping it on; not even to cover up a bald spot or your badly kept hair.

So, Hats Off to all those who keep wearing their hats all the time, even while indoors.

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