Dare to Ask: Are Southern men and their ball caps
By Phillip Milano
I do not understand the habit some Southern men have of wearing ball caps
indoors, in restaurants and movie theaters, in particular. Has etiquette changed
while I wasn't looking?
Jeff, 58, Jacksonville
I don't know about the Southern men you've encountered, but as one of the
GRITS (Girls Raised In The South), I can promise you that no true Southern
gentleman would ever wear a ball cap in a restaurant. Etiquette didn't change;
some men just prefer to ignore it.
S.D., 38, female, Tampa
If you're brought up to think wearing hats indoors is rude, you'll think it's
rude. If you're brought up thinking that's the norm, then that's the norm. In
some cultures, for example, burping at the dinner table is considered a
compliment to the cook. In American culture, it's considered rude. Ball caps
indoors don't, for the most part, interfere with another's ability to enjoy
their meal or see a movie. Now if it were a cowboy hat, that would be another
S. Rollison, 49, Pennsylvania
I never see this in metro areas, but I see it in the rural southern and
northern areas of Minnesota. Minnesota is about as Southern as Maine lobster. So
it's more rural than Southern (to wear ball caps).
Gregory, 17, Minnesota
Stephen Clay McGehee of DeLand runs ConfederateColonel.com, billed as "an
online community of those striving to live the life of the Southern Gentleman or
Southern Lady in today's world."
So why can't guys chill with a ball cap on in a restaurant? (For us, it's
because we'd look like a bespectacled chump, but we'd look that way wearing one
McGehee said it's for the same reason it's wrong not to stand when a lady
enters a room: It's cruddy form.
"Most people do it because they don't realize it's wrong, or because their
dad or buddies do it and nobody's told them it's bad manners," he said. "As a
rule: If it's a place inside where someone normally is seated, take off your hat
or cap. So there's no problem wearing one indoors in a mall or hallway."
He agreed that donning a ball cap everywhere is not peculiar to Southern
"It apparently started out more as a rural thing. Say most of your relatives
were farmers and wore ball caps to keep from getting sunburned or cut down on
glare. That's practical. But now people wear them who don't need them. It's like
driving a pickup when all you do is carry groceries around. Now they do it to
fit an image."
That image has been perpetuated by the media, McGehee added. Once Hollywood
got hold of the stereotyped Southerner look, and once the '60s and '70s made
rejection of authority and formality de rigueur, it was off to Bass Pro Shops.
"Now it's a different type of conformity: a rejection to getting dressed up.
[Wearing a cap in the wrong place] makes you look like you don't know what
you're doing," he said. "They are following Hollywood's image of what a Southern
man should be like."
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Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
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