In context of (fiction) Western Historical Romances: Old West, United States, set virtually anywhere in the States or the Territories from 1850 to 1900 ~


MYTH A: Hero pinches brim of his hat as show of respect to a woman

MYTH B:  Hero pinches brim of his hat as a flirtatious acknowledgement of a woman


Um, no.

Just no.

A far better term comes from Frosts Laws and By-Laws of American Society (1869): “Lifted in Salutation.”

“If a gentleman meets a gentleman, he may salute him by touching his hat without removing it, but if a lady be with either gentleman, both hats must be lifted in salutation. If a gentleman stops to speak to a lady, in the street, he must hold his hat in his hand during the interview, unless she requests him to replace it. With a gentleman friend etiquette does not require this formality.” (emphasis added)

Cited by Etiquipedia

I’ve explained quite a bit about nineteenth century hat etiquette (United States) in my “Hat Etiquette” Post. In a post about how I’ve personally fallen hard for accurate history in fiction, I selected this hat-lifting vs hat-tipping as one small example. Click on either link below to view either post.

After publishing my recent Falling Hard for Accurate History in Fiction post, I discovered these additional remaining citations from vintage etiquette manuals and books and decided to share them as further supporting evidence.

“Lift your hat to a lady when she greets you in public (Merely touching the brim or a slight “tip” of the hat was very rude).”

Source: Civil War Etiquette: Martine’s Handbook of Vulgarisms in Conversation, cited within Basic Social Rules for Gentlemen in an article titled The Language of Nineteenth Century Etiquette Books.

True West Magazine published a Cowboy Hat Etiquette article with a good dose of humor. It’s charming. This quote illustrates just how charming:

Hat Rule #3: Tip your hat like you mean it

Don’t just flick the brim, remove it from your noggin so there is no confusion when you’re acknowledging a crowd in a parade or just a pretty girl on the boardwalk. But don’t be waving it around like some hillbilly shouting for help.


Theodore Roosevelt returning from a hunt, Glenwood Springs, Colorado, circa 1905. Notice the superb “Tip of the Hat”. Image courtesy of True West Magazine, Cowboy Hat Etiquette.


Why is it so easy for twenty-first century authors (and readers) to expect the pinch of the hat brim?







Note: “lifts his hat” is different, as described, than pinching the brim, swiping the brim, or a mock salute at the brim.

if and when he seats himself, he takes off his hat. Also, when a well dressed lady enters the elevator, he briefly removes his hat as a compliment to her.


The hat is also removed when the national anthem is played or the U.S. flag passes by in a parade. As a sign of respect, the hat is briefly removed or raised when one passes in front of a Church, an act of homage to Our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament, or in the presence of a passing funeral procession, in recognition of the deceased as created in the image and likeness of God.


To tip one’s hat is to lift it slightly off the forehead either by the brim of a stiff hat or by the crown of a soft one, and then replace it. The modern etiquette books rarely mention the rules that govern tipping or doffing the hat that every gentleman used to know and practice automatically. Almost all men – not just those of the upper classes but of even a modest social level – were quick to correct a son who left his hat on in the presence of a lady with whom he was acquainted. The more cultured knew under what circumstances he should tip his hat even to a stranger, and lift it for friends and acquaintances.


Here are some occasions when a man would lift his hat in public:

  • If a lady who is a stranger thanks him for some service or assistance, he lifts his hat in acknowledgement.
  • If he asks a woman, authority or elderly man for directions, he lifts his hat as his thanks.
  • If he accidentally jostles or disturbs a lady in a crowd or in passing her in a tight space, he lifts his hat and excuses himself, saying “I beg your pardon,”


In short, a man lifts his hat in situations where he would say “Excuse me,” or “Thank you.” It is a polite gesture that “speaks” to the stranger more pertinently than words.


Also, a man always lifts his hat to his wife or any lady he knows when he encounters her, joins her or takes leave of her in public as a sign of his respect. (emphasis added)



Baldwin’s Custom Hat & Boot Co. explains modern hat etiquette, including the age-old “hat tipping” (visually shown to and descriptively emphasized as “lifting”) is as “generally applied only to men.”

For men, hats are tipped, slightly lifting the hat off your forehead, when meeting a lady (remove your hat if you stop to talk), or to say to anyone, male or female, “thank you,” “excuse me,” “hello,” “goodbye,” “you’re welcome,” or “how do you do.” (emphasis added)



What do you think? Have you noticed a “pinch of the brim” in western historical romances? Or “lifting the hat”? Is this “myth” and the 19th century parallel curious trivia?… or does it matter?

Please scroll down and comment.

Up next:

Common Details of Western Historical Romance that are Historically Incorrect, Part 3:

Copyright 2019 Kristin Holt LC