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Real men take their hats off when indoors

Question: I would like to address the wearing of hats. This trend has become increasingly popular; however, it appears that guidance is needed for those who have lost the knowledge of hat etiquette. Perhaps a few examples would help you to understand the problem. I attended an evening waltzing event in white tie. At least four of the other gentlemen in white tie persisted in wearing top hats inside the reception room and on the dance floor. Another time, two of the men wore soft felt fedora hats on the dance floor.

Recently, I observed a couple in a trendy restaurant. He was wearing a straw version of the hat popularized by the Indiana Jones movies. I was under the impression that hats were always removed when a man entered a building and, more important, in the presence of a lady. Has this changed? _ M.F.C., San Francisco, Calif.

Answer: You are certainly correct about wearing hats in the presence of a lady, when indoors and especially while eating!

A hat is one of the most dashing, fascinating (and flattering) accessories that a man can wear. No wonder men of style welcome the recent revival of hats. Women love them. I was intrigued to learn, while attending the Men's Fashion Association winter preview, that of the literally millions of dollars worth of clothing shown, the one item that was "swiped" was the yellow Dick Tracy felt fedora. I'm sure if he were alive today, Tracy would have caught the thief.

It's been more than 20 years since John F. Kennedy almost single-handedly helped kill the hat market. But this season, once again, hats are hot.

So, why did the men you described keep theirs on at the dance and at dinner? Because they were so delighted with how good they looked that they forgot the simple rules of proper behavior. Women admire a man who looks attractive in what he wears, especially a hat. Even cowboys check their hats when they go into a honky-tonk. And, when entering a building, Marines must remove theirs just as they cross the threshold. We may no longer be living in an era when a man tips his hat to a lady, but the gesture of removing it altogether is not to be ignored.

- Lois Fenton, author of Dress for Excellence, conducts wardrobe seminars for Fortune 500 companies around the country. She welcomes questions about men's dress or grooming for use in this column but regrets she cannot answer mail personally. Send your questions or comments to Lois Fenton, Floridian, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33731.