Of funerals and baseball caps

From the Laudator in a post called “Funeral arrangements”, which I found appropriate considering our recent discussions of the color of vestments for our own funerals:

From the selected curses of my cousin Dave:

May your kids all wear their baseball caps backwards at your funeral.

I wouldn’t go quite so far as Theodore Dalrymple (“It is impossible to look intelligent or dignified, and difficult even to look civil, in a baseball cap”) or Terrence O. Moore (“Part security blanket, part good-luck charm, these distinctive head coverings unite each barbarian with the rest of the vast barbaric horde”), but something about a baseball cap worn backwards does make the wearer look like a Neanderthal, even if he’s really a Nobel Prize winner. Catchers wear them backwards so the visor doesn’t interfere with the protective mask, but no one else has an excuse.

Some say that outfielder Ken Griffey started this odious custom, but George Will pointed out that Holden Caulfield (in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye) boasted, “I swung the old peak round to the back.” Catcher in the Rye was first published in 1951, and Ken Griffey wasn’t even born until 1969.

This practice started long ago, perhaps as early as the nineteenth century. The first stanza of “The Preacher’s Boy” by American poet James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) contains a description of a preacher’s wayward son that includes the phrase “his cap-rim turned behind” (line 7). See The Complete Poetical Works of James Whitcomb Riley (Garden City: Garden City Publishing Co., 1941), p. 284.

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  1. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Oddly enough just the other day I saw a mention of this evidence of the otherwise-estimable Honus Wagner wearing his cap wrong over a century ago (scroll down to third photo). The blogger then sidetracks to a photo of an 1878 collegiate headwear miscreant. Nothing new under the sun.

  2. Why is it so hard to fathom, that somebody might dislike having their view blocked by a hat brim? (Especially someone a bit claustrophobic.)

  3. anj says:

    Fr. Z, It is nice to see you taking on Philistine culture. Carry on.

  4. Fr Matthew says:

    Actually, there are people besides catchers with a good reason for wearing the cap backwards: photographers. Often I have gone out for a hike or to an outdoor event wearing a baseball cap, but when I pull out my DSLR and use it either in the portrait orientation or with a flash to fill in shadows, the brim gets in the way and has to go backwards. I actually don’t think it looks that bad anyway.

  5. Fr. Matthew: It doesn’t look good that way in a class room, in a nice restaurant, or in church. In sum, inside. It doesn’t look good inside front-way ’round, either.

  6. Paul says:

    Forward, backward, sideways, unless you are covering your head for a religious reason or for a work reason (hard hat, for example), “strike your cover upon entering a building” or Gunny may strike it for you.

  7. pfreddys says:

    I have to say this: Catcher In The Rye was the worst piece of garbage ever written!

  8. Animadversor says:

    I’ve always thought that people who wear their baseball caps backwards, absent some practical convenience therein, were trying to make some kind of statement. Just what that statement is, I’m not sure, thought I know I wouldn’t like it.

  9. Hieronymus says:


    I think the statement is: I’m confused.

  10. rakesvines says:

    @Animadversor : It may state non-conformity either with the white culture or conservatism. Either way, if a person shows up at a funeral that way, I doubt if any disrespect is intended. The very presence attests to solidarity with the bereaved.

  11. Clinton says:

    Here in the South, especially in the rural areas, baseball-style caps (aka “gimme caps”) are
    worn by all ages. With all due respect to Mssrs. Dalrymple and Moore, I’d never think of an
    old farmer in his feed-store hat as looking unintelligent, uncivil or the least barbaric. However,
    such a man would also see no reason to wear the cap backward or keep it on indoors.

    Around what age do you suppose wearing the cap backwards goes from looking silly but age
    appropriate to just looking sad?

    Several years ago my nephew came with his eighth grade classmates on a field trip to our state
    capitol, where I live. Of the several dozen small-town kids, almost all the boys wore caps. As
    they streamed into the capitol building, each one, unbidden, uncovered.

  12. Charles E Flynn says:

    Go to Amazon.com.
    Search for: ISBN 0671792253
    Once you have arrived at the book, use the “Click to Look Inside” feature, then search within the book for the word “Carvel”. You should start reading on page 70. Try to memorize the sentence that begins “It says to those whose expensive educations have persuaded them that the ideal of dignity…”.

  13. Henry Edwards says:

    Around what age do you suppose wearing the cap backwards goes from looking silly but age appropriate to just looking sad?

    At about the age of reason. After First Holy Communion, natch.

  14. Sliwka says:

    Re: Farmers in stores
    I’d argue that there are a few exceptions again here, usually dealing with “male space” and “mixed company”. I worked for the past number of summers pretending to be Ukrainian immigrants at a museum here in Alberta and places such as the Grain Elevator and blacksmith shops were considered appropriate to keep one’s hat one. Walking past or into one of our still consecrated church’s (Ukr. Orthodox Church of Canada, Russo-Orthodox, and a Ukrainian Catholic), or even past the roadside shrine, was a different story.

    Baseball caps, just wearing around for the sake of wearing it, I think has very little place for people past their teens. If you want to wear a hat, and I think it is a classy touch as long as you know how to wear it, consider flat/driving caps or wider brimmed hats like fedoras and homburgs.

  15. Henry Edwards says:

    Sliwka: “Baseball caps, just wearing around for the sake of wearing it, I think has very little place for people past their teens.”

    I can well imagine that men in Alberta may run a bit more effete, but here in the rural South, most every true good ole boy wears a baseball cap, most everywhere–worn forwards, of course, at least by real men; down here we know exactly what a backwards cap means–though not in church. I myself have a matching set in enough colors for all occasions, all inscribed Roman (RC) Catholic (which is enough to distinguish me from the crowd in these parts).

  16. SonofMonica says:

    Henry, You beat me to it.

    A baseball cap is pretty much white male standard issue fatigues around here (in the South) during the daytime (unless you have a job that requires otherwise). So, if it’s a weekend, and it’s day time (probably due to the fact that this is when the serious sporting events are played), the caps are everywhere until it’s time to show respect. For example, come time for the National Anthem at the football game on Saturday, you will see every male head uncovered, with baseball cap over the heart in place of the bare hand. And on Saturday night the caps go back in the closet. You’d never see one on a Sunday morning, although they may come out again on Sunday afternoon for the NFL game!

    Baseball caps are part of being male if you’re south of the Mason-Dixon line. They are must haves for riding 4-wheelers (ATVs), farming, going to sporting events, working around the yard on Saturdays, and meeting at the bar to watch the game and drink a few beers with the guys. All of these things are still done around here! You’d never catch anyone seriously wearing one in, say, a bar at night, or in any other place where the prospect of striking up conversation with a woman would arise. But for casual settings, there is no age limit down here, my friends.

  17. danphunter1 says:

    Baseball caps should be worn by basball players on the field of play.
    Men should wear fedora’s or a similar head covering in public, after all a hat is part of the normal attire out of doors.

  18. THREEHEARTS says:

    The Bowery Boys in the 40’s a whole series of movie cartoons were the first I remember. The real dumb one always turned his baseball cap backwards when he did something real daft

  19. lofstrr says:

    I wear a cap with our company logo on it, caps are pretty common in the agriculture industry though a proper cowboy hat carries more respect.

    I only turn my cap backward when I ride my motorcycle. Too easy for the wind to catch the bill and having the bill cover your neck helps to keep you from getting burned.

  20. Paul says:

    @Hieronymus Sorry for the confusion. “Cover” = hat (head covering) in the Marine Corps. To strike, is to remove; think strike out the error in a line of text. One of the things drilled into recruits in basic training is that all head coverings are removed as you enter a building–it’s a matter of respect. If you fail to do so, the drill instructor will likely do it for you and your head may come off too.

    Gunny is short for Gunnery Sergeant, an upper/mid level of the enlisted ranks.

  21. meunke says:

    P. J. O’Rourke had a good quote, and I’m pretty sure he had baseball caps in mind:

    “A hat should be taken off when you meet a lady and left off. Nothing looks dumber than a hat.”

    To those who give practical reasons for turning the hat around, i don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is how bad it looks when used as a ‘fashion statement’, which is MOST of the time. So many ball caps are now even printing slogans and emblems on the back side specifically for this purpose.

  22. nhaggin says:

    Let’s stay focused here: the issue is not the wearing of the baseball cap, nor even the wearing of the baseball cap backwards, but the disrespect shown by keeping one’s head covered when it should be bare. Wear a baseball cap if you wish, or wear a Homburg, but don’t wear it inside, don’t wear it in church, and don’t wear it during a funeral.

    I remember vividly my first trip to the cathedral in St. Louis: I was so dazzled by the beauty of the place that the verger had to remind me to remove my hat.

  23. meunke says:

    “As they streamed into the capitol building, each one, unbidden, uncovered.”

    I honestly wouldn’t have a big problem with hats if people didn’t, constantly, and very crassly disregard manners, unlike what these kids did. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone remove their hat when they met a lady either…

  24. ghp95134 says:

    Suburbanbanshee: Why is it so hard to fathom, that somebody might dislike having their view blocked by a hat brim? (Especially someone a bit claustrophobic.)

    While I cannot address claustrophobia … I can submit the following four reasons, contra, which do address stultuphobia:

    1. http://www.picshag.com/pics/092009/baseball-cap-fail.jpg
    2. http://rencher.com/images/20090414a.jpg
    3. http://i.cdn.turner.com/trutv/thesmokinggun.com/graphics/art4/0208081mugs7.jpg
    4. http://s3.amazonaws.com/collegeotr/images/blogs/7aaca262a2331a595f68dec2e1b8f70d.jpg

    –Guy Power

  25. Ernesto Gonzalez says:

    I just thought that someone should point out that, military etiquette aside, there are many occasions when a man may wear his hat indoors: banks, hotel and office lobbies and hallways, stations and their transportation (buses and rail), and elevators. Of course, when speaking to any lady (regardless of age), entering a church, or honoring any thing, place, or person a man should always remove his hat.

    And, to get back on topic: Unless a man is actively engaged in an activity in which it is obvious that the cap’s brim would be a burden, he should stop all failed attempts at “hipness” and turn that sucker brim forward.

    And, while we’re at it: Please remove all New Era stickers from those caps!

  26. ghp95134 says:

    TomB …. I beat you by five minutes!

    –Guy Power

  27. Jayna says:

    “A baseball cap is pretty much white male standard issue fatigues around here (in the South) during the daytime (unless you have a job that requires otherwise).”

    And if you’re in Georgia specifically, it has to be a UGA hat with a fish hook on the brim.

  28. Of course baseball hats are appropriate for working in your grubbies, casual outdoor occasions, etc. They are good at what they do, which is to keep your head cool (preventing sunstroke) and shade your eyes with the brim (if needed). That’s why they’ve largely superseded straw work hats for men — superior technology and fittedness.

    This is not to denigrate straw hats, of course, since they do still work well. My grandpa, when working out back in the field, used to alternate between his official farmer hat (straw) and his unofficial one (ball cap). I believe the ball cap usually won out on the garden tractor/mower, while the straw was preferable for working on his garden patch, little orchard of trees, and little bitty mini- vineyard.

  29. Sliwka says:


    Alberta (along with Sask and Manitoba) are pretty much our “South”. I didn’t mean to imply that it is culturally normal to wear fancier caps and hats here, in fact it is just the opposite with the “perpetual boyhood” that seems to flow out of our oil industry. I agree that ball caps are completely in line at sporting events, maybe just not when going to the local library.

    On the topic of hats where they should not be, I attended a friends wedding at our local Ukrainian Catholic cathedral and there was a guy, not the photographer, roaming around the nave and up onto the Altar room steps with a little digital snappy camera wearing one of those “stylish” fedoras. I cannot believe prior to the marriage that he was not told to remove it, or even where he can and cannot go.

    Why do people think it is okay to wear hats inside churches, schools, et cetera? With the loss of “hat culture” arguably from JFK not wearing one, why are inappropriate hats so prevalent now?

  30. Frank H says:

    No one has mentioned the, to me, even more troubling “fashion statement” of the odd looking flat brimmed ball caps worn neither forward nor backward but at a goofy angle off to the side.

    For me, I’ll stick with my Tilley hat.

  31. Another professional exception to the bill-forward rule:
    Surveying instrument operators! You can’t see through the scope, and the bill rams into the handle. So as soon as the instrument comes out, the hat rotates 180°.

  32. AnAmericanMother says:

    Which leads me to a question.

    I don’t ‘uncover’ in church — in fact I’m supposed to have something on my head after all.

    But at an outdoor event wearing my cat hat or cowboy hat, and somebody calls for prayer, do ladies uncover? I’ve seen some do it; I generally don’t because I thought ladies didn’t remove their hats except in a theater where they might block somebody’s view — but I feel pretty silly being just about the only one with my hat on my head.

  33. Formality for ladies, inside or outside or during the National Anthem, means keeping your hat ON. Taking off your hat would (it is assumed) muss your hair and necessitate much combing, and would definitely say that you were sitting around at home with your feet up. Ever since the Roman Empire, covered hair has been the more formal option for women. Why men are the opposite, men can tell you.

    Military ladies may have a different protocol. Winter hats that are very warm are an exception.

    Yeah, I see this happen a lot. Younger women mostly weren’t alive to see other women wear hats inside, so they instinctively do what the men do. Or they wear hats that are a bit cumbersome once you get inside, as Ziva demonstrated when she took off her fashionable fall hat when she got to her desk at NCIS on this week’s ep. But those of us who Know Better can keep on our attractive hats.

  34. mibethda says:

    One who chooses to wear a baseball cap backwards generally advertises that he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer – e.g. a former schoolmate, an attorney in central Florida, tells how he once defended one of several young men charged with home invasion. His client refused a plea offer and insisted on a trial – he was convinced that the victims could never identify him since he ‘disguised’ himself by turning the baseball cap he was wearing backwards before entering the house. Naturally, he is currently serving a lengthy term in the Florida prison system.

  35. Sliwka says:

    I’d argue that when women wear distinctively informal hats (i.e. the afformentioned ball caps, cowboy hats, et cetera) they should follow the same anthem etiquette as males. Others would agree: http://www.ehow.com/way_5251357_ladies-hat-etiquette.html

    Re: flat brims and stickers
    Apparently young kids started emulating, and probably not understanding, pro players when they win penants and the World Series when they get new caps and don’t break tehm in before being interviewed.

  36. AnAmericanMother says:

    Ladies never wore dog training hats, or cowboy action shooting hats, or Tilley hats . . . .

    I do still have my grandmother’s hats. She was a Southern lady to her perfectly manicured fingertips. Chanel suits and pretty little hats that she got from a real live modiste. I can’t wear her suits – she looked like a French marquise and wore a size 6 – but I can wear her hats.

    She would be immensely shocked to see me wearing a cat hat, brush pants, and camo-colored wellies and standing in the mud at the edge of a pond yelling (and, I am afraid, occasionally cursing) at a large muddy dog.

  37. AnAmericanMother says:


    I thought it might be something like that.

  38. elaurier says:

    AnAmericanMother…um, off topic, but would any of those Chanel suits be for sale? Wondering what yesterday’s size 6 is called now…..

  39. AnAmericanMother says:

    So sorry! I gave them away to smaller friends when we moved!

  40. Tom Ryan says:

    I’ve found few who even remember HOW to put on a hat. Rather than from the front and pulled down with the palm at the back, they grab it by the bill/brim and pull it down rear to front.

    20 years ago, they’d only pull it down enough so it rested on the back of their head like a zucchetto with the bill pointing up in the air. Now they pull it down over their eyebrows.

  41. Alice says:

    When I was in college, baseball caps had to be turned backwards for exams because someone had at some point gotten himself expelled by writing hints on his cap. They couldn’t really make a no hats rule because there were enough Sikhs and Muslims that it would have become a religious issue.

  42. catholicmidwest says:

    Small children look cute in them. After toddlerhood, few people do.

  43. catholicmidwest says:

    They should’ve made the barbarians take their hats off indoors or fail the test by default. And while they’re at it, they should have been expelled from the test if they stank, which foreign students often do in my experience.

    The following should be first class in college for immigrants, particularly those from middle eastern countries: how to take a bath with soap and water once a day. Second class: how to act like a civilized human being in public, including how to take your damn hat off when you enter a doorway. This should include hats that look like bank robbers’ getups for women.

  44. AnAmericanMother says:

    When it comes to removing hats, Vlad Tepes as I recall had an interesting response . . .

  45. Springkeeper says:

    Nhaggin said:
    “Let’s stay focused here: the issue is not the wearing of the baseball cap, nor even the wearing of the baseball cap backwards, but the disrespect shown by keeping one’s head covered when it should be bare. Wear a baseball cap if you wish, or wear a Homburg, but don’t wear it inside, don’t wear it in church, and don’t wear it during a funeral”.

    Oh absolutely! Much as I may find it a completely redneck and silly look for anyone who isn’t a farmer, small boy, or actually playing baseball, the point was the lack of respect and decorum shown in wearing one, especially to a funeral (or church).

  46. homeschoolofthree says:

    Pipefitters also wear them backwards, it keeps the bill out of the way of their hoods and serves to protect the back of their necks from errant sparks that might fly that way.

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