Movie Theater Etiquette: Ladies, Kindly Remove Your Hats

Summer movie season is upon us! Many of us escape into a cool, dark theater to see the latest blockbuster film during these hot months. And while we wait for the feature to start, we are reminded onscreen to refrain from texting, talking and otherwise disturbing the rest of the audience. Well, in the course of browsing through our collections for a reference question, I came upon a reminder that some things never change! The need to inform moviegoers of proper etiquette developed at the same time as movie theaters themselves, in the early 1900s. Still frames were shown before the film, during the intermission, during technical difficulties with the film, and even after the movie. Many focused on good behavior, and those are the ones that really caught my attention.

Some were directed at specific groups, such as ladies wearing large hats, and employed humor and exaggeration:

Madam, how would you like to sit behind the hat you are wearing. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a11232

Madam, how would you like to sit behind the hat you are wearing. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a11232

Ladies kindly remove your hats. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a11022

Ladies kindly remove your hats. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a11022

Of course, in an era where most people wore hats, the men were asked to remove theirs as well:

Gentlemen will please remove their hats and kindly refrain from smoking / D'Artois & Cie. Photo copyrighted by Electro Mechanical Co., 1907. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a14308

Gentlemen will please remove their hats and kindly refrain from smoking / D’Artois & Cie. Photo copyrighted by Electro Mechanical Co., 1907. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a14308

Slides asked gentlemen to keep the theater clean as well, by refraining from both smoking and spitting on the floor!

If you expect to rate as a gentleman, you will not expectorate on the floor. Photo copyrighted by Electro Mechanical Co., 1907. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a14314

If you expect to rate as a gentleman, you will not expectorate on the floor. Photo copyrighted by Electro Mechanical Co., 1907. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a14314

Quiet during the feature was also requested of all:

Loud talking or whistling not allowed. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a13960

Loud talking or whistling not allowed. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a13960

Please applaud with hands only. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a11230

Please applaud with hands only. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov

And for those theaters wishing to attract women and children, some images assured them of their safety and the appropriate nature of the films shown:

If annoyed when here, please tell the management. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a11014

If annoyed when here, please tell the management. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a11014

Ladies and children are cordially invited to this theatre. No offensive pictures are ever shown here. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a12295

Ladies and children are cordially invited to this theatre. No offensive pictures are ever shown here. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a12295

I think we can all agree that the rules for good behavior in a movie theater haven’t changed much from the early days, and that a little humor always helps!

Good night. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a13958

Good night. Photo, copyrighted by Scott and Van Altena, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a13958

Learn More:

  • Enjoy more of the images shown to early moviegoers, including announcements of reel changes, intermission announcements and even simple greetings and farewells, such as the one featured at right. The images featured in the post are from two groups, cataloged as LOTs (groups).
  • Pack your picnic – and perhaps leave your large hats at home! -  and join the crowd as the Library of Congress kicks off the 2018 Summer Movies on the Lawn! The first feature, Field of Dreams, is this Thursday, July 12 at 8:00 on the north lawn of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Read more details about the whole line-up so you can plan your free summer movie watching!
  • Each of the six movies shown this summer at the Library are on the National Film Registry. The National Film Registry selects 25 films each year showcasing the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation. Learn more about the registry and read the entire list of films.
  • Take a tour of movie theaters from all over the United States through the work of photographer John Margolies in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

One Comment

  1. HP
    July 12, 2018 at 9:00 am

    This is so neat! Thanks for posting!!!

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