Question: Must one wear a hat during Shabbat meals?
Answer: Increasingly, Orthodox Jews tend to wear hats during Shabbat meals. They see it as a sign of honor. But is this custom halachically necessary or proper?
The Talmud (Berachot 51a) states that in honor of the kos shel berachah before Birkat Hamazon it is customary to perform “ituf,” or “wrapping [of the head].” The Gemara offers two examples of ituf. “Rav Pappa,” it states, “wrapped himself with a talit and Rav Asi placed a hat on his head.”
The Bach (Orach Chayim 183) maintains that Rav Asi wore a yarmulka during meals but put on a hat in honor of the kos shel berachah. The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 183: 11) cites the ruling of the Bach and suggests that “those who have fear of the Lord” adopt this practice. The Mishnah Berurah writes that wearing a hat complies with the Talmudic edict of ituf. He also notes that common custom is to place a hat on one’s head for Birkat Hamazon even without a kos shel berachah.
The simple interpretation of these sources is that a hat was not worn during meals in the time of the amora’im and the poskim quoted above. Otherwise putting on a hat for Birkat Hamazon would not have been regarded as a special mark of homage to the kos shel beracha.
Thus, it would seem that the proper way to act is to wear a yarmulke during meals and only put on a hat for Birkat Hamazon in order to afford honor to the kos shel beracha” and/or Birkat Hamazon.