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"Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her
head," Paul wrote. "It is one and the same thing as having her head
It's a fragment of Scripture that Christians have variously ignored and
revered ever since. As 40,000 members of the Church of God in Christ
gathered here for their Holy Convocation, exuberant reverence for Paul's
words was on full display.
"Our ladies do wear their hats," said Church of God in Christ Presiding
Bishop Charles Blake. "They have that in common with the Queen of
Indeed, more than a third of the nearly 200 exhibitors' booths were
peddling a vast array of women's hats, referred to in some circles as
"crowns." Men in sharp dark suits carried two or three drum-shaped boxes
as they trailed their be-hatted wives zigzagging through the convention
center exhibitor floor.
"I come every year to get a look at the hats," said Kay Slack of Los
Angeles. "A hat says you're a lady. It says you care."
Blake said the preponderance of elaborate hats at the annual Holy
Convocation is in line with the saints' -- as COGIC members are called
-- tradition of dressing up to worship God.
"When you come before the Lord, we think you should be as well-dressed
as when you come before the president or any dignitary," Blake said.
Victor Paul Furnish, a New Testament scholar emeritus at Southern
Methodist University, has written that Paul's instruction to the
Christian women of Corinth to veil themselves likely comes from the
notion that loose, flowing hair was associated with promiscuous women or
COGIC is the largest African-American Pentecostal denomination in the
country with 6.5 million members. But it's not just black Protestant
churches that adhere to a head-covering ritual.
Some streams of Judaism believe that wearing a head covering in a
synagogue signals a reverence for God above. Traditionalist Catholic
women sometimes wear lace veils on top of their heads during Mass. Head
coverings are a well-known practice for some Muslim women.
The hats on display in St. Louis are about adhering to biblical
principles, but they're also about tradition in the century-old
"I was born in this church, and for as long as I can remember, women had
their heads covered," said Delores Peterson, 55, of Houston. "That's
what you do when you're in the house of the Lord."
Diane Johnson, minding her daughter's booth, "Diane's Hats," said she
had been wearing hats to church since she was 18.
"I remember being a little girl, and seeing my grandma wearing a hat and
thinking, 'I can't wait until I'm old enough to wear a hat,"' Johnson
said. "An important part of this church for women is to educate younger
women. We're supposed to train the next generation of women, and passing
on this tradition is part of that."
Gwendolyn O'Neal, a professor of consumer, apparel and retail studies at
the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said the tradition of
fancy hats in black churches actually predates African-American
O'Neal, whose research focuses on African-American aesthetic of dress,
said part of that aesthetic "can be traced to West African cultures
during the enslaving years."
The head is central to West African art, she said, typified in drawings
of people with exaggerated and highly adorned headdresses, especially in
African rituals where "adornment of the head is extremely significant."
But the recession has also hit hats.
Paula Ellis, store manager for Shellie McDowell Millinery, said her hats
sell for $59 to $800. In recent years, Ellis said, it would not have
been unusual for women to buy two or three hats during the conference.
"Now they're looking to buy just one good one," she said.
Age is also a factor. For a long time, church hats were the domain for
older women. Recently, though, hats have become more fashionable, and
younger women are donning them, said Ann Dillon, 80, who's owned Ann's
Hats in downtown St. Louis with her sister, Bessie Hicks, 82, for
The earliest known traditional hats in history were worn in thebes and
seen on ancient Egyptian murals. Next there were Phrygian caps that were
worn by the freed slaves in Rome, signifying their independence. As the
centuries went by, the traditional use of hats worn by women in church
is said to originate from the Apostle Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians
11:15, which says that women should cover their heads during worship.
Black women have since embraced those words with elaborate church hats.
During and after slavery, black women who worked as maids and servants
broke away from their uniforms on Sunday and wore decorated hats to
service. The hat, no matter what material it was made from, was adorned
with ribbons, bows and flowers. It was the black woman’s one day of
individualism. Since then, church hats have gotten bigger and bolder.
One of America’s most famous milliners, or hat maker, is remembered in a
new permanent collection by the Smithsonian National Museum of African
American Culture. The work of Mae Reeves, a milliner to the elite black
women of the past, will have her shop re-created in the museum. During
the 1940’s and 50’s, Mae Reeves supplied original hat creations toLena
Horne, Ella Fitgerald, Eartha KittandMarian
Anderson. Reeves is now 99 years old and her granddaughter,
Donna Limerick, carries on the memory of her grandmother’s legacy by
putting Reeve’s hats on display.
Women such asVanilla
Beane, age 94 and another East Coast milliner, kept her shop
doors open for decades,Bené
Street NW. One of her most famous clients was the lateDr.
Black women and church hats were celebrated in the book “Crowns” (2000)
by Michael Cunningham and Craig Murberry. The book tells the stories
behind black women and their hats,
For many African-American women, looking your best from head to toe is
important when going to church, and the hat is one of the most crucial
features. The act of covering your head during worship has its roots in
scripture. Since, it has become a tradition for many women who want to
show respect to God while adding some pizzaz to their presence.
The Eight Commandments of Hat Wearing
I. Thou shalt not wear a hat wider than the shoulders.
II. Thou shalt not wear a hat a shade darker than the
III. Thou shalt only wear hats with the colors of white,
cream and pastels for Easter.
IV. Thou shalt not wear a hat with crumpled, wrinkled or
droopy feathers or flowers. (That would just be plain
V. Always look tasteful and tidy when wearing "the hat."
VI. Remember your bone structure. If a hat doesn't fit
the face, don't buy it.
VII. Thou shalt not allow a hat to compete with
accessories and jewelry.
VIII. Always let the hat be the focal point of the
Dressing for Church Service
It is imperative for many African-American women to look
their grandest when going before God. Today, it is most
often the older women who dress elaborately on Sunday
For many of these women and their ancestors, dressing up
for church was one of the few opportunities they had to
remove domestic aprons and house dresses. These drab
garments were replaced by bright colors, fancy shoes and
elaborate hats that would stchurch
suits infochurch hats
for black women info and out in a crowd. Style and
sophistication would rule the day.
The hat tradition began with the writings of the Apostle
Paul, who said women must cover their heads when they
come to worship (1 Corinthians, chapter 11). During the
time of slavery, black women dressed for church rather
simply, sprucing up their worn hats for Sunday service.
Now that African-American women have come so far through
years of struggles, pain and suffering, part of the hat
tradition celebrates their confidence and independence.
As black women began a good livings, they treated
themselves to new hats, gloves and purses to match. The
hat became a status symbol, showing triumph over the
Not Just Any Hat
Hat shopping is serious Just any old hat won't do.
Women will scour boutiques for one that's special and
unique. It will be big, elaborate, chic and a bit on the
The church ladies strive for a stunning appearance, with
match from top to bottom, including accessories. The hat
will tie the entire outfit together and give it the
"wow" factor their looking for. Regardless of how they
appear during the weekdays, on Sundays African-American
women want to look like a queen.
Hats and the Elder Women
With today's hairstyles such as braids, twists and
dreads, the big elaborate hats are taking a back seat --
especially with the younger generations of black women.
The new hairstyles are too big and bulky to accommodate
the hat. The culture and tradition remains, however, for
elder black females. Many of them wouldn't be caught at
any special occasion without their fabulous hat. Going
without would be like walking around naked, and that
would be just unacceptable.Church
hats are women's dress hats, often accented with
ribbons, flowers or netting. ... You May Also Like.
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