History of black women wearing hats at church

Written by winona rasheed | 13/05/2017
History of black women wearing hats at church
(A hat fit for an Easter parade. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dwinton/ / CC BY-NC 2.0)

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

History of black women wearing hats at church
Dressed in Sunday’s Best

I. Thou shalt not wear a hat wider than the shoulders.

II. Thou shalt not wear a hat a shade darker than the shoes.

III. Thou shalt only wear hats with the colours 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 tacky.)

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 jewellery.

VIII. Always let the hat be the focal point of the outfit.

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 mornings.

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 colours, fancy shoes and elaborate hats that would stand out in a crowd. Style and sophistication would rule the day.

From Slavery to the 21st Century

History of black women wearing hats at church
Ready for steppin' out.

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 earning good livings, they treated themselves to new hats, gloves and purses to match. The hat became a status symbol, showing triumph over the hardships.

Not Just Any Hat

Hat shopping is serious business. 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 flashy side.

The church ladies strive for a stunning appearance, with colours and fabric that 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

History of black women wearing hats at church
Black Women in Church Hats 1974

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.

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