Church Hats -- What's the Story Behind This Sunday Staple?

Look up 1 Corinthians 11:15 in the Bible, and you'll see that the Apostle Paul says, "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering."  In other words, women should cover their heads when they worship.  But African-America women weren't content to simply grow out their hair.  Instead, they took the Apostle Paul's words and turned them into the inspiration for an entire fashion movement!

Go into any African-American church on any Sunday, and you'll see women wearing big, bold church hats.  But why?  Why has the church hat become so popular?  And why is it most popular among African-American women?

To answer those questions, you have to head back in time -- back to the early 20th century, when most African-American women were working as maids and servants after escaping the clutches of slavery.  For these women, the clothes they wore six days out of the week were drab and dreary.  

But on Sunday, everything changed.  

Sunday was the one day they had to go out, wear their very best, and show off.  And what better way to dress up for church -- and adhere to the Apostle Paul's words -- than to top everything off with an elaborate hat?!

Church hats soon became a fashion craze.  African-American women adorned them with everything from ribbons, to bows, to flowers.  Back then, these over-the-top styles were considered a way to show off one's creativity and individualism.  

Want to see the most extravagant church hats?  Go to a service on Easter Sunday and Mother's Day!  Throughout the years, these two days have become the highest of holy days in the church hat world.  Many women actually go out and buy new hats for these big days!

But women's church hats aren't all about fashion.  Even in the beginning -- back when women so desperately wanted to make a statement -- these hats were considered a way to honor God.  The harder women worked to create the perfect hat, the harder they were working to show God just how seriously they took their Sunday church service.  After all, if you're going to worship God the right way, you need to look your most elegant!

Over the years, ladies have begun pairing their church hats with gloves, pearls, and high heels.  While some of the trends have changed, one thing remains -- the church hat is still considered a major status symbol.  Their church hats are proof that they've "made it", and they want everyone to see it!

And as time has passed, these hats have earned another name -- First Lady Hats.  Specifically, this term refers to the wife of the pastor, or in other words, the "first lady" of the church.  As you can probably guess, women in this highly-respectable position are often looked to for their choice of hats.  After all, they're a leader for all of the other women in the congregation, so they’ve got to look good!

But whether you call them church hats or first lady hats, one thing remains the same -- history has worked hard to preserve the story behind them.  The Smithsonian included famous African-American hat maker Mae Reeves in its National Museum of African-American Culture.  In 2000, the book Crowns told the stories of specific African-American women and their hats.  Church hats -- and the stories and women behind them -- even got their own off-Broadway musical in 2002!

But if you really want to see great church hats in action, look no further than these two designers:

 -  Whittall and Shon

For more than a quarter of a century, Whittall and Shon's hats have been synonymous with over-the-top designs and attention to even the tiniest of details.  They use things you never would've thought off -- like sequined clocks and painters' palettes -- to adorn their hats.  If you're looking for church hats that are completely unique, look no further!

 -  Giovannio

Giovannio has been a distinguished designer for nearly as long as church hats have become a fashion icon!  This company works hard to blend modern touches with timeless features, making them a perfect choice for a dignified church hat.

 No matter who designs your church hat, just remember to follow a few basic guidelines:

-  Never let your feathers get ruffled

This is great life advice, but it's also important for your church hat!  If your feathers get bent or broken, it can be seen as disrespectful.

 -  Don't wear a church hat that's wider than your shoulders

There is such a thing as too big.  If you look like your hat is about to swallow you up, that's a definite fashion don't!

 -  Always wear a white, cream, or pastel Easter hat

Even if Mother Nature sends you six inches of snow for Easter and it feels like anything but Spring, this rule still applies.

 -  Don't wear a church hat that's darker than your shoes

It's just not considered as elegant.

 -  Consider a chapel veil

These small veils are a great way to add some pizzazz to your church hat, while still looking demure and dignified.

 -  Don't borrow church hats

If you want the respect and honor that these hats were built on, make sure yours comes from your very own closet.

 -  Always have the right attitude

Never forget the history behind these hats.  Wear your church hat with pride, and walk with your head held high!