Mocha Girls Read: Literary License & Church Hats

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[Note from Frolic: We are SO excited to welcome our friends Mocha Girls Read to Frolic! Every month they will be sharing what books they are talking about in their book club. If you want to join/learn more visit them here.]

Church hats and first ladies go hand in hand, but the tradition is not reserved for those married to men of the cloth. The history of church hats dates as far back as Biblical times. Covering of the head is mentioned in 1 Corinthians, But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head (1:5). Many religions require women to cover their heads, and men as well. In the African American community, however, the hat wearing tradition is also said to be attributed to rules set by slave owners and those who employed domestic workers. In Louisiana, for example, there was a law (The Tignon Law) which said that Black women had to cover their hair with a scarf or head wrap. The rule was intended for mulatto women who were not easily identifiable as slaves or servants. Ornate hairdos like braids and cornrows were also considered unacceptable. Yet, women in the Bayou found a way to make their head coverings “fancy.” And so, in the African American community, church hats became another expression of creativity and freedom, individualism and uniqueness. But don’t get it twisted. There were rules to the hat game

Through the years, church hats have gone from the status quo to a sign of prestige and status; they’ve been smaller at times, at others the larger the better; and of course, ornate and elaborate. Today, we often think of these hats as worn by the first lady of the church, the mothers of the church, or worn on special occasions like Easter and Women’s Day. In any situation, it takes a certain degree of confidence to wear a church hat. Aretha Franklin’s Inauguration Day hat took on a life of its own after the 2009 Inauguration of President Barack Obama. The image of her singing the National Anthem adorned in an oversized pill box hat with a studded bow circulated around the world. Franklin sparked a resurgence of church hats.

Credit: USA Today

But certainly, the hat worn by Ms. Cicely Tyson at the Queen of Soul’s funeral has eclipsed any hat seen to date. Designer B Michael gets the credit for the creation, but it took Ms. Tyson, a living legend, to pull that off. As a matter of fact, she even broke “hatti-quette.” According to “Crowns” authors Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, the unwritten rules include “not wearing anything that is wider than the shoulders or darker than the color of the shoes.” According to hat law, borrowing a hat is also considered taboo

Author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston was frequently photographed donning a chapeau. She wrote several stories about the Black church. The Sanctified Church is one collection of Hurston’s essays that explores African American folklore and the origins of the southern Christian church.  Interview With a Vampire author Anne Rice published The Feast of All Saints, a historical novel set in the era of Tignon Law that chronicles the lives of two mulatto siblings born to a white father and a free Black woman. In literature, different hats evoke the feeling of certain eras in history, dark or seedy characters, characters of nobility, and characters with “swag” or a remarkable sense of style.

Today, we wear hats on our own terms. Though, within the church– mocha girls everywhere can attest– it’s still serious business. Here are a few that might inspire you to get your hat game in check.

Credit: Joseph De Sciose, b-Metro.com
Credit: rapturegold.com
Credit: Rapturegold.com
Joy Simone for Mocha Girls Read

Ms. Simone is a journalist, professor, blogger and poet. She has authored two books of short stories, The Wedding Plan and Faithful & Other Stories and is currently working on her debut novel, Beauty. Joy has a passion for history and literature and enjoys teaching. She helped launch the book club Mocha Girls Read, Philly chapter, in 2018.

You can follow her on Facebook @ajoysimone.

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