When one thinks of the Black Church, one usually envisions a powerful sermon given by a pastor or the lively gospel music that can be heard from the parking lot. However, another key component of this community is the brightly colored, feathered, and extravagant church hats adorned by the older Black women.
What many don’t realize is that these hats are heavily rooted in African culture and are significant to the resilience of the Black community and the hardship we had to overcome.
Becoming popular head pieces after slavery, church hats symbolize all that our ancestors endured. In an article by Rébecca Joachim, she talks about slave owners and how they would shave enslaved Africans’ heads during the slave trade as an act of humiliation and degradation. To combat this horrendous act and to express their individuality, many women wore headdresses and other head pieces as they worked in the field.
As time went on, church hats started to make an appearance in church culture. These beautiful, bold hats were worn to give honor to God, and the women who wore them wanted to look and feel their best while they were in the house of the Lord.
In one of Dr. Vivian Seamon’s articles, she said that it’s believed women wore church hats in an attempt to “catch God’s eye” and reach heaven.
I spoke with my mother on the topic of church hats in the Black community and she vividly remembered them when she was a young girl attending church at Israelite Missionary Baptist Church, a small church in rural South Louisiana.
“I remember never being able to see the preacher because the hats were so big,” she laughingly said.
Many don’t realize the artform that is church hats. Each church hat, made with its sequins, beads, and sometimes diamonds, are usually hand-made and take an extensive amount of time, dedication, and love to be created. From there, women choose their hats according to outfits, shoes, accessories, and personal style.
These flamboyant hats tell many stories about the Black church and the strength of our ancestors. Church hats are an integral part of the Black church culture, and we must always remember their significance.