|Michael Cunningham: Photographer & Co-author of the book Crowns|
I wanted to do something different in honor of black history month. My church was having a hat day and I sooooooo longed to bring my camera and stand at the doorway and snap pictures as the women entered the sanctuary with their heads crowned in fabric glory. There were all different colors, shapes and shades of fabric twisted and formed in ways that were inconceivable.
Taking photos did not sit well with me as it seemed very disrespectful to snap pictures in church. I settled for the next best thing- the internet.
The heritage of black women wearing hats to church actually started during the slavery era. It was an opportunity for women to shed the apron strings and and house dresses and don a style of sophistication. It started with simply adding ribbon or flower as a decorative feature to a straw hat. Wearing hats and dressing impeccably for church was a way to honor and reverence God. The covering of the head is even referenced in scripture.
Years later after slavery ended, hats not only became a status symbol by pairing it with matching gloves and pocketbooks (purses). Hats are also symbolic of the length and breath that black women have come throughout history by celebrating their confidence and independence while triumphing over hardships.
Today hats are worn by older women or "women of a certain age" within the church.
Lastly, if you are brave enough to find and wear that stylish hat to church then here are some rules to follow.
9 Commandments of hat wearing
Thou shalt not wear a hat wider than the shoulders.
Thou shalt not wear a hat a shade darker than the shoes.
Thou shalt only wear hats with the colors of white, cream and pastels for Easter.Thou shalt not wear a hat with crumpled, wrinkled or droopy feathers or flowers. (That would just be plain tacky.)
Always look tasteful and tidy when wearing "the hat."
Remember your bone structure. If a hat doesn't fit the face, don't buy it.
Thou shalt not allow a hat to compete with accessories and jewelry.
Always let the hat be the focal point of the outfit.
For additional pictures see Time Magazine photo album