From The Los Angeles Times
A congregation of splendid hats.
Hats are a tradition in black churches. On Palm Sunday at West Angeles Church of God in Christ in South L.A., the pews blossomed with fabulous creations.
By Karen Grigsby Bates
April 12, 2009
This is going to date me, but it's true: When I was young, most black ladies wore hats to church. Easter was the true beginning of spring, the day when hats in spring colors blossomed throughout the congregation: yellow, peach, mint, lilac, pink. Even if the weather wasn't cooperating, the hats came out. At my home church, Dixwell Avenue Congregational in frosty New Haven, Conn., it wasn't unusual to see a lady wearing her spring finery beneath her mink coat. It might have been barely 50 degrees, but it was Easter, and the hats were coming out.
Although the world has gotten much more casual in the intervening decades, and sadly, hats are far less ubiquitous, hat culture remains alive and well in many of the nation's black churches. On Palm Sunday in South L.A., the pews of West Angeles Church of God in Christ were splashed with plenty of color: broad brims in coral, pink and cream trimmed in ribbons and flowers; lampshade profiles in aqua and pistachio; and high-hat toppers in dusty rose, trimmed in lace and festooned with silk flowers. The black hats were anything but basic: The equestrienne top hat sparkled with tiny crystals on its crown and net veil, and the brim of one magnificent upturned glazed straw had a sunburst pattern of gold threading and crystal baguettes that perfectly echoed the gold and silver threading on the cuffs of the wearer's St. John knit suit.
It was a rich sample of the fashionable display in many of the city's black churches, though perhaps on a slightly larger scale -- West Angeles is one of the biggest Protestant churches in the region. Its 24,000 members attend one of three services each Sunday, and its bishop, Charles Blake, is about to be installed as the presiding bishop for the Church of God in Christ, the fourth-largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States. The bishop says, "all are welcome. We don't care how you dress, we just care that you come." But most people come dressed up because they want to. And many of the women -- old, young and in between -- wear hats. Serious hats.
The first lady of West Angeles, Mae Blake, understands their passion: She started wearing hats when she was in elementary school.
"I think I was about 7 when this was taken," she says with a smile, showing a black-and-white photo of a little girl in a dark suit with white collar and cuffs, a small hat perched on her head. That was the first hat she can remember, and it started a tradition that's lasted for decades. "I don't wear hats just on Sunday," she emphasizes. "For me, hats are a way of life. I grew up seeing them worn every day as a part of a polished, well-coordinated look."
But Sunday hats, she admits, have always been important. Growing up, "I was taught that Sundays were special days where I honored God by presenting my best, as just one reflection of a larger style of worship." She understands that times have changed, and, echoing her husband, she's careful to note that "I don't at all feel that Sunday dress -- extravagant or very casual -- is an indication of your level of devotion to God." For her, though, there's delight as well as devotion in selecting her Sunday best.
Rest of article at link above.
I admit, part of going to church any Sunday was to see the creativity of Black women in expressing themselves through hats.