When is a hat not just a hat? | The Community
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When is a hat not just a hat?

hatWhat is a hat?  Is it merely an accessory to wardrobe, an article to be donned or removed without any interior meaning?  Is it a statement of personality and identity – the removal of which means the denial of one’s own story and self-understanding?  Is it a tool for head-covering, governed by cultural, social, and religious rules that dictate when it should be worn, and when it should be removed?Whether we see hats as pertaining to one or all of these things, one thing is certain:  hats are certainly complex items.

This issue came up again for me this past Sunday.  As this is week is Stampede week here in Calgary, my church, like many others, held our version of the renowned Pancake Breakfast.  Parishioner and guests enjoyed pancakes, beans, sausages, and coffee prior to our morning service.  As the time for the service approached, people naturally began to file into the church.  The men dutifully removed their hats.  Young boys, who would have loved to sport their new cowboy hat in church, were told by parents and grandparents that it was not polite, and so they begrudgingly removed their hats as well.

The women did not, nor did the young girls.  Throughout the congregation, a number of hats could be seen atop the heads of the female parishioners.   These hats were not any different than their male counterparts. They were not bejeweled or feathered in any way.  They were not bought in womens clothing stores. They did not glow in pink hue.   Apart from size, nothing about the hat spoke of it being specifically made for a woman.  In fact, in many cases the women’s hats were the exact same design as those donned by the men in the congregation.

Maybe it’s because I am of a younger generation, or maybe it is because I have seen a member of my family denied communion for wearing a hat in church, but I have a problem with how hats in church are often dealt with.  My discomfort stems from a perception of rooted inequality in how we approach this topic.  Frankly, woman and men are treated differently.  Men remove hats in church, women do not.  Yet if we truly believe that ‘in Christ there is neither male nor female’, should we really have differing rules for the sexes?  After all, we no longer hold to the old standard that woman should wear only dresses.  We do not believe that it is only the women who should teach Sunday school, and personally, I have never seen any woman ‘curtsey’ before a man.  As for the men, I have been in churches where the men have held positions on the altar guild, and have even attended the “women’s” group of the church.

In every other avenue of church structure and theology, the church has striven, and continues to strive, to uphold the fundamental equality between the sexes.  Should it really be the case then that a 7 year old boy is made to take off his hat merely because he is a boy, while a 7 year old girl bounces down the aisle beside him without any comment or concern?  And when he expresses feelings about it being ‘unfair’ that she gets to wear a hat and not him, does the response ‘but she’s a girl’ really suffice?

Now, some may criticize and say that I have completely blown this issue out of water.  “A hat is merely a hat,” they may say.  Is it really?  It seems to me that hats are more profoundly symbols and statements of self identity.  Not only are they statements of whom we see ourselves to be, but they also convey what we believe about the notions of privilege, class, respect, traditions and equality.  Hats are deeply personal and complex.

Yet to plunge a bit deeper, one has to question if the hat is really the issue.  Is all of this really about a hat, or is it about how we treat each other as equal brothers and sisters in Christ?  Making a visitor remove their hat in church could very well convey the message ‘we do not accept you as you are.’  What is more, making men remove their hats while women retain them could easily convey the message that the church believes women to be the ‘weaker and fairer sex’ and thus not bound to the same responsibilities as the men.

Rightly or wrongly, we live in a time where the traditional rules that used to govern how and when people wore hats have long gone, as has the distinction between a woman’s hat and a man’s hat. For the younger generations, many hats exit as a unisex item, without any distinction between male and female.  So if there is no distinction between types of hat, then why still maintain the distinction between appropriate female and male action?

How has your church struggled with the issue of hats in church?  What have been the deeper issues that you have observed?

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith. Connect with Kyle on
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7 Responses to When is a hat not just a hat?

  1. Well, I guess we should probably accept that hat etiquette is something we’ve inherited from a certain interpretation of certain passages in scripture, i.e. 1Cor 11:

    Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil.

    The thing is, many of our Jewish friends see that mens’ heads are covered. And the passage above upholds the sort of religious tradition criticized by many Christians (and I think we can assume, by some of those living the hat practices you describe) in other faith groups. Furthermore, if we’re looking to Paul’s writings for answers, we have to deal with the fact that just three chapters down the road, he suggest that women should remain silent, submissive, and “forbidden to speak” in worship. And that’s simply not the world (or Church) we live in.

  2. Kyle Norman

    Thanks Jesse
    I just recently had a twitter discussion about this with a parishoner. I think the thing about Paul’s writings about social roles is that they are bound in a cerntain context. We can not base his writing on the standard of our own sense of fairness or equality. The fact that Paul says that ‘doesn’t reason tell you that woman’s hair is covering?’ suggests that he is promoting a radical form of equality for that time and day. The same for when he says “Men love your wives’ – which was a bit of a odd thing considering that woman were viewed as property in that day – unless he is trying to affirm a woman’s identity in some way. These are just the ways that I have tried to the biblical call to equality and not simply right off Paul as a misogynist.

    But I agree that the church we have is not so antiquated in its strigent rules of antiquated social or gender behavior. But then are these things so pronounced when a hat is concerned? I have always found this an interesting, odd, and frustrating dynamic.

    • I think one thing to think about why such a custom pervades, is simply because it is done out of custom, and fits somewhat in the European mindset. As far as I know, men wore hats to show one’s status and power, while women’s hair revealed her natural beauty, being that long hair for women in those parts of the world were considered her feminine treasure.

      By a man uncovering himself (save the clergy who may wear certain headgear to denote position), he is stripping himself of his pride and becoming humble. While a woman who normally would have her hair beared to show off her beauty, covers it in the presence of the Lord. There is not much for any Scriptural injunction, but according to the Traditions long passed down in the Apostolic Church,

      Tertullian’s ‘On The Veiling of Virgins,’ the treatise talks about the custom of veiling of women in the early Christian circles. Earlier in the document, he mentions that this must be done as a choice, and that the Scriptures are ultimately vague on the subject, and then goes on to write:

      “I pray you, be you mother, or sister, or virgin-daughter— let me address you according to the names proper to your years— veil your head: if a mother, for your sons’ sakes; if a sister, for your brethren’s sakes; if a daughter for your fathers’ sakes. All ages are perilled in your person. Put on the panoply of modesty; surround yourself with the stockade of bashfulness; rear a rampart for your sex, which must neither allow your own eyes egress nor ingress to other people’s. Wear the full garb of woman, to preserve the standing of virgin. Belie somewhat of your inward consciousness, in order to exhibit the truth to God alone. And yet you do not belie yourself in appearing as a bride. For wedded you are to Christ: to Him you have surrendered your flesh; to Him you have espoused your maturity. Walk in accordance with the will of your Espoused. Christ is He who bids the espoused and wives of others veil themselves; (and,) of course, much more His own.”

      Thus, even though I am a very liberal Anglo-Catholic, I prefer to have my head covered during Mass; it causes me to focus on Christ’s Presence in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and in sync with Christian women in history. After all, if a man came to church wearing a summer dress, or a woman came wearing white shirt, suspenders and a trucker hat, people would probably stare, even when clothing have nothing to do with who we are inside.

      What I would never agree with is any prescriptive dogmatisms regarding clothing. So as long as they are modestly dressed according to the culture, then that should be the only thing that matters. 🙂

  3. Exactly. Sometimes I think it’s worth asking if we’re more interested in being a Christian Church, or a Pauline church? Do we maintain that “The Word” is sacred, or that The Bible (in any given translation or collection of books) is? In any case, I’m wearing a hat right now.

  4. And this, from Leonard Sweet’s Facebook page: “The best reason for Christians to wear head-coverings/hats? A top-notch sales executive always kept his hat on while doing desk work at the office. When asked why, he gave this reason: “To remind me that I belong out there not in here.” “

  5. Kyle Norman

    Thanks Raquel! I found your post quite intriguing. Can I ask, what type of head covering do you wear? Would you classify it as modern looking or more classic in style? And what are e responses you get?

    • It’s been a few years now lol. I wear a standard lace mantilla usually… And sometimes I will also wear a sparkly scarf, Eastern Orthodox style. I have relaxed on my veiling habits, but on Feast Days for sure I always make sure to show my personal reverence to the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. 🙂 God bless!

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