Thursday, March 19, 2009

Let's Chat About Hats

This morning while I was doing my stroll through some of my favorite blogs, I was nudged onto Memory Lane. You all know how much I enjoy my strolls down Memory Lane. Kathryn Stripling Byer, who has served as North Carolina's poet laureate since 2005 writes the "Here, Where I Am" blog which is always full of lovely words and images and is one of my favorite spots. This morning she's bemoaning hats. Not those fabulous hats a lot of us love, but the uncomfortable little, practically pinned to our heads, prissy hats sprouting feathers, fruit, or stiff netting that many of us were forced to wear to church when we were little girls. And she has the beginnings of a poem she's writing about said hats. Drop by and spend a little time with Ms. Byer - she's a dream. And I'm hoping she doesn't mind me "borrowing" her brilliant idea to blog about hats.

Somehow from those forced hat wearing episodes Ms. Byer talks about, I grew to have a major love affair with hats. It may have something to do with family. Apparently, the Wilkinson women liked hats - as shown here by my Great Aunt Sadie, and my paternal grandmother, Laura Street Wilkinson.

Unfortunately, the days of fun and sassy and outrageous hats passed me by. Most of us don't live the type of lifestyle that we can get away with wearing the types of hats I have in mind. Those are works of art you see at Ascot.

Hats are fun. They're supposed to be fun. And as far as I know, no one has been hurt by a hat.

Some are, perhaps, a little much , but still - I don't think they can hurt you.

Ascot, however, was not a part of my Memory Lane.

But weddings were. And hats were just made for weddings!! First girlfriend weddings and cousin weddings, then came their childrens' weddings. While we're waiting for their grandchildren to get married, I'm in a hat lull, so instead of buying and wearing a new hat, I'll have to content myself by reading and writing about them. And maybe going back to watch Aretha so proudly wearing her hat at The Inauguration. i do love that hat.

Hats were my treat to myself whenever we went to a wedding. A lot of times I might be the only person there wearing a hat. Not always, but often. Until we went to the wedding of our friends James and Melody. This was our first experience at an African American wedding. And oh my - had I not worn a hat to this wedding, I would have been sadly under dressed. The wedding was perfect. The bride and groom were both gorgeous. The service was moving, emotional and joyful. Every detail of both wedding and reception were attended to with loving perfection by mothers and family members, and every guest attended to with the same loving attention. I will remember that wedding as a high point in my life.

Ironically, shortly after James and Melody's wedding I ran across a book that I had to have and which will forever remind me of this glorious day. It's called "Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats" by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry.

Marberry had this to say, "I think it's because it's rooted in the African tradition that says that when one presents oneself before God… that you should be at your best –- that you should present excellence before the Almighty." And that tradition of adorning the head for worship is a very African tradition."

"Crowns" is a stunning book. And it's much more. It delves quite deeply into a history that we must never ever allow be forgotten. or allow to ever happen again. Whenever I, for example, pranced into the lovely and grand Downtown Rich's Department Store in Atlanta to buy myself a new hat whenever I wanted, never once did I give a thought to the fact that there had been a time when a black woman could not do this. This simple act that gave me such joy. Other women were unable to do. In that regard, "Crowns" becomes a history book. But one written in the words of women who are able to find humor in their situation regarding hats. Nancy Carpenter tells us about a department store in North Carolina where she wasn't allowed to shop. After some years passed, and Mrs. Carpenter became the owner of many hats, some quite spectacular, she was able to realize that the store's hats really weren't so special - it was the fact that she couldn't own one that, of course, caused her to want to own at least one of them that much more. Fact of the matter was though - the hats Mrs. Carpenter ended up owning, she says, were more beautiful than anything that store ever carried. And, she ended up owning more than they more than likely ever carried at one time.

From "Crowns:"

"Listen, never touch my hat! Admire it from a distance. Those are the hat queen rules, honey."
-Peggy Knox, child care provider

"You can flirt with a fan in your hand. You can flirt holding a cigarette, too. But a woman can really flirt with a hat." -Dolores Foster, real estate agent (retired)

And, my favorite hat ever? The one I wore to my own wedding. May 11, 1986.


Auntie Knickers said...

Alas, I just don't seem to be the right body type for hats, plus my head is extra-large so off-the-rack women's hats hardly ever fit. I did have a Jackie Kennedy-style pillbox with veil for confirmation. And when one friend's son got married at a Georgia plantation, we all got floppy straw hats at Target and bedecked them appropriately for the wedding; then used them as beach hats ever after. By the way, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis did a play based on the CROWNS book a few years back, unfortunately I missed it but I heard it was very good.

Lesa said...

As a hat person myself, I loved your commentary! And, your picture of your wedding was gorgeous, Kaye!

I wore a big red hat yesterday because I had to work a booth for 2hours in Arizona's sun. But, I love hats, and I was known as the woman in the hat at the Lee County Reading Festival - I always wore one so the authors could find me.


Vicki Lane said...

Love the post, Kay! I'm going to look for that book. Love the Ascot hats too!

I just treated myself to a fine new straw hat for garden work -- about five dollars at the grocery store. I'm going to stick a few feathers in the band and pretend I'm in the Royal Enclosure, chatting with Lord Peter Wimsey.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Hi Nikki - recycling those straw hats was just the thing - good for you! I love big floppy straw hats for the beach. The small pillbox hat will never be called anything other than "a Jackie Kennedy-style pillbox" will it? and it will always be a classic.

Lesa, I can imagine you as a hat person, and red is perfect for you. Matches that vibrant personality!

Vicki - you are too funny and too clever! I would love being able to hear some of these conversations between you and Lord Peter. And I'm absolutely sure he will compliment you on your hat.

Jonathan E. Quist said...

Kaye, I don't know whether it's Aunt Sadie or Grandma Wilkinson, but the hat gracing the lady on the left reminded me of the old song, "The Bird on Nellie's Hat".

I was doing a little fact-finding last night, and discovered quite a few milliners in my neck of the woods. I'd bet they're all around, if you can find them. And some of the designs are just as fun as the old ones.

Of course, the women don't get all the fun. One of my many missions in life is to help remind the American male that real hats don't have sports logos on the front, or plastic adjusting straps on the back...

Linda L. Richards said...

I love hats and I love your post but I don't agree: hats are not supposed to be fun: they're supposed to keep the warm in or the hot off. Now sometimes they can be fun and there's certainly a place where hats meet art (and certainly Aretha Franklin's very good church hat from the inauguration is one of those!) But I think hats can be such delicious decorations because they're not supposed to be fun so when they are, it's a delightful surprise and you just can't help but smile.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I never wear hats. When I lived in Cambridge eons ago, I had to wear a hat to church--one day I forgot and my husband's auntie sent me home. (I was a grown up married woman with a baby.) Couldn't believe it. It was the Methodist church. Went there at my husband's high school reunion and didn't wear a hat--nor did anyone else.

Louise Ure said...

Your wedding hat is gorgeous, Kaye! As are you.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic blog!!

I don't wear hats, but love the way they look. I have a big head -- there's got to be a better way to say that, right?? But what I mean is that it's hard to find ready-made hats that fit.

I too thought the book Crowns was gorgeous, thoughtful, and inspiring.

Thanks again for such a great topic.

Marian aka the Northern half of Evelyn David

The Stiletto Gang said...

Hi Kaye,

I love the thought of hats more than the actual wearing of hats. In the 1970s I tried wearing hats ala Annie Hall. Discovered they give me a headache.

The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Anonymous said...

Kaye, I agree with you, hats are for looking GLORIOUS!!

Authors deserve Better Software

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Jonathan. You're a doll! Any conversation with you always leads to more fun stuff. Great Aunt Sadie probably loved this song! And I will staunchly stand beside you in your quest for hat parity.

Linda,I always, ALWAYS, adore your take on things!!! and love your hat blog which sprung (is that a word??) from this one, as mine did from Kay's. Y'all - visit our inimitable Linda here for more on hats -

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Marilyn - we have got to sit down and swap some Cambridge tales! Don't you think?!!! Will I see you and Hap in Indianapolis in October?

Louise. dang. You make me cry as often as Ken Bruen does!!!! thank you, my friend.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Marian and Rhonda - Hey There! Both halves of Evelyn David; Cool! O.K. we're not going to make either of you wear a hat, but I must say, your adorable Wolfhound Whiskey looks adorable with her hat on the cover of your books! Can't wait for the second in the series - MURDER TAKES THE CAKE. Just a couple months away, right??!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Theresa, hi! Are you a hat wearer? I'm thinking you'd look smashing in a hat!

Carol Murdock said...

Hi Kaye...this is a great post! I went through a hat phase in I think the early 80's. I loved wearing those hats! I admire that the A-A Women have held on to that tradition in thier churches!The wedding picture of you is BEAUTIFUL !!!

Lonnie Cruse said...

Sigh, I love hats and have worn them to several mystery conferences. Only once to church but I really should do that more often. Except I'd be the only one.

There is a lady in Paducah that we often see at lunch after church and she is NEVER without a hat. I envy her. Sigh.

The Stiletto Gang said...

Hi Kaye,

You're right - Marian and I don't wear hats but we certainly like to dress "our" Irish wolfhound up in them! We'll have to put "Whiskey" into a new hat just for you! Murder Takes the Cake is up for pre-order now at Amazon. Kindle edition is ready to go now. Thanks for asking.

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Earl Staggs said...

You never fail to interest and entertain me, Kaye Darlin'. I'm old enough to remember when no one went anywhere without a hat and I've often wondered why they suddenly became extinct. It's like the dinosaurs. One day I'm walking around and they're everywhere and next day they're gone. Same with hats. And it wasn't just women. Men always wore hats, too. It's hard to picture tough guys Robert Mitchum, Alan Ladd and Humphrey Bogart without their fedoras. Then POOF! They were gone. I hope hats make a comeback someday.
Dinosaurs, too. They were fun to chase.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I just left Kathryn's post about hats and saw your comments and decided to click over. I love the old pictures. Makes me want to get out my albums and look for relatives wearing hats. The Queen always looks so elegant in her hats.

I have to find the book on "Crowns." It reminds me of when we lived in the Bahamas. The Bahamian ladies dressed up for church in elaborate hats, wore very high heels, and carried large handbags. Put on quite a show as they paraded to their pew. We had great times there.

We were in a small clothing shop in Florida one day when when what seemed like a thousand red hat ladies invaded the place. They were having the time of their lives.

You have a great blog. I shall return.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, hats forever. I love 'em, the bigger and sassier the better. Okay, you have to know that I'm coming from a very short perspective and, when I wear BIG hats I look like a mushroom (So my husband says.) We have this ritual. Whenever we go someplace that sells hats I pick the most outlandish one, try it on and turn to him. "Is it me?" I ask. He gives what Bishop Blackie Ryan describes as a west Ireland sigh and replies, "I'm afraid so."

Many years ago we went to Ireland and I made a lovely cap out of pink, flowered material, so he could find me in a crowd. I heard him ask one museum guard, "Have you seen a short woman, carrying a day pack, and wearing a rather regrettable hat?" From thence forth, the pink hat has been known as the Rather Regrettable Hat.

Anonymous said...

I thought I was the only person with an odd-shaped head that standard hats will not fit. I am so relieved to learn I am not. I have never been a hat person, primarily because they don't stay on (size/shape issue) and because they destroy the hair style under the hat. The hair tends to be uncontrollable at the best of times. You don't want to know about the worst of times. Hats do not help.

I am so enamored of the heroines in historical novels who "were clever with their fingers" and saved their pin money by making their own trend-setting hats out of scraps of material. And never do I see a word about the wreck of the hairdo underneath the hat.

Msmstry said...

Ah, didn't I hate having to wear a hat to church when I was a kid! I remember one, a red straw with a wide brim and a gross grain ribbon band that tied in a flat bow with streamers down the back.

Mother made me take it to wear to church when I spent the night with a friend who went to another church. Doris and I sat one pew from the back. I guess we were asking for trouble, because a row of guys were seated right behind us.

Just as we sat after singing the last hymn before the sermon, one of the guys pinned his tie clip to the streamers of my hat. Feeling the weight as soon as he let go, I leaned forward quickly and then back, effectively trapping the tie clip between my back and the pew. He absolutely had to talk to me after the service!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Hey everyone - How fun to have y'all here!

Carol, I picture you wearing a hat. Hattiesburg just screams "Honey - where IS your hat!" Doesn't it?? go buy you a new hat for that trip you're taking to Natchez! And post a picture at your wonderful blog, O.K.? please??

Lonnie - I have seen pictures of you in your wonderful hats and you are a person who easily carries the whole hat thing perfectly! I'm surprised to hear you're not one who wears a hat to church every Sunday. You know what? I'm betting there are others in your church dying to wear their hats and they're just waiting for someone to take that first step. Do it! One of your red ones!! and come tell us about it, please!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Earl Darlin'! Hey! I remember men wearing their hats. And you're right - all of a sudden, just like that - they were gone. We need to know the rest of that story. You wear a hat - a wonderful western hat, and you look terrific. I leave the return of men's hats in the capable hands of you and Jonathan. If anyone can do it - you two can! without a doubt.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Sam, Welcome! What nice words. I appreciate them. DO find a copy of Crowns. Now I'm going to be real antsy to hear what everyone thinks of this book! I'm going to come by and see you at "My Carolina Kitchen." and do, please, come back often.

Sharon. You had me rolling in the floor. I'm not sure I will ever look at another hat that the phrase "that Rather Regrettable Hat" won't pass through my mind. priceless. As is your husband!

Aubrey. You're a HOOT! If I ever, EVER run across a passage in a book where a woman does indeed complain about what her hat has done to her hair I'm going to call you. No MATTER what time it might be. No one but you would think of that!

Molly!!!! You know what the first thing I thought of was when I read your comment?! Dang. The woman has been wearing red since she was a little girl! How come I didn't discover red until recently and you were clever enough at a very young age to discover the joys of wearing red?!

Neil Plakcy said...

My great-aunt Ida used to say "A man without a hat is like a lamp without a shade."

Jen Forbus said...

Kaye, I came after the "required" hat-wearing to church, but I remember my mom telling me a story about how she forgot her hat one Sunday morning and stood outside the church acting like she was waiting for someone because she couldn't possibly go in to church without a hat on her head! That story always made me laugh.

I'm lucky to have come after that time, not because I don't love hats...I do love them...I'm always admiring them. But, sadly, God did not grace me with a head for hat-wearing. I've yet to find a hat that makes me look better while on my head.

I do however, own the required baseball cap that must be worn on weekend trips to the grocery store when I simply refuse to spend a half hour fussing with my hair. It doesn't make my head look any better either, but it hides the fact that I have baby fine, poker straight hair with absolutely no natural body! I guess God put all the good stuff inside my head because it sure aint on the outside! LOL

I for one, though, would love for you to view B'Con as an event to wear a hat. I think I would enjoy seeing festive hats with grand authors!! :)

Anonymous said...


I can remember when nobody went to town without wearing a hat. I had some beauties in those days.

Now -- everything looks like a shopping mall in Outer Podunk.

Never mind. I enjoyed the hats, and your wedding hat is my favorite.

Pat Browning

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Kaylee - hi there! I'm tickled that you've found us and very happy that you like us well enough to come back. I hope you'll continue to enjoy what we're doing here,and will feel comfortable about jumping in when the mood hits.
Take care,