I know, I know, I am so hopelessly old fashioned. But I want to say, I miss women wearing hats. I have written before (HERE) of how I miss them wearing the veil in Church. But even before the veil, the hat was more commonly worn by women in 1940s and before (See photo  below left, of my parish taken in the early 1950s, click photo for a larger view). Veils became popular in the later 1950s and 1960s before head coverings for women (and men) all but disappeared in the late 1960s (along with just about everything elegant).

The Easter Bonnet, once a main tradition at Easter, now provokes stares of confusion when mentioned to younger people today. “Easter Bonnet?…What’s that?!” Too bad, gone with the (cultural) wind.

Frankly we have become a very informal culture and we almost never dress up any more. Jeans and a T-Shirt, even for Mass. When I was a kid in the early 1960s I would not set foot in the Church without trousers, a button down shirt, a necktie and (in the cooler months) a dress jacket). Women and girls always wore a dress and a veil or hat. Frankly too, we would not think of going to a restaurant in those years either, without dressing up a good bit.

Yeah, I know, I am hopelessly out of date and some of you feel judged. But I’m just going to say it again, I miss the fact that we almost never dress up any more, and that things like hats, jackets and ties for men, formal and pretty dresses for women, veils (or hats) in Church are gone.

In the African American Community where I have served for most of my priesthood, dressing up for Church and women wearing hats and veils, hung on a lot longer, but it too has largely subsided. I read an article in the Washington Post yesterday that largely read the funeral rites over hat wearing in the Black congregations. There’s still a few with the “ole time religion” but they are far fewer. Here are a some excerpts from the article:

For generations, church sanctuaries across the nation on Sunday mornings, especially in black churches and especially on Easter, transformed into a collage of hats: straw ones, felt ones, velvet ones, every shape, size and color, with bows, jewels and feathers, reaching for the heavens.

But anyone walking into today’s services expecting to see a nonstop parade of women making fashion statements on their heads will be sorely disappointed. Many daughters and granddaughters of the women who made bold and flashy hats synonymous with the black church have not carried on the tradition.

Anita Saunders, 42… grew up watching her mother’s generation flaunt their hats in church. “And I always loved it,” says the Indianapolis resident. “It was part of Sunday, the experience of the hats. We looked forward to seeing what hat Sister So-and-So was going to wear. My friends, we all grew up in the same church with mothers who wore hats, but we don’t. And so, yes, it seems it’s fading out.”

Elaine Saunders…is part of that generation of black women who launched hat-wearing into the stratosphere…..Their style was dignified, elegant, sometimes irreverent and even humorous, but it was always eye-catching. “You have a certain air when you put on a hat. If you put on the whole shebang and you’re satisfied, you walk different. You act different. And people treat you different,” says Saunders….

The whole shebang would be a hat that matches the suit that matches the shoes that match the bag….

Mother and daughter not only wore hats and gloves to church but also donned them for shopping trips downtown. “If you were dressed up, they thought you were somebody important, so you’d get waited on,” Saunders said.

“I guess as I got older, around my teens, I started flirting around with different hairstyles,” said Sylvia Magby, 58, “I started cutting my hair, and I just never found a hat that fit my head.” Her youngest sister, Anita…won’t go near a hat (except the emergency baseball cap for bad hair days). She was much younger when she first rebelled against them. “I was maybe 6, and I was very concerned that the hat would disturb my bangs, and I wanted nothing to do with it,” she recalls.

Many women say, “I have hats from my mother and other relatives, but I don’t wear them,” or “Hats don’t look good on me,” [But] as Saunders sees it, “there will be a set of women who will wear hats forever.”…there, in all its splendor,  that poof of fuchsia and iridescent feathers, … for all the world to see.

Read the Full Article Here: Church Ladies and their Hats, A Fading Tradition

Some will doubtless say, “Well look, it sounds like it was more about pride and getting seen, than worshiping God.” Others will doubtless remark that the Scriptures envision a woman covering her head before God as a way of covering her glory (i.e. her hair) and thus being humble before God. OK fine, but I’d just like to add that there is also something wonderful about the dignity of dressing really well to go to God’s house, something classy, something fitting. And again I’ll just say, I miss it, and always appreciate when I see it.

We men too have let things drop often marching into Church with sandals, jeans and a t-shirt. I regret too that we so seldom wear suits or hats anymore. Priests still wear the suit, but a fine cassock is hard to find and there is a lot of sloppy and poorly set forth liturgical vestments and altar cloths. Finer things are few and far between.

A small boast form your host, I have worn a fedora in the cooler months since my 20s. Not only do I think it looks good, but it is also does a great job keeping the cold away. I am amazed at what a difference a simple hat can make. Think about it men, a good hat can be classy and warm.

And ladies, I don’t DARE tell you what to do, but let me just say it again, I MISS the veils and hats. Yes, a real touch of class. Uh oh, now the comments are open.

146 Responses

  1. Al says:

    Two thoughts from a person of approximately the Msgr’s age:

    In the late 1950s, my mother, a farm girl that hailed from downstate, went into downtown
    Chicago from our suburban home dressed in blue jeans. She relates that she was told (I’m not sure by who) that
    this was “simply not done”. It is no suprise that people dressed nicely for church then.

    As a person who actually has to wear the clothes, I don’t miss the mores of the 1950s. However,
    I can still be shocked.. I have seen people of all ages wearing clothes in church carrying logos and
    messages that a reasonable person would think are completely inappropriate.

  2. Lee Gilbert says:

    My word what a distraction women’s hats and the women in them were at Mass years ago. Take a woman of average beauty and put the right hat on her and she becomes drop dead gorgeous- a fact of which she is very aware. In my childhood my Dad told me to keep my eyes on the altar, but this became increasingly difficult as the years went by.

    A veil bespeaks modesty and piety, and makes it easier for everyone to see the altar, whereas otherwise one has to peak through feathers and flowers or put oneself at the front of the Church. Women in hats did not enhance the worship of our Lord, of that I am pretty sure.

  3. Tim says:

    Two amazing sermons on veils! Well worth listening to!
    1. Precious Things Are Always Veiled: http://www.audiosancto.org/sermon/20090628-Precious-Things-are-Always-Veiled.html (14 minutes 38 seconds)
    2. The Theological Significance of Veils and Consequences of Unveiling:http://www.audiosancto.org/sermon/20090329-The-Theological-Significance-of-Veils-and-Consequences-of-Unveiling.html (16 minutes 05 seconds)
    Not sure if these have already been posted, as I didn’t read all 100 comments, but they are great!

  4. theo says:

    My personal standard, as a woman, is comfort, appropriateness, simplicity and modesty, which is easy to do on a small budget. Cover the cleavage and the knees, and wear flowey things that don’t outline the rear end. You can look very feminine and nice that way, and not be a distraction to anyone at mass.

    I see lot of comfort as mass, but not a lot of appropriateness or modesty (and as an EMHC, get tired of inadvertently looking down other women’s cleavage as I serve the Chalice – and my husband plain gets outraged). But I don’t want to go back to the 1950’s or other such eras, as the clothes women wore were uncomfortable, restrictive and unhealthy. I agree that hats can be a distraction and source of vanity, but they can also wreck your hair when you actually do need to look good. I avoid hats unless it’s bitter cold out and I’m not going anywhere I need to look nice, because they always leave big visible dents in my stick-straight hair. And as a short person, I hate it when anyone sitting in front of me wears a brimmed hat, because I can’t see around or over it. Wreaks the view.

    I would love to wear a veil with my other long flowey things, but don’t as it would make me feel self-conscious in a sea of bare-headed women.

  5. Sharron says:

    I always loved wearing the veil. I wore it until my mother refused to let me into the car for church while wearing or carring one. I found early that if worn right, when I bowed by head in prayer, the veil fell forward enough to block out others, thus leaving me “closeted” with the One I came to pray to. Now that women are starting to cover their hair again I look longingly thru the websites that sell them (see mantillas on your search). They are truly amazing and I want one.

  6. Shin says:

    Tim those are great sermons! Thank you! I think they should be taken very seriously!

    There are collections of quotations of the saints on modesty too: http://www.saintsworks.net/

    I think how things that were simply not done were changed gives us a lesson in what to watch for when there’s a movement for that to occur.

    Modesty is a virtue! We cannot have enough of it.. the more the more spiritual beauty before God. And to think so much of it can be achieved simply with a little effort on the exterior. :) Thank God for the opportunity, to express modesty and oppose the opposite vice.

  7. Susan says:

    Both men and women tend to dress up more in my current parish than others I’ve been a member of, but I suspect it’s because it’s a super-wealthy parish and people just dress better in general regardless where they’re going.

    As for veils and hats, to each her own. They’re merely objects and can be worn sincerely or insincerely. Don’t mean a thing in and of themselves. I’ve known women who wear veils in order to show off, and I’ve known women who don’t wear them who are quiet, humble, holy women. And vice versa. The veils themselves are just bits of cloth or lace. Assigning spiritual attributes to them is idolatry.

  8. Claire says:

    I grew up in the 50’s and my mother always made me feel that going to church on Sunday was a very special event. We weren’t very whealthy but she made me look pretty by curling my hair and making me wear my prettiest dress, hat and shoes. I was always looking forward to going to church. It might sound like it was all but superficial but being well dressed matched the solemnly of the mass as it was presented to us back then. These were the days before Vatican II. After that the style of the mass became encreasingly more layed back and our way of dressing became more casual. I think that people should dress appropriately wherever they go and the right way to dress at mass is at least to appear neat, clean, modest and not attract to much attention to ones’self. For women, a simple headress or a veil is preferable to an uncovered head by respect for tradition. Certain traditions are worth coming back to. I sometimes go to a nun’s convent for mass. All the nuns there have abandonned their former clothes and wear absolutely nothing on their head during mass. I would like to see them wearing their regious outfits or at least wearing a veil at mass. A lot of women who go meet the pope wear the veil or a hat to show respect, so why should we not do the same when we go to church. I have abandonned the practice of covering my head at church for many years and I have changed my mind about it since a few years. I now wear a large headband which came back into fashion recently. I don’t think that God needs us to cover our heads but I think he is touched by our desire to please Him.

  9. nic says:

    i wear a veil everytime i enter the church or the chapel. i do it for the same reason that i kneel. i’m there to show my deference to God, not to be “fashionable.” i hate wearing skirts and dresses, so i wear black slacks and tops. i can’t imagine going in without my veil. i also attend the tridentine mass, so that might have something to do with it. the only thing i’m not sure of, is whether or not i can get away with tying it under my chin.

  10. Faith says:

    I agree! The reason I don’t wear a veil to Mass is that now it seems like such a statement; and I don’t want to be a walking statement/distraction for others when I am encountering my Lord and God. I actually feel much more comfortable wearing a stylin’ hat and simple. modest dress. I like how you put this, Msgr.

  11. Theresa says:

    Nice article. I started veiling during Lent this year to bring my focus on my submission to God, my savior. I am the last person who wants to draw attention to myself, so I am not wearing it to be a distraction to others, but to enhance my prayerfulness. And now that Lent is over, I am still veiling. I love that when I receive the body of Christ, I can go back to my pew, kneel down, and have the veil fall so that it covers the sides of my face and I can more effectively meditate with the One I’m communing with. Right now, I’m the only one veiling in my little church and at first I felt awkward, but then I kept telling myself that I’m doing it for my relationship with God, not my relationship with the congregation.

    Also, I’m a corporate business woman and dress up most days for work, but rarely wear a dress or skirt to work. I decided last year to not only dress up for Our Lord, but to come to Church as feminine as I could, so most days I wear a dress or skirt to Mass. (modest – which is hard to find in women’s fashion nowadays!!) I thought to myself, if I really believed that I was going to God’s House to Dine with Him, I better show reverence. I am a woman, not a man. Now, I agree with the others, I want to be comfortable in Church and not distracted by tight skirts or a plunging neckline or binding pantyhose, so I seek far and wide for comfortable, feminine, modest clothing…. and shoes!

    • Brenda says:

      Theresa, I so agree with you and your thoughts. I’m a convert (as of 5 years ago today, in fact) and ironicly just before Lent the following year, I started looking in to the idea of veiling. I searched online and even sent an email to our Archbishop to ask him a couple of questions about the practice. (His response was that I’d actually read more than he had on the subject.) After some soul searching and prayer I decided this was what I wanted to do to show my respect to our Lord. I’ve never been concerned with what others thought about what I’d chosen because I didn’t do it for them but I’ve never had any bad comments regarding it. I actually feel naked without it when I enter the sanctuary because I feel it’s really so much a part of me and of my faith. And I’m not afraid to wear it in another denomination’s church either. My thought process is that irregardless of the faith of the congregation, I’m entering the Lord’s house. The only time I didn’t was for a friend’s wedding. I didn’t want anything to distract anyone from her.

      I agree with your thoughts on dressing for church as well. You’re going to visit the Lord’s house, to show him honor and respect and to worship him. That’s why you’re there. Not to show off your body. Dressing modestly these days is really hard.

      I wish there were more women who wore a veil. However, I appreciate the fact that it’s a choice and not an edict forcing anyone to. And I think God would appreciate that part of it too. I choose to veil and I’m not afraid to admit it.

  12. Lorra says:

    I agree with Claire. I, too, grew up in the fifties, and Sundays were always special. No one would have dared darken a Catholic Church door back then dressed the way they do today, not even the poorest families. No matter when I am in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, a mantilla is on my head. Should I happen to be without one, I don’t make a big deal of it, nor do I expect every woman in my parish to cover their head.

  13. Mary says:

    I grew up in a time when Sunday was a day when the whole local community turned up for Mass in their best dress. So regardless of whether you were poor or rich, you turned up clean, tidy and appropriately dressed. Even the non christians would take note of people going to church in their best dress, walking down the street. Yes the hats, caps, berets, scarves were all beautiful and I hope they make a come back. I think to myself now when I am in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, who is King of us all, I want to look my best for Him and I want others to learn from my attitude to adopt the same attitude themselves. I have learnt a lot from being in church and watching very holy, reverent people.

  14. MaggieMcC says:

    As a teen I wore a dress and small hat to the Episcopal church as I didn’t dare show up without one, nobody did. But I loved it and now, having been Catholic for 14 years I occasionally wear a veil/mantilla. My granddaughters wanted one too so I gifted them. The clothes were NOT uncomfortable, much easier to wear than jeans or pants.I look forward to women returning to look like women. Some look great in pants suits but most, frankly don’t have the body for it and a dress covers a multitude of faults!

  15. Dan says:

    I’m 30 years old and was converted three years ago this past Christmas by the SSPX. Before I knew anything about any theological disputes, I was amazed by scores and scores of women who dress like women. The first time I entered a Catholic chapel was during passion week in 2008. There were lines of people waiting for confession and every woman there was wearing a modest dress and chapel veil or hat, everything was really quiet and the church had very a very traditional design. I was converted by beauty as much as the truth I slowly learned. When I first went into the church I was wearing some old paint-spattered pants some hippie had given me to help her milk some goats at a goat dairy where she worked, but now I wear a suit and tie. I owe it to the Church and the SSPX.

  16. Dan says:

    anyway I mean to say it isn’t by gone–it still exists

  17. Lorra says:

    Maggie McC said: “Some look great in pants suits but most, frankly don’t have the body for it and a dress covers a multitude of faults!” Hahaha! You noticed too I see.

    • Brenda says:

      LOL Some of us just should never be caught dead wearing spagetti straps or anything sleeveless. And as N older woman, Showing my cleavage is just too scary. LOL

  18. Vic says:

    I saw a woman who was a Sheriff. She was dressed in a Sheriff’s uniform complete with tie, shirt, trousers and hat. If it wasn’t for her face I would have thought she was a man. She even almost sounded like a man. I also saw a woman in the military that was a colonel. She had on a green combat uniform. If it wasn’t for her face she could have been mistaken for a man. She even spoke with a manly kind of voice and words. Not just that but I also saw a woman with what looked like a man’s shirt tightening the tie (looked like a man’s tie) around her neck.

  19. Patrick Krisak says:

    Steve Goodman’s version of Easter Parade: http://www.myspace.com/music/player?sid=40953511&ac=now

  20. Anahi Molina says:

    I completely agree with this article. I was born in the 80’s and I was raised in an environment where one had to dress up for sunday mass. I recall I hated it but now that I am an adult I love to dress up for any day but especially for mass. My mother raised me with the metality that dressing too casual for mass is like your disrespecting our Lord. Its sad to see how along the years that tradition has faded away. But at the moment I dont have any children but the day I do, they are so going to dress for sunday mass.

  21. HATagories says:

    We at HATagories completely agree with formality nowadays. People have become so casual at church, theatre, dining, and such. They forget the importance of dressing to show your best and can be lazy when it comes to important social or spiritual occasions. I personally work very hard to bring back that classic tradition and appreciate others who feel the same way.

  22. Ladies Hat says:

    Amazing post. Thanks for sharing..
    Ladies Hat

  23. Jason says:

    There is an easy fix to all of this Msgr. Bring back traditional liturgy. Bring back beauty in the Mass and a sense of the Sacred. Get rid of 70’s happy-clappy music and vestments that go with it. Bring in chant, sacred polyphony and sacred hymns which are actually written by Catholics and are theologically sound. Mandate the se of the Proper-Antiphons in and sung prayers. Get rid of the drum set, electric guitars, synthesizers, Protestant sounding piano music, etc. If you want to restore the Church, restore the liturgy. I’m not saying that it all needs to be the Traditional Latin Mass (see the Anglican Use for an example of how to do the liturgical changes from Vatican II with reverence) but what we have now isn’t doing it.

    In addition, get back to proclaiming Christ the King and the necessity of the Church for salvation as it has been traditionally taught in the Church.

    Do these things, and you will see the turn around you long for, and an increase in Catholic culture and life to boot.

    • Probably a little more to it than you think since the veil wearers who were raised in the old Church and the Baltimore Catechism were the very ones who threw the revolution and brought in what you term happy clappy. Culture is little more complicated than you argue.

      • Jason says:

        When you change something which was largely viewed as the greatest treasure of the Church, and do so in a way not in continuity with the tradition of that same liturgy, you get what we have now. The impression is created that nothing is unchangeable.


        As was shown in Figure 1 of that study, which was published in the reputable Homiletic and Pastoral Review, the decline in Mass attendance has averaged 1% per year since the OF of the Mass was promulgated. However it was was an actual loss of 1% per year . Rather, the overwhelming majority of the drop in Mass attendance in both the UK and the USA was immediately surrounding that of Vatican II and the implementation of the Mass of Paul VI. The graph for the USA actually shows a 22% drop in Mass attendance from approx. 1965 to approx. 1977. The trend line for the UK shows 25% over the same time span. After that, Mass attendance in the USA actually steadied to the point that it only dropped approx. 4% over the next 15 years. In the UK, it continued to drop, but not even close to the same rate of the initial trend, taking from 1977 to 1999 to drop an additional 15%.

        In addition, the myth that Catholics and Protestants saw roughly the same decline in attendance, and thus, it has nothing to do with Vatican II or the form of the Mass is dispelled in Figure 3. In the same time span that Mass attendance dropped 22% in the USA, attendance at Protestant services only dropped 5%, which was recovered in the late 1980’s. Over the entire span of the data collection, while USA Mass attendance dropped 30%, attendance at Protestant services actually stayed the same, at 45%.

        If it was a cultural as is often claimed, it would have affected Protestants as well as Catholics. In addition, there is a reason that the Orthodox Church is actually growing in the Western world while Catholicism is hemorrhaging people.

  24. Marcy says:

    I grew up when women were women and you knew it. I remember going on the bus downtown every Spring with my bushia (Polish for grandmother to buy her new hat. She would put on her hat and hold it in place with a stick pin, grab her purse, put on her gloves and off we went. I always got a new “Easter bonnet” too. My parents scrimped and saved so that we 4 girls could have a new dress each Easter. Some years the younger girls got hand me downs or Mom altered one of her dresses and made a dress for one of us.

    she always told us “You ALWAYS wear your very best for Jesus . To this very day I always wear a dress to Church. I stopped wear a hat back in 1967 and went to a chapel veil.When everyone quit wearing anything on their head, I did too.
    Recently I joined a Traditional parish, where the Latin Mass is reverently celebrated, and I can pray to my Lord without having 11 songs, bongo drums , marachas etc killing my concentration. Men wear suits or at least dress pants, shirts and ties. Women wear dresses , jumpers or skirts and blouses. No sleeveless garments, no cleavage showing. Even little girls wear chapel veils or the little round doillies.
    I also now veil, because everything that is sacred, is covered. From the chalice to the statures during lent, all are covered at times. We being children of God are also sacred..

  25. Madeline says:

    I grew up in the late 50s and early 60s,and back then we wore easter bonnets with our cute easter dresses and even girls as old as 16 wore them.when i made my first communion in 1965 at age 10,the white poofy above the knees communion dresses and veils with the lace anklets and white mary janes were required.to symbolize the purity of our baptisms,we wore the playtex toddler extralarge size milky white rubber pants under our dresses.after our first communion,the rubber pants were kept in our drawers and worn for easter,thanks giving,christmas,weddings and other special occasions.I feel the first communion outfits should be required by all parishes.

  26. Carole says:

    My neice didnt make her First holy communion untill she was 14 due to various problems and family issues.They lived in Algona,Iowa at the time and their parish was strict.she was in the class with the 7 and 8 year olds and their parish required the girls to wear identical poofy,top of the knees communion dresses with a white bonnet instead of the veil.With the dress they had to wear lace anklets and white ‘mary jane’ shoes.They all had to wear a cloth diaper,rubber pants and under shirt under their dresses.The neice was ok with the dress,bonnet,etc,but did not want to wear the diaper,rubber pants and under shirt under the dress.She told the Rel.Ed.director that she thought it was unfair for her to have to wear the diaper and rubber pants since she was 14 and she was told that that was the required outfit for the girls and that she couldnt participate unless she was in the full outfit.The morning of the ceremony,we had to hold her down on her bed while the diaper and rubber pants and under shirt were being put on her,she cried the whole time.we got the rest of the required oufit on her and she looked gorgeous in it.After we got back to their house she went right to her room and took the diaper and rubber pants off.

  27. Sylvia Browning says:

    I always wear a hat to church, and everywhere else, as I love them. My great aunt was a milliner who made hats for London shops and I have always remembered that. I don’t care if I am the only one in a hat, because I do not feel properly dressed without one. Love gloves, too!

    I have a straw boater for summer, and a pink rose veil fascinator, plus a number of large brimmed straw hats of all colours, for home, garden, church, etc, and for winter, I have similar hats in reds, greys and black.

    Hats are elegant, sophisticated and fun. It would be lovely if others would join me, and revive the hat fashion!

  28. Sylvia Browning says:

    Fashions show that hats are returning for autumn 2013.

  29. maggie says:

    I agree the U.S. dress code is informal & quite often sloppy. I’m 55, female, Catholic, & wore a veil until Vatican II.
    I grew up in a family of 7 (4 girls including my mom) & thanks to hats/veils we were rarely late to mass. That’s the great thing about hats-put your makeup on, get dresses, & your done. I’m not talking panty hose (haven’t owed a pair in yrs), but the public definitely could use a little dressing up.

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