Countless black women would rather attend church naked than hatless. For these women, a church hat, flamboyant as it may be, is no mere fashion accessory; it's a cherished African American custom, one observed with boundless passion by black women of various religious denominations. A woman's hat speaks long before its wearer utters a word. It's what Deirdre Guion calls "hattitude...there's a little more strut in your carriage when you wear a nice hat. There's something special about you." If a hat says a lot about a person, it says even more about a people-the customs they observe, the symbols they prize, and the fashions they fancy.
Photographer Michael Cunningham beautifully captures the self-expressions of women of all ages-from young glamorous women to serene but stylish grandmothers. Award-winning journalist Craig Marberry provides an intimate look at the women and their lives. Together they've captured a captivating custom, this wearing of church hats, a peculiar convergence of faith and fashion that keeps the Sabbath both holy and glamorous.
About Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham is the author of Flesh and Blood, A Home at the End of the World, and, most recently, The Hours, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and soon to be a major film. He lives and works in New York City.
About Craig Marberry
Craig Marberry is the writer of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats and Spirit of Harlem: A Portrait of America’s Most Exciting Neighborhood, both collaborations with photographer Michael Cunningham. A graduate of Morehouse College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Marberry has written for the Washington Post and Essence magazine. His collection of oral histories in Crowns has been adapted into an award-winning play written by Regina Taylor. Marberry, a Chicago native, lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.
African American Women and Their Church Hats:
"Our crowns have already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear them."
"We just know inside that we're queens. And these are the crowns we wear."
-Felecia McMillan, journalist
"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)
"My husband said, 'You don't need another hat. You don't have but one head.'"
-Dorothy Wynecroff, middle school teacher (retired)