Hats and other Headcoverings

In a culture where it’s commonplace to see bare bellies, tramp stamps, and both bra and thong straps, pictures of ladies wearing Easter hats stands out. Well, maybe not so much compared to the sea of (rather ostentatious) hats in Westminster Abbey for the royal wedding this morning. But women adorned with hats are still noteworthy.

Sure, we might see women once in a while wearing headcoverings in everyday situations. It’s becoming more and more common to see Muslim women in their hijabs out and about, especially in more sub/urban areas. In some parts of the country, there are Amish and Mennonite communities with the women in their starched bonnets. But aside from the occasional woman in a baseball cap (which I’ve always found a little strange looking), that’s about it.

If you go into a very traditional Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic church, you may see a few particularly devout women wearing scarves or mantillas. But those coverings are generally doffed as soon as the head under them exits the church doors.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, a woman wouldn’t even think of leaving the house without a hat or at least a scarf on her head. What changed? Is it part of the women’s liberation movement? Does a woman covering her head in public just not mean the same thing anymore?

I don’t remember any suffragettes marching for our right to vote…and go out with our heads uncovered. Sure, shorter hair and shorter skirts (up to the KNEES!) was all the rage at the turn of the 20th century, but ladies still commonly wore hats. But sometime between WWII and Roe v. Wade, women just stopped covering their heads.

I’ve heard (and even made) the argument that, according to Scripture (1 Corinthians 11:2-16), women covering their heads is supposed to express the principle of submission to their husbands. In “Bible times” that was how a woman showed that she was married. Now in our “enlightened” age, we don’t cover heads anymore…but wives do wear wedding rings. That’s kinda the same thing. Only it’s not.

I actually tried doing the headcovering thing a few years ago as an experiment for a Lenten fast. And I didn’t just pin a doily or kerchief on my head, I tied on a tichel that covered all my hair. I lasted only a few days. It was very disconcerting. I didn’t realize how much of my self-identity and self-confidence was tied to my hair.

When I went out in public, I got sidelong glances of pity – as though I was wearing the scarf to hide a balding chemotherapy head. One friend asked if I had started telling fortunes and looked around for my crystal ball. Another later said she thought I just had dirty hair that day and didn’t have time to wash and style it before going out. To my already surprisingly vulnerable confidence, these well-intentioned comments were too much to take and in my weakness, I stopped.

But I did notice that my demeanor changed for those days. It was hard to let my temper fly with my hair covered. It was a constant reminder on my head to be more patient and put others before myself and trust that they would also do their vocations for me.

Everyone acknowledges what it means when a woman wears a hijab, babushka or starchy stiff bonnet. She’s not doing it because it’s fashionable. She’s doing it out of a religious belief about what it means to be a woman of faith. So it’s not like it doesn’t mean anything.

Or maybe that’s the reason right there – it does mean something and we just don’t like confessing what it means. That women have heads, people in authority over us. People the Lord has given us to be Christ for us and take care of us. And those people are men. And it’s scary

We live in a pretty androgynous culture – we don’t like there to be differences between men and women and we certainly don’t like anything coming close to interfering with  our independence. And headcoverings…well that just shines a spotlight on women being different from men, and that we were created to be in relationship with them as Christ is with the Church.

In my experiment, this feminine tradition ultimately lost out to fear. It’s pretty scary to make such a bold confession of faith, to make such a drastic change to your appearance. And I guess I wasn’t ready for it yet. My personal value is still too tied up with outward adornments – with doing my hair, wearing pretty jewelry, and attractive clothes. In Baptism, I was given that gentle and quiet Spirit that’s so precious in God’s sight, when Jesus Himself made me pure and sinless, with out spot or blemish. Yet it’s easy to give way to fear of letting others see that person I am in Christ.

Maybe the ladies in the Easter Facebook pictures and at the royal wedding experienced something similar. If not, why bother wearing them? If so, why don’t we do it more often?