Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The American church hat


Vicki Woods ponders the church hat. On Sundays in London we see many elderly black women on their way to church in hats, making a pleasant contrast with the ubiquitous weekend leisurewear all around


I'd forgotten there is a demographic of hatty people in America – millions strong. The matriarchs who pack out the gospel churches always wear the full fig (hats, gloves, best coats). And, of course, it was a church hat Franklin wore, out of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for a pretty churchy occasion.

So, I was wrong about the absence of milliners. The Queen of Soul is from Detroit; and so is her hatter Luke Song, who runs the business (started by his Korean-immigrant mother) for a clientele of "90 per cent churchgoing African-American women". He made Aretha's grey felt cloche with the hugely oversized bow for about $400 (£290); I thought she looked fabulous in it and I wasn't alone. Almost as soon as My Country 'Tis of Thee died away, Song was hit by a Diana wedding-dress-style tsunami and he's rushing out lookalikes (for $179) and buying up all the felt he can find. He told the Detroit Free Press that, "people are calling from England, asking for the hat, I'm shocked".

I'm mildly shocked, myself. We have the world's most fashionable hatters (Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy.) There's no call to start Googling "detroit hat aretha" in search of gala headgear, when people can pick up hats influenced by these brilliant milliners in any high street. (The Princess Royal bought her Queen Mother funeral hat in Debenhams.)

Alas, Aretha Franklin, at nearly 70, is not of an age to start a trend among young London fashionables for splashy over-sized church hats (more's the pity). Young women in this country don't wear hats any more, unless forced to by protocol. Even then, they prefer "fascinators", which are basically exaggerated hairslides with feathers, worn tipped over one ear. But Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy make those, too.