Countless black women would rather attend church naked than hatless. For a flamboyant church hat is more than a fashion statement-it is a reflection of a treasured tradition and their own inimitable style. In fifty gorgeous black-and-white photographs, Michael Cunningham captures the self-expression of women of all ages-from mischievous young girls to serene grandmothers-who understand the secret of keeping the Sabbath both holy and glamorous.
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.
Michael Cunningham is a commercial photographer whose clients include Coca-Cola and Sara Lee. Two of his photographs are currently on loan to the Smithsonian's Anacostia Museum, and his works have been featured in the New York Times and Ebony. He lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Craig Marberry, a former TV reporter, holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and is the owner of a video production company. He has written articles for the Washington Post and Essence magazine. Marberry is also the grandson of the late Louis Henry Ford, former Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ. He 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)