|Bishop Cunningham was too polite to notice, but others did.|
A short time ago I published a position paper on head coverings in church. In the Church's tradition, going back to the Apostles, men uncover their heads, and women cover them, during the liturgy. Men removing their hats is still demanded throughout the Church in practice: deviation from the custom is noted with a degree of shock. The custom of women covering them is widely, if not universally, observed in the context of the Traditional Mass, as well as being maintained in the Eastern Churches, but is seen in the Ordinary Form only when grand weddings demand hats for the ladies.
A complicating cultural factor is the disappearance, to an overwhelming extent, of headcoverings for both sexes in everyday life in Western fashion. This means that the liturgical custom looks like more of a big deal for women (who have to do something unusual: cover their heads), and less of a big deal for men (who just remain bare-headed), when for most of the history of the Church it was the other way round. Women simply kept on the headscarves, bonnets, veils, or hats, of their era, but men had to dandle their caps and hats in their hands or find a place to put them down or hang them up, no matter how cold the church was. This is why the Position Paper insisted on looking at the custom from the point of view of both sexes, and not just address the question: Why do (some) women cover their heads at the Traditional Mass?
|Dior's 'New Look', with hat.|
It may seem odd that we should go to all this trouble over a hat when women are in fact wearing them less and less. In my opinion, this regrettable departure is due to a reaction against those miserable pieces of headgear, in straw, bedizened with plumes and flowers, with which women disguised the poverty of their wardrobe during the war. Personally I consider that a woman without a hat is not completely dressed. The fact that very young girls can get away with being hatless has encouraged their mothers to imitate them. But they are simply depriving themselves of an agreeable addition to their appearance and are apparently not sufficiently aware that the cry:
'How pretty you look today!' often means no more than:
'How well your hat suits you!'
Dior by Dior: the Autobiography of Christian Dior, first pub 1957, p81 of the English edition.
Dior's views are interesting, but I am sceptical of his explanation of the demise of the lady's hat. More influential, I should think, would have been the fact that, as he regarded it as necessary for every outfit to have its own hat, the cost and inconvenience of ladies having to buy and store vast numbers of hats, each to be worn only a handful of times, told against it. As for men, a shop assistant at a famous London hatter once told me that it was small cars that did for hats. This is certainly a problem. Walking and public transport are much more friendly to hats, and the explosion of car ownership in the 1960s must take some blame for their demise. There's a lot to be said for the kind of hat which can be put in a pocket, such as caps and deerstalkers.
|Dior encounters conservative opposition in the USA.|
The cult of youth is also about a new focus on sexual attraction, particularly on attractive young women. This is manifested, obviously, in revealing clothes. In this context it is not hard to see that the replacement of hats with artfully coiffed hair not only plays to the lustrous manes of the young, but can be alluring in just the right way.
But as Dior noted, ladies look good in (good) hats. His own most notable achievement as a designer was the 'New Look', which made skirts longer, while emphasising a lady's waist. It was fun and attractive without being immodest. (The funniest passage in his book is his description of being picketed by American women angry at his promotion of a fashion which hid their legs.) The saddest thing about modern fashions is that while they are good at advertising the wearer's sexual availability, they don't make people look nice. Those with stunning natural looks can survive in this environment; the rest of us are left to flounder.
Right now, looking out of the window at the snow, I think people who walk around without hats are mad. Like the cricketer Chris Lewis, who got sunstroke after shaving his head and then refusing to wear a hat on tour in Antigua, I suppose they are suffering for the sake of fashion.
|Mantillas on display the St Catherine's Trust Summer School, a Mass at Holywell|