Anglicans, Covering, Hats and Tradition

Anglican women used to cover their heads in church. It wasn’t that long ago. My Baptist mother and her friends wore plain hats or scarves in church until the mid 1960s; many Anglican and Episcopal women did so until later.

I don’t really know why they stopped. Many look back with nostalgia and wistful remembrance. Others found it oppressive and vain. It was perhaps both, as well s a sign of obedience and humility for others.

There was no order or canon about covering. It was expected, a custom. Then Catholic women stopped covering after Vatican II, and one would think the Church of Rome had spoken for all. This was not the case.

The Protestant argument that a woman’s covering is her long hair and not a piece of fabric became prevalent. As I’ve said elsewhere, this was an error of interpretation. Paul did indeed mean that  a woman should wear her hair long and uncut, if possible, as representing the glory of God; the veil was her modesty and obedience, a symbol of headship under Christ. Women alone have that privilege. Men uncover before the altar; women have the benefit of glory, as Moses was veiled after descending from Mount Horeb, for the glory of God was reflected in him.

Anglican women are not released from this headship and this glory. I believe it would be better if we acknowledged our relationship to Christ in veiling, that is, in covering our heads before the altar. I wear a prayer cap; others wear a small veil or scarf or kerchief, which has the same effect.

If hats are worn in church, they should be simple cloth or knit caps of the skull cap, snood or cloche type, unornamented. A plain black or straw bonnet is acceptable, if a bit anachronistic if one is not Plain. The hat should match the style of clothes. Plain women wear Plain coverings; modern dress women should wear something modern but unpretentious. One’s church clothes, in fact, should be simpler rather than elaborate. The occasion is a solemn celebration, not a garden party or an evening gala. Colour is acceptable, but unnecessary frills and certainly anything that suggests a show of skin and figure is inappropriate. Church services are not a fashion show or an occasion for finding a boyfriend. (Don’t get me started on wedding attire.)

I used to wear hats to church, before I was Plain. Some of them may have been a little more decorative than necessary. A black straw cloche was a favourite, and matched a lot of my clothes. A navy blue brimmed hat, of vintage extraction, was simple but elegant. I had a summer white brimmed hat, pinned up on one side with a fabric flower. It may have been a little elaborate for an older woman, but perhaps was excusable when I was twenty-five.

Still, Sunday morning is not the Easter parade. (That’s an arcane reference some readers will have to look up.) A basic dress and a simple hat will do service for many years, provided they are in good repair. A short veil of the charity style is never wrong, even if people ask if you are a nun. (Yes, they will.)

It’s too bad that women rarely cover even in church. It makes Christian women look worldly, more concerned with their appearance than their piety. Vanity and immodesty are never at home in the church, or in the heart of a Christian.

Mothers should, at least, set a good example for daughters by wearing a modest dress or skirt, and this one day in the week insist that their daughters put on a skirt and modest blouse.  I see young women every year who have never had a skirt until they want to look grown-up for prom or a wedding. They walk like boys in their skirts, they are so unaccustomed to the proper way to hold their legs, arms and feet. Teenagers today are much too concerned about appearance and social status. They need some sort of break from all that, if they are ever to find themselves.

Equally, young women should learn to wear a headcovering at the appropriate time. There are cultures where a woman in tight jeans and with her head bare will cause problems, and if our daughters ever travel beyond our own borders, they should have some sense of what to do and why.

Just because the rest of the world decided it didn’t need rules doesn’t mean we are excused from following them.