Easter Hats for a Recession
Easter Hats Fall Victim to Economic Downturn
By Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
There are many things that Paula Settles is willing to forgo in these budget-conscious times, but an Easter hat isn't one of them.
"I wouldn't consider going to church without a hat on," said Settles, an African-American retiree of a certain age who's already planning her outfit for Easter services at her Baptist church in Washington, D.C.
She's decided on a saucer-sized number with two long pheasant feathers for Easter morning, but in an effort to keep costs down, she's pairing it with an outfit that's already in her closet.
"My hat will freshen up an old outfit," she said. "It was more cost-effective for me to get a new hat than a new suit, new shoes, all of that."
Settles isn't alone - either in her desire for a striking fashion statement to greet Easter morning, or her desire to keep costs in check, hat retailers say. "I bought a small hat this year," Settles said. "I didn't buy a huge, outrageous hat."
Despite the economy, a proper lady still needs a proper topper.
That's why at Andrea's Fine Hats here, owner Andrea Bray is spearheading an effort to acquire donated "gently worn" hats that can be refurbished or repaired for cash-strapped patrons.
The refurbished hats will be distributed to churches and nursing homes for Easter and Mother's Day. Settles is volunteering to give the hats another go with a steam press or fresh decorations.
"With the economy being so tough, some of the people that may be hardest hit by this are those who may be in nursing homes or maybe in the hospital or somebody at the church who can't afford to buy a new hat," said Settles. "If we can get it to look good enough, it'll look like a brand new hat."
While Bray has made a point of stocking more affordable options this year, she's still selling pieces of holiday haberdashery that costs of hundreds of dollars.
"We don't call anything in here cheap," Bray said. "We call it `popular price' - anywhere from $39.50 to maybe $100."
Some hat designers, in fact, are doing pretty well. Luke Song of Detroit's Mr. Song Millinery says he's been "riding the wave" ever since Aretha Franklin wore his gray felt and rhinestone creation to President Obama's inauguration in January. Sales have skyrocketed ever since, he said.
Though Franklin's jaw-dropper hat was an original - it has its own Facebook page and the singer is currently in talks to loan it to the Smithsonian - Song's staff is busily filling orders for $179 spring versions created with banana yellow or baby pink satin ribbons.
Song is trying to give his customers options - from tiny $19 "fascinators" that look like miniature hats to grand $900 pieces that are worthy of a day at Churchill Downs.
"Every boutique tells me their accessories are up," said Song, who caters to about 500 boutiques. "The clothing is struggling, but they're doing well with their accessories, which includes the hats."
And besides, Song said, everyone needs a little pick-me-up when most economic news is all bad, all the time. "Easter's always been good for hats," he said. "Despite the economy, I think it's a feel-good thing."
Gail Lowe, senior historian at the Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, said Easter hat traditions run deep, especially in the black church. There's biblical precedent for a woman to cover her hair, as well as the desire to greet spring with a new, colorful look. Lowe's museum currently features a pink, yellow and green hat, decorated with flowers and leaves, in the Easter section of its exhibit, "Jubilee: African American Celebration."
"No matter how trying times are, people try to ... hold onto certain traditions," she said. "This would definitely be a good example, and it's a very viable example that we're still keeping our heads up."
Michael Cunningham, a Washington-based photographer whose photos were featured in the book, "Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats," said the endurance of Easter hats - even in tough times - reflects the resilience of the women who wear them.
"I don't think they would ever say that things have been smooth throughout history," he said. "It's always been a challenge. Especially black Americans, we've always been challenged economically. I think they're going to keep on rolling with it."