May 15, 2015

Christian Head Covering Myths #1

#1: The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church...? - R.C. Sproul

1- The practice was universal

I found this article written in a newspaper on Dec. 8, 1939, 'Should Women Wear Hats In Church?' I haven't been able to find the article it refers to - but it says: 'The fashion of women having their heads covered in church is, after all, not an old one: it does not seem to have existed even a century and a half ago. Before this is was frequently the fashion for women, especially married women, to have their heads covered: but there is ample contemporary evidence that women did not cover their heads in church when they did not do so elsewhere.' The rest of the article points out that there are records as far back as the 1500s that indicate that men wore hats at / into church. It was only after the Church-warden period of King George the 3rd that head covering was more strictly enforced. Here's the link to it's source:

1 answer: so it appears where was the custom of women to wear hats outside of church, they wore them inside church, and where it was the custom to not wear hats outside of church, they were not worn inside church. It was not the custom to not wear hats outside of church and wear hats only inside church.

1.5 answer: the practice was selective, the Church was more than happy to require women to have to wear something (via sumptuary laws: "That noe woman come to the kirk or mercat [mar- ket] with her face mussled, that sche may nocht be kend, under the pane of escheit of the churchie" - - I have no idea what that even means. But there isn't as much evidence that the other half of the verse - that men not wear hats was strictly enforced either. Perhaps some will turn up in time as more old stuff is scanned to the internet. I liked this section in the same book though: "Great disorder hath been in the Kirk by reason of women sitting with their heads covered in time of sermon, sleeping." In on instance, the matter was put to a vote and the women were ordered not to wear head coverings in church. Actually, I'd recommend reading the whole chapter entitled: the evolution of the Quaker bonnet, which states that it was not the tradition of English lower classes to wear head coverings at all - and when it was a tradition of the upper classes, the men and women wore *gasp* the same hats! The closing thought struck me as most appropriate: "We long for more expressions of the truth of doctrine in our hearts and not on our heads."

2 - Everyone loved wearing hats

Another thing I found was an editorial that appeared in The World by Adam Fitz-Adam where a woman by the name of Clarissa thought: "this uncouth taste of being hatted prevails in almost all the churches in town and country; matrons of sixty adopting the thoughtless whim of girls in their teens, and each endeavoring to countenance the other in this idle transgression against the laws of decency and decorum." It dates back to 1753. She had fantastic reasoning: "If temporal monarchs are to be served with an uncovered head as a mark of reverence and humility, that doesn't the Supreme God deserved to be served with an uncovered head as well?"

2 answer: everybody has their own tastes, it suited some women to wear hats, it suited other women to not wear hats.

3 - feminists are to blame for everything.

3 answer: These two articles predate the Women's Liberation Movement (1960s) which would absolve their guilt.

Truth is, hats / head coverings were a fashion. Fashions come and go. You can try to shame women all day long for following the dictates of fashion (which women are supposed to do to be womanly) and denying head coverings (1 Corinthians 11), but that won't bring back the practice until fashion makes people want to wear them. If fashion ended the practice, then it seems to me logical that fashion should dictate in what form head coverings return. However, in general, dressing up is not a cultural expectation. People do not wear their 'Sunday Best' to church, to court, or to fly on an air plane. Of course, 'Sunday Best' isn't exactly found in the Bible. The passages that do talk about wardrobe advise believers to choose cheaper fashions, not expensive ones, and somewhat normal hair styles, not extravagant ones. This is the trouble that results when we find a verse in an old book and decide that it applies everywhere, for all time, above all cultures, and then wonder why nobody likes it.


  1. Hi Jamie,
    Thanks for those references. They look interesting.

    1. You're welcome! The history of it - the hows and the whys - are quite fascinating.