An acclaimed photographer and award-winning journalist provide an intimate look at black women who would rather attend church naked than hatless.
For countless black 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.
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 the originator and photographer of Crowns and the photographer of Spirit of Harlem. He is the executive director of Urban Shutterbugs, a photography and mentoring program for inner-city youth. His works have been featured in museums across the country.
CRAIG MARBERRY is the writer of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats and Spirit of Harlem: A Portrait of America’s Most Exciting Neighborhood, both collaborations with photographer Michael Cunningham. A graduate of Morehouse College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Marberry has written for the Washington Post and Essence magazine. His collection of oral histories in Crowns has been adapted into an award-winning play written by Regina Taylor. Marberry, a Chicago native, lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.
On 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)