On Saturday, April 23, over 200 women in their finest Easter apparel gathered in Washington Park in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Some brought their husbands and children. Both young and young at heart came united by a common purpose: to share with the public their love for a seemingly lost tradition: The hat.
The ladies are members of the Hat Ladies of Charleston, a 10 year-old organization founded by Archie Burkel. Its annual Easter Promenade, held every year on the Saturday before Easter, is its largest event. In the words of the Hat Ladies foundress, Archie Burkel, “It is called a promenade rather than a parade since it reflects the grace, gentility and traditions of Charleston.”
The ladies proceeded down Meeting Street to the end of the Peninsula in the heart of Old Charleston. The streets were lined with Charlestonians and visitors alike, taking photographs, applauding and enjoying the display of elegance and tradition.
After the promenade, the group gathered for photographs and interviews at White Point Gardens, a lovely shaded park located between stately antebellum homes and the canon batteries used to protect Charleston during the Civil War. From there, the Hat Ladies continued on to The Palmer House Bed & Breakfast, a beautiful mansion in the heart of Old Charleston overlooking the harbor, for refreshments.
The day ended with lunch at Carolina’s Restaurant, where the Hat Ladies and their guests enjoyed elevated conversation and, of course, a traditional southern meal of shrimp and grits.
Who Are the Hat Ladies?
The Hat Ladies of Charleston started in March 2001 when four ladies met on a Historic Charleston Foundation House tour, discovering a common interest in beautiful hats. They celebrate their affection for hats by hosting “high teas” and luncheons. Today they boast a membership of approximately 200.
Promoting feminine elegance and grace is not their only passion. They also support Charleston through philanthropic activities such as volunteering for Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers, Goodwill Collection for the Homeless, Debi’s Kids/Salvation Army Toy Drive, and hat-making for children with cancer at the Medical University of South Carolina in downtown Charleston.
Stark Contrast to Modern Dress
To the outside observer, the Hat Ladies in their elegant attire, escorted by men handsomely dressed in bow ties, jackets, and top-hats, would seem to be a lost remnant of a bygone, albeit picturesque era.
Yet, the ladies present a striking contrast to the tedious uniform of the day seen even in Charleston — shorts or jeans, tee-shirts, sneakers, and fanny-pack topped off with a baseball cap. Contemporary man has made comfort and practicality the supreme values that dictate fashions. Clothing no longer identifies a person’s age, sex, wealth, education, occupation or social position. It is not uncommon to see a couple in their 60s or 70s in shorts and T-shirt taking their grandchildren for a walk, who in turn are also wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
In addition to being egalitarian, modern fashions sacrifice dignity and seriousness for perceived comfort. As fashions become more vulgar and immodest, especially women’s fashions, they lead to the destruction of chastity and ultimately the family. Bad fashions work on our tendencies and lead man to immorality and scandal of our neighbor.1
In an apparition to Blessed Jacinta in 1919, Our Lady said, “Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Lord very much.” As a response to our Blessed Mothers message, we must guard against improper and indecent dress.
Beauty and Elegance Are Contagious
Far from disliking the public display of traditional fashions, the vast majority of onlookers manifested their approval for the Promenade with smiles, applause and well-wishes. Cameras flashed on the side lines from visitors touring the city via old-fashioned horse-drawn carriages. Many personally thanked the ladies.
Although it may seem that the hat is passé and looked upon with disdain by most people, experience has shown this to be utterly false. Since becoming Hat Ladies themselves, my wife and daughters have started wearing hats to Sunday Mass. No week goes by without their receiving a compliment from someone. Our Pastor has personally thanked them. The number of ladies wearing hats to Mass has noticeably increased.
Wearing a hat, even a beautiful one, by itself does not make a woman or man appropriately dressed or guard against immodesty. It does, however, contribute in a small but sure way to the restoration of traditional, modest fashions, and is a symbol of resistance to the seemingly inexorable tide of immodest ones. The hat also elevates man by framing and adorning the head, the highest and most noble part of the body.
Hats off to the Hat Ladies of Charleston for reviving this tradition of grace, beauty, and refinement. May we all follow their example of fashion and modesty in our own daily lives.
- “Modesty of Dress and the Love of God: An Effective Way to Defend the Family” at https://www.tfp.org/modesty-of-dress-and-the-love-of-god-an-effective-way-to-defend-the-family/