Soul Chic: Sanctified Fashion Show

I can remember as a child walking with my grandmother to church one Sunday, and getting smacked in the face with one of the elusive feathers in her hat. I said, “Grandmom, why is your hat so big?” and she turned to me and said, “Why is your voice so annoying?” and instinctively, I was about to answer her. But I didn’t know what I was going to say. My grandmother used to get her hats from this boutique in one of the high-end neighborhoods in our area. She spared no expense, and everybody from the church wanted to know where she got her hats. But she never told them – and she told me that if I ever told anyone, she was going to knock me into a time where dashikis and Afros reigned supreme. She had a bit of a violent streak.

To say that church folks take their clothes seriously is an understatement. I’m not going to lie, when I was going through my matching phase, I had to have the powder blue suit, with the matching shirt, shoes and socks. Nothing was better than praising the Lord, and being sharp at the same time. I must admit, I was guilty of shouting just to be seen in my suit. When people said, “Brother James that suit is sharp,” I would say, “Well thank you, bless the Lord.”

It’s the boutiques and stores where you can get hats, suits, dresses, shoes, and the latest Tyler Perry Stage play – a month or two before its official release, that have the best clothes. On the guy’s end, dressing in what I wore during my matching phase might have been questionable. In my area – if you dressed with a brightly colored suit, matching shoes, and a hat, you were either a pimp or a church boy.

Church people are the original “sharp people” and make no mistake about it, while in the office; it is easy to transition church clothes to work clothes. Going to church has been an amazing and rewarding experience for me. But in some churches (not all), it is nothing more than a sanctified fashion show. The higher the hat, shinier the shoe, and sharper the suit – the better your status on and off the pulpit.

Fashion and church go hand-in-hand, just like church and music. Advancing in my own fashion career, it was hard at first to suppress the church-fashion influence. How did I do it? In moderation. Growing up in the church, and then still going through adulthood can be a bit daunting where style is concerned. I began noticing the different trends that arose out of recycled fashion. Still, staples have always been the big hats and bright-colored suits – anywhere else it would have been too much. But at church, it was just right.

I think that designers are starting to take notice to the church consumer. Church folks watched the Prince Charles and Kate Middleton wedding, but what the older church ladies noticed were the, “sharp hats.” Designers are beginning to tap into the church consumer market as evidenced by excessive accessories and embellished ready-to-wear. The church trend can be translated into ready-to-wear easily, but it’s in how you style the look. I’ve never been a big fan of jumping into a trend completely – I like the idea of adding chic accents to give the look something extra. This is what some of the younger people are doing in church. You have to be a certain age to pull off a big embellished hat in church. The younger girls emphasize hair styling and accessories. Depending on how strict the church – length and cut play a major issue. The young men are wearing urban trends to maintain their youth. You can see cardigans, plain jeans, and a button down with a tie as standard uniform. My grandmother used to call her hat a crown – and once I think she even tried to glue a crown to one of her plainer hats, but she made it a priority to let all of my female-cousins, “These hats are not toys.” And they aren’t for everybody. There was a silent age limit that people respected. When you brought your first hat, it was official, you were one of the mature-saints in the church. That’s putting it tactfully.

I on the other hand, always wanted to be sharp. Of course, my idea of sharpness has changed over the years – still, every Sunday, I fight the urge to pull out my fire engine red suit and pair it with my black patent-leather shoes.

– James R. Sanders

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James R. Sanders regularly contributes to the Huffington Post and is the biweekly columnist for Black Star News’ Noir Style. He most recently completed his novel, “Born in Sin” and is a stylist and editor based in the New York area. He can be reached at:



  1. BooCouture says:

    WOW! “Fire engine red suit and pair it with my black patent-leather shoes” – too funny! Great take on church fashion. I hope the big hat trend continues because it’s uber-fashionable as well as a tradition. Someday I hope to be “big girl” in church and get my hat collection going.

  2. Ashley Oliver says:

    Amen! Hallelujah >>>Church people are the original “sharp people” and make no mistake about it, while in the office; it is easy to transition church clothes to work clothes.

    I wish that some people would take their time out to really know how to style their outfits, instead of thinking they know it all.

    Every outfit that glitters doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be fitting for you unless you try it on!
    If you don’t like the style, then don’t insist on buying it! ;-)

  3. John Watson says:

    I love this column. The writer tells an important story about something that we all experienced. Church is something else, and the clothes take some getting used to.

  4. Margaret Gray says:

    Loved your article and so right on time. I have noticed this for years that church fashion is the underdog in the fashion world. Its about time that the industry takes notice and gives it the proper due.

  5. Darelyn says:

    I could picture the scene and hear you talking….and when you got smacked….that’s what made it so funny. I posted it to my page. I emailed the link to all of my contacts. Great job “Mr. Extraordinary” I really enjoyed it :-)

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