Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Feeling rather conspicuous in this hat …

Since the subject of mantillas is being given an airing at present, by Dr Shaw, Mary O’Regan, and Annie, I thought I might tell you about my own experience.

As I recall from the parish in which I grew up, hats or headscarves were the usual headgear until some time in the 1960s, when mantillas began to appear and gradually took over.

In my present parish, exclusively OF, I can think of just four women who ever cover their heads.  The other women hardly ever appear together at Mass. In fact I am often the only woman in the congregation with a headcovering. Ah, the qualms when I am getting ready to go to Mass; the diffidence; the embarrassment! I am probably being unnecessarily self-conscious about it; if I am noticed at all, the response is probably one of live and let live. But in my more paranoid moments I feel as if I have entered a Most Eccentric Parishioner competition, in which I am the only competitor. And I lose.

It doesn’t really help that I look a bit of a so-and-so in a hat. My appearance is something halfway between the above, and this:

I think a mantilla would be a step too outrageous at present. I keep the mantilla for when I am away from home, where no one knows me. I see mantillas, scarves etc aplenty at such times. Of course, it may be that all those women have, like me, travelled some distance to throw off the shackles of post-Vatican II convention in an anonymous environment.

As I have persevered in wearing my hat to Mass, an interesting little niggle has established itself in my head. I am now very reluctant to go into a Catholic church with my head uncovered. This is not in any way a judgment on the majority of women who do not cover their heads. Perish the thought! But I have started to experience, when I am getting ready to go to Mass, an argument going on inside me. First, I quail at the thought of being Mrs Hat; and then I examine my motives, whether for going without, or for covering my head.

The going-without case seems to rest entirely on embarrassment, of the fear (never yet realised) of adverse comments; in short, of the old temptation to Human Respect – not, of course, in the natural and kindly sense, but in the technical, moral sense. The case for covering my head is really a very private and personal one, however visible the effect: for me, it’s not really about the words of St Paul, although I am aware of them; it’s more about an act of fellowship with women throughout the history of the Church; and most of all and most immediately, it springs from a feeling that I ought to do it, and accept the embarrassment, as a little work of humility and of love for the Lord.  In other words, it's about Him, not about me.

Last Sunday I had another of my quailing moments. I thought, oh, I don’t want to look like the odd one out; and I didn’t put my hat on. When I went into the living-room to say I was about to set off, my husband said: “Oh, where’s your little hat?” Out of the mouths of husbands … they were the salutary words I needed: I went to the bedroom and put my hat on, and I hope to abide by that rather touching little reminder on every future occasion.

Photos via Google Images: Hetty from; Hyacinth from


Richard Collins said...

Excellent post...but mantillas look so graceful (but that's a man speaking).

Dorothy B said...

Thank you, Richard. Yes, I agree about the gracefulness of mantillas. I love to wear mine, and it's such an easy form of headcovering.

Annie said...

I know just what you mean about the fear and embarrassment factors! But having bitten the bullet and worn one for the OF for quite a time,I feel so uncomfortable in Church now without a veil. Funny thing is, I feel hats make me even more noticeable than a mantilla, especially in the Summer. And of course, the husband prefers mantillas..!