Friday, July 29, 2011

Where Did All The Funeral Hats Go?

The death of Amy Winehouse last week, though not completely unexpected, was still very sad and the internet this week has been flooded with pictures of her life and her funeral, most notably Kelly Osbourne's funeral beehive.

I thought this was a fitting tribute to pay to her friend but it did make me wonder what happened to the funeral hat?

Queen Victoria set the standard for mourning attire after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, wearing black mourning clothes for the rest of her life. In the Victorian era, men would wear a black armband when someone died, but women wore full black crape dresses for a year and a day. Then they wore crape-trimmed black dresses for another 21 months.

To this day the Royal family continue the tradition of wearing a hat to church at all times and thus a funeral is no exception.

Being from the the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland where the Wee Free Church still dominates I was taught that church and hats go hand in hand. At funerals I always thought this was a bonus as when I cry my face goes all red and blotchy for at least a couple of hours thus the ability to hide behind the rim of a hat or even better a veil (lucky Catholics get the full shielding force of a mantilla) saved much embarrassment.

It seems nowadays however that outside of certain church tradition the funeral hat has been completely done away with, with the exception of notably stylish funerals. The relatively recent funerals of designer Alexander McQueen and fashion stylist Isabella Blow stand out as exceptions.

As well as the funeral of Michael Jackson (not surprisingly) where all the Jackson sisters had their heads covered.

But the question remains; why has the funeral hat, despite its practical uses, disappeared? Maybe like hats in all other situations it has become a casualty of the ever casual clothing cult recent generations have fostered. The lack of enthusiasm to put effort into our appearance for occasions other than weddings has made the hat seem like an unnecessary accessory worn only by those who wish to draw attention to themselves. A veil may be seen as overly dramatic or diva like or maybe the focus on fashion at a funeral would be seen as crass and vain.

Maybe it is as simple as timing issues. When somebody dies we all have a black dress or suit somewhere in our wardrobe but a funeral hat? I mean, when is it appropriate to go shopping for a funeral hat? Before someone is dead would seem more than a little morbid but focussing on your outfit in the few days between when someone has died and the funeral would make you seem shallow and more than a little self obsessed thus when do you go funeral hat shopping?

Personally I am going to go and get a funeral hat now for no other reason than now is when I have thought about it and I will continue to wear a hat at all funerals I attend not only for the sake of my blotchy, red, puffy face but because I like the idea of dressing up out of respect to say a final goodbye to someone I love and I can only hope that my funeral (in many, many, many years time) looks as fashiontastic as Mr McQueen's and Ms Blow's.

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