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Despite trend toward casual, many churchgoers stick with Sunday best

Shoulder-sweeping, head-hugging and sprinkled with sequins, embellished with bows or adorned with feathers or flirtatious veils — hats in every magnificence will be on show this Easter.

Terri Lipsey Scott plans to don something wide-brimmed. Peachy. Perhaps pink.

"Something that will suggest spring," mused Scott, a Savannah native who unabashedly favors finery for Easter Sunday.

It's a waning custom, she admits.

"My church, they've moved to a more casual scene for Easter. That's just something I've not been able to adopt. I may wear a sundress, but most definitely, a hat."

Pastors still expect a parade of pastels, small boys coaxed into suits and little girls in frills, but more are seeing and welcoming a younger generation with a more relaxed approach to what's acceptable at worship — even on Easter Sunday.

"There's been a movement in church, among churches that are really trying to reach a younger demographic, of being more casual. For that reason, you don't see the fashion show," said the Rev. William Rice of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, where Sunday dress is usually casual.

"Easter is probably less so, but it's nothing like it was 30 years ago," Rice said.

At Scott's St. Petersburg congregation, the Rev. Louis Murphy of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church encourages a "dress-down" policy for Easter Sunday.

"For the African-American culture, it is the tradition to dress up for every Sunday, but more so for Easter Sunday. To me, it was a tradition that was creating stress, so on Easter Sunday, we go very casual," said Murphy, who introduced the trend about a decade ago.

"People stay home because they don't have the money to buy Easter dresses or Easter suits," he said. "We want them to come no matter what they're wearing.

"When you really look at the real meaning for Easter Sunday, it has nothing to do with clothes, the Easter bunny. It has everything to do with our Lord and Savior, who rose from the dead."

Nonetheless, specialty catalogs, websites and entire shops cater to those who believe in adhering to the tradition of Sunday best. At Jane Bae's Majestic Joy store in the Seville Square shopping center in St. Petersburg, displays showcase suit jackets with sequins, pearl buttons and glittering clasps paired with below-the-knee skirts and topped with hats to match. Some women use the store's layaway plan to acquire the ensembles, Bae said.

Michelle Holmes owns I & M Classy Hats + More on Drew Street in Clearwater with her mother, Isay M. Gulley.

"In an economy such as this, we're not just surviving, we're thriving. We're truly blessed," Holmes said.

This spring, she said, "We have a couple of things going on, not only Easter. Mother's Day is coming up and also the Kentucky Derby."

The store's dresses and suits come in sizes 6 to 36 and shoppers can find coordinating accessories from gloves to bags to jewelry and, naturally, hats.

"Lavender seems to be the most popular color and anything that has feathers and flowers," Holmes said of the hats she's selling this season.

"There's a big demand for yellows, too."

Holmes said while it's true that African-American women traditionally dress up for church and don hats — crowns, as they are fondly called — customers for church hats are ethnically diverse.

"It's a tradition that some people might not be willing to stray from," she said.

"What the ladies have always told us is that the hats have to talk to them, and in the beginning, I didn't know what they were saying. It's a term of endearment. I thought it was a term of insanity at first."

The women explained that "you always have a hat that draws your attention, that suits your personality, and it gives you hatitude," she said.

Like Holmes' clientele, Scott is drawn to hats. She owns dozens. The one she chooses for Easter has to be splendid.

"You wear your best when you go to church," her mother used to say.

"You give your best."

Especially on Easter Sunday.

Despite trend toward casual, many churchgoers stick with Sunday best 04/23/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 23, 2011 2:47pm]

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