The context of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, in chapter 11, can only be read in a logical fashion as declaring that woman are to wear head-coverings; it shows carelessness on the part of the reader to teach otherwise. I shall not argue this point here as I have done so here.
The point I want to discuss is the matter of whether the Scripture teaches that a headscarf is to be worn to the exclusion of much more recently designed headwear such as a hat.
The only time the word 'covering' is used in the NT is -
1Corinthians 11:15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
The word covering in the Greek is 'peribolaion' and this means:
‘Neuter of a presumed derivative of [“periballo” (to throw all around)]; something thrown around one, that is, a mantle, veil: - covering, vesture.’
Does that sound like a hat to you? It sounds more like a veil or head-covering which women in the New Testament wore and which the early church wore and which women wore in the western world for most of the past 2000 years. British women, for example, have been wearing headscarves for centuries and continue to do so until today. My old landlady (who was as British as spotted dick) used to wear a headscarf when she went down the road in windy Autumn and Winter. Furthermore, the word is used elsewhere to illustrate how God will fold away creation like this particular item of clothing (Hebrews 1:12). Do we fold away hats? The word for ‘covered’ in 1Corinthians 11 is ‘katakaluptō’ which also means ‘to cover wholly, that is, veil’.
Now some would contend that to translate ‘veil’ in this manner means a woman must cover her face too, but this exaggeration is disproven by the Word of God; further to the fact that Paul describes women’s long hair as a natural precedent for the head-covering and that women do not have hair on their face as men do, we read in the Scriptures of a proper veil allowing the option of covering one’s face:
Genesis 38:14-15 And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.
When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face.
(Please note - from the context, Judah thought she was a prostitute because she had disguised her identity and was by the side of the road, not because she was wearing a headscarf or because she had her face covered.)
In fact, the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament translates the word ‘vail’ (or ‘shawl’) here as the same root word Paul uses in 1Corinthians – ‘periballo’.
So a veil is something that is large and flexible enough to wrap around a woman’s head, according to the NT, and large enough to have sufficient material to cover the face (for whatever reason), according to the OT. Does this describe a hat? I can't say that it does. It seems to describe a headscarf as worn by the early church – Clement of Alexandria writes of the veiling of women with a ‘shawl’ in 190 A.D. and Tertullian wrote a whole tract on the matter in 200 A.D., entitled The Veiling of Virgins, to combat the idea that only married women were to wear head-coverings. In it, Tertullian rejects the idea of wearing a coif (a type of cap) or hair tied up in small turbans at the front or back as these do not cover the whole head as Paul specifies. Other writers, as well as art, depict headscarves being worn by women in the early church. This was the unanimous interpretation of Paul’s wording in 1Corinthians 11.
Does this mean it is evil for a woman to wear a hat as a head-covering?
Women’s hats are a very recent development, following from the vanity of the 18th century milliners who produced huge wigs, plumed with feathers etc. for women of greater wealth and status. At a time when the men were wearing make-up and wigs too, the women went to ridiculous lengths to appear more effeminate than the men.
By the late 1800’s, women were converting and re-designing men’s hats for their own use. Trilbies and Boaters were given ribbons and flowers and downsized and these became an acceptable piece of women’s clothing. This was the fashion at the turn of the 1900’s and was, I believe, one of many precursors to the feminist movement. It was an externalisation of the changing thoughts and worldviews of that time: ‘Women can wear the same items of clothing as men, surely women could vote like men, go to work like men, perform the same roles as men, go to battle like men’ etc.
Please do not mistake me; I do not believe that a woman wearing a woman’s hat or women’s jackets or trousers is some form of transvestism. Transvestism is a very real desire for a man or woman to dress and appear to be, as much as possible, someone of the opposite gender. I am not declaring that women wear hats because they want others to think they are a man or because they want to appear masculine and offend God.
But I do believe that this is a worldly tradition and a very recent one at that.
So, in response to the question of whether it is evil for a woman to wear a hat as her headcovering, I would respond with two questions of my own:
From the verses we have examined above and a glance at history, does the Bible say (in the Greek) that women should wear a headscarf or a hat and why do you prefer a hat?
For those who would charge me with legalism and point out that the principle of wearing something, anything, on the woman’s head is what is important, I would ask them whether they would consider swapping the simple cup of the Lord’s Supper with a German beer stein and the wine for cherryade (some prefer the taste). Why not use pizza instead of the bread? Why do we not baptize people in custard also? After all, it’s the spiritual principle that matters, not the elements…
I do not think women wear hats to be deliberately evil and confound what God has written, but I do think vanity can play a part in a woman’s refusal to wear a headscarf. Yet, ‘headscarf’ is what the Greek and, therefore, the Holy Spirit actually say; whereas women’s hats appear to be a recent, worldly phenomenon. One should earnestly examine themselves as to why they might refuse to wear a headscarf.
May women have the freedom of conscience to pray and reach a conclusion on this subject with their husbands. Above all, may none of us lose sight of the spiritual significance of what it means to be wearing a head-covering. This represents Christ and His authority over His bride. Let us discern our Lord and Saviour in the covering of our ladies’ heads, otherwise it doesn’t matter what we wear.