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let’s discuss aretha’s hat

This is a picture of Aretha Franklin singing at yesterday’s inauguration. And that is her hat. And I am here to tell you both the simple and complex reasons why that hat is awesome.

1) It’s grey, which is perfect for a cold, January day.
2) When she was walking to the podium, I wasn’t sure if the hat was decorated with a sculpture of a bird or a bow. Any time I have to struggle with that distinction, that is a fashion win in my book.
3) It has Swarovski crystals on the bow. Nice.
4) It’s on Aretha Motherfuckin Franklin’s head.
5) It was made by milliner Jason Song of Mr. Song Millinery of Detroit, Michigan.

Whether or not Aretha is aware of how symbolic this suddenly makes her hat for me doesn’t really matter.

As I’ve no doubt mentioned here before, I love Detroit. I go there once a year in May for the electronic music festival. Granted, that weekend is tourist-heavy and I’m sure things are different the other 51 weekends of the year. But it’s truly a great city.

Telling people that I like Detroit and that I vacation there (teehee), always elicits bewildered responses. “Detroit??!?! Like, Detroit, Michigan? That Detroit?” Yes, that Detroit. True, Detroit has had it rough for years. And there’s plenty to be depressed about when you look around the city. Factories are abandoned, whole neighborhoods give off a post-apocalyptic vibe, hotels are bombed out shells of their former grandeur. But the city is very much alive.

There’s a palpable sense that Detroit will never die, even if every drop of industry disappears from the 313, even with the already wheezing automakers begging for a bailout. Detroit has music and where there is music, there is life. There is hope. There is a reason to stick your chest out and declare, “This my music, this is my city, this is my country, goddammit. I made it, I breathe it, I sing it and you can never take it from me.”

Driving along Detroit’s long and flat streets you will see plenty of boarded up buildings, but you will also see countless small businesses, including milliners like Mr. Song’s. These businesses make hats for ladies and gentlemen who wear them to parties and events and church. Pass by a church in Detroit on Sunday and you will see a dazzling array of hats on the heads of ladies. The hats make fitting crowns for these ladies who, despite seeing the heart of economic collapse around them, sing in praise of their faith in a higher being and, more importantly, their faith in themselves and their survival, even as the rest of the world turns their back to focus on carving Detroit’s epitaph.

Aretha Franklin moved to Detroit as a child and was/is, of course, one of the brightest stars to come out of Motown. She’s a legend. The only reason that she is The Aretha Franklin is because of her life experiences, which includes growing up in Detroit.

A lot of people have poked fun at her hat, at how over-the-top it was. But I think it’s extremely fitting that a hat from Detroit went to the inauguration and crowned Aretha’s performance. In a way, it’s a symbol of the struggles and perseverance of people in places like The Rust Belt, a reminder that we’re still here, no matter who is in the White House, no matter what corrupt businesspeople do. We’re still here, and we look damn fine in our hats, thank you very much.

16 comments to let’s discuss aretha’s hat

  • Thanks for defending Aretha’s hat. I was getting sick of people knocking it but I didn’t have a good comeback. I love that she wore a hat from a small business and, frankly, I thought she looked great in it. My neighborhood has big hat church ladies, too, and sometimes I get up early just to see them sail in.

  • kent

    Let it also be said, that Aretha doesn’t fly — she spent a day on the road to be in DC, and will spend another day driving back. I’m sure she’s able to travel in style, but she will have spent 2 days in a car or a tour bus to sing for 3 minutes, because she knows what’s up. She was friends with Martin Luther King, and sang for him every chance she got. It’s an easy argument that artists like Aretha did nearly as much for civil rights as any activist — and she did it by singing.

    In a world with few heroes Aretha is near the top of my list.

  • You know what!? Fuck the haters! That hat was and is fucking fabulous. I shrieked in delight the moment I saw it.

    Hottest thing to come out of Detroit lately, in my very gay opinion: http://www.myspace.com/invincilana

    And by hot I mean “delectable”. And by delectable I mean *swoon*.

  • I feel like there is a shortlist of people who, within the confines of the law, can get away with whatever the fuck they want. Aretha’s on the list.

  • Mary

    All my SEI peeps were like, “Damn, girl! Rock that hat!”

    Because, seriously, she totally rocked that hat. I could never wear anything that awesome.

  • NGS

    That hat? Made me realize that I am NEVER going to be awesome enough to wear a hat. Go Aretha!

    And…Detroit. It pains me. I grew up in Michigan, I am (gulp) a Lions fan, and have had more than one fine meal in the Greektown district of Detroit. The pain that the city has had to endure – bad economic decisions, bad leaders, bad timing – can never overwhelm the pride and talent of its citizens. I am, to be honest, quite scared of many sections of the city, but I have hope that someday, maybe even someday soon, the city will be revitalized and resume some of its former glory as a destination city in the midwest. Thanks for recognizing Detroit here.

  • Holly

    Delurking to say this was an awesome post.
    And Aretha Franklin is simply, completely fabulous. She can wear whatever she wants. She has so earned it.

  • I loved this post; Aretha can do no wrong in my eyes. Or, you know, the universe’s.

  • g

    What a great post. Love the background on the hat. I hadn’t heard any criticism of the hat, I thought it was marvelous, myself. I watched the ceremony in the company of some African-American laborers, and I remember someone commenting that it was a “church hat.” Who could knock that?

    I visited Detroit in the course of my work, spent a couple weeks there. My husband was a child there but moved away. I spend some time on the internet visiting some Detroit preservation sites. The city is heartbreaking, beautiful, sad, marvelous. thanks for this post.

  • I, too, LOVED the hat. It was twelve different kinds of bad-ass. I’ve actually never been to Detroit, but am really curious to visit.

    Do you read the blog Sweet Juniper? I think you’d really dig it.

  • Yeah, this is why I don’t wear hats. If you can’t go big, go home.
    I thought for Aretha, ARETHA, people- she was sedate.
    Your love for the rust belt means you are gonna want to leave your hubby and marry Anthony Bourdain next season- he is seriously doing a Rust Belt tour. Baltimore & Detroit, in case you didn’t know.

  • I loved this post! I have to admit at first it seemed a strange choice, but I was so wrong. It’s a great choice for her – thank you for sharing, I’ll have to send it to all who think there is no story behind it!

  • JB

    As a black woman when I saw that hat, I knew why she wore it; it was to honor Obama’s accomplishment as the first black president. I know Obama appreciated the hat and the singing b/c he knew it was meant to honor his accomplishment. Besides, older black women wear hats like that all the time to church that make that very beautiful hat look sedate. The first thing I said when I saw it was “Aretha was wearing her ‘praise the Lord’ hat.” Women in England where those types of hats when they go to meet the Queen and no one knocks them for it. Post-racial society my behind.

  • emily

    I, too, loved that hat. And I love Aretha. And Detroit.
    I live in the Detroit area, and no matter what kind of misguided leadership, hard economic times, struggling sports teams, bad press, and sadness may befall this grand city, I will always proudly say: “I *heart* Detroit”! And I have the t-shirt to prove it… 😉
    But seriously, there is much beauty and life to this place, and many people who are proud to work in, play in, and call it home.
    Thanks for such a great post, sorry I don’t post more often.

  • I loved the hat, too. Aretha Rocks. I haven’t been to Detroit but your version sounds awesome.

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