What Exactly is Church Hair?

The higher the hair, the closer to God.

What is Church Hair
Photo: Getty/Roger Jackson

It might seem like an unheard-of concept to those not from the South, but the term "church hair" recalls a very clear image to many Southerners. Perfectly coiffed, expertly pinned, sprayed down until a stiff wind couldn't penetrate even if it tried, and sitting atop of a dame that could slice you with a look if you dare interrupt the service. Because, if you're a Southern woman—modern or old-fashioned—you know the importance that Southern women have always placed on putting their best foot forward in every situation. To be born a Southern woman is to be passed down generations of traditions, values and expectations—and you better believe that when it comes to these things, there are strong and stubborn opinions on everything. Including hair.

We all know what dressing in our Sunday Best entails, but back when not-so-natural church hair was a non-negotiable, Southern women broke out their gloves, pearls, favorite Revlon lip color and occasionally their big 'ole hats each week for church service. If even one element of this carefully curated equation was missing, you better believe it wouldn't go unnoticed in the pews. Ah yes, these were the times of the infamous bonnet hair dryer (a circa-1950s version still sits in my family's storage unit right now) and the iconic Aqua Net or Miss Breck hairspray.

As far as church hair—now, that was a true to-do. We're talking hot rollers and hairspray, people. To be truly deserving of the words, the hair could not be in danger of going flat, and for goodness sake, those ends better be doing what they're told—usually meaning add more hairspray. I can still see (and smell) the cloud of hairspray that would waft from my grandmother's bathroom when I was a child. She still carries a miniature bottle of hairspray in her purse to this day, just in case she's ever in a tight. She still says she's got to "put her face on," too.

Church hair isn't as much about vanity and superficial ideals as it may sound to some, though. More than anything, church hair is a mark of Southern women and their strong tether to history. Our culture is as steeped in tradition as the sweet tea we drink, and Southerners are born into a legacy that makes us feel strongly bound to what came before us. So, yes, Southern women show up to church looking their very best. But they put that extra effort in because it was important to their mothers, and their mothers before them, and their mothers before them, and so on.

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Times may change, and styles may evolve (sometimes for the better); but tradition and legacy last forever. We're not saying you have to use hot rollers, but you got to hand it to them—they do give some mighty good volume.

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