I loved Aretha Franklin's hat. Fabulous. Fabulous. Fabulous.
But I was surprised by how much inane chatter followed in its wake -- until I realized:
Most white Americans (especially northerners) probably don't know about black women and their "crowns." So to them, Aretha's hat may have seemed, um, over the top. (No pun intended.)
My introduction to "crowns" came in the 1990s, when I lived in Mobile, Alabama. Hands down, the best part of that six-years-in-hell was this: every Sunday about 11 am, I'd go to a grocery store so I could see the parade of hats worn by women who'd just come from church. Their crowns caused me to gasp, sometimes reduced me to tears, and inspired thoughts of thievery.
Anyway, Aretha's hat was in keeping with an old African-American tradition. For a magnificent collection of photographs of black women and their hats, see one of my favorite books, Michael Cunningham's Crowns. Here's his website, with more photos. And here's an appreciative review of the book.