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After Beyoncé received the Style Icon award at the CFDA Awards, the fashion press was abuzz for her wide brimmed black hat. Worn both in her already iconic music video Formation, on her latest tour, and during her speech at the CFDA Awards, Beyoncé’s hat is actually more than just a summer trend. Beyoncé’s black hat may serve as a visual statement of African American women taking on the country’s horrible history of slavery and reimagining it on their own terms.
Unlike what certain fashion websites are stating, Beyoncé’s headwear is not a typical sun hat. It has a wide brim, but the square crown recalls a type of straw hat worn by farmers and plantation owners during the mid-1800s and is much larger. Although the hat would have been used for outdoor work, the formal black coloring and statement worthy size sends a message that the wearer is in charge.
When comparing illustrations and photographs of hats worn by slave owners and Beyoncé’s own headpiece, there are some similarities. Both are in a flat and squared shape with a wide brim shading the eyes. It may be safe to say that Beyoncé has taken that power from those slave owners who held it a century ago and given it to African American women by way of replicating their costume; no longer is this imposing headwear solely for them. In a similar vein as the all white gowns worn in Lemonade and the corseted wardrobes in Formation, there is an “Antebellum vibe” about Beyoncé’s latest works. Also, Formation set designer Ethan Tobman told Curbed.com that, “the idea was that this is not a house the slaves are working in, this is a house where the slaves are the masters.”
Although a different situation, Beyoncé’s hat worn at the CFDA Awards also helped strengthen this idea. In her acceptance speech, Beyoncé discussed the struggles of being judged by the fashion elite for being an African American girl from the South. It wasn’t until her mega success as a solo artist that Beyoncé traded in her mother’s well sewn clothing for high-end brands. She stated, “When we were starting out in Destiny’s Child, high-end labels didn’t really want to dress four black, country, curvy girls, and we couldn’t afford designer dresses and couture…. she (Beyoncé’s mother Tina Knowles) used her talent and her creativity to give her children their dreams.” And although Beyoncé has only ventured onto a style icon status recently for some, her struggles have allowed her to understand the message clothing can make. Beyoncé ended her CFDA speech by stating, “We have the opportunity to contribute to a society where any girl can look at a billboard or magazine cover and see her own reflection… You (designers) have the power to change perception, to inspire and empower, and to show people how to embrace their complications, and see the flaws, and the true beauty and strength that’s inside all of us.”
And with that, Beyoncé may be changing some perceptions with the help of one black hat.