Sartorial Sleuthing: The Easter Bonnet

We don’t wear hats like we used to in centuries past. Men and women always wore some type of head covering in public until well into the 20th century. Starting in the 1960s, the popularity of wearing hats for both men and women seriously began to wane. Today, for the most part, women wear hats only for special occasions such as church on Sunday, royal weddings or horse races like the Kentucky Derby. So what’s so special about the Easter bonnet?

Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal with Mother Nature’s greenery reappearing after a harsh winter and baby animals being born, so spring and its accompanying holiday, Easter, have come to symbolize that rebirth and renewal.

Around the globe, many cultures celebrate periods of renewal such as the turn of a new year or spring time with a long-standing tradition of wearing new clothes. In the 4th century, Christian Roman Emperor Constantine introduced elaborate dress and the display of personal finery in honor of Christ’s resurrection. For the spring holiday of Easter this tradition is mentioned in British literary references dating back to the 16th century.

A new set of clothes always included a new or refurbished hat, at least for women. So while women were wearing new Easter hats or bonnets for a number of decades, the “Easter Bonnet” did not become fixed into our popular culture until Irving Berlin penned the lyrics for his Depression-era 1933 song, Easter Parade:

“In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.”

The song was featured on Broadway and in several films and was finally turned into a movie of the same name starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in 1948. It references New York’s famous Easter parade, which has been a cultural expression of Easter in the United States since the 1880s. What began as the Christian churches lining Fifth Avenue being decorating with spring flowers extended into the ladies of the congregations displaying elaborate articles of fashionable dress. The parade takes place on Easter Sunday on Fifth Avenue from 49th to 57th Streets from 10am to 4pm. The parade is open to anyone who wants to participate, including pets, and dressing up by all is definitely encouraged.

Please enjoy our “parade” of Easter bonnets!

2 thoughts on “Sartorial Sleuthing: The Easter Bonnet

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