Spring is a time of birth and renewal. It’s a happy time of year, full of warm weather and celebrations. It’s one of my favorite seasons, so I am dedicating the month of April to it.
On Wednesday I talked about the history of Easter and the Easter Bunny. Today the attention is on the good old Easter bonnet…and the Easter Parade in New York City.
The Easter Bonnet
The history of the Easter bonnet stretches further back than Easter itself. Prior to Easter celebrations, women and girls wore wreaths made of leaves and fresh flowers to symbolize the coming of springtime.
As years progressed, women began wearing bonnets made of straw or cloth decorated with large bows, lace, twigs, flowers, or even bird nests. The bigger and more elaborate, the better. And they never wore the same hat twice. Easter is a time for new life, which also means new clothes. So if even if the bonnet and dress were old, they added new accessories or materials to breathe new life into it.
Many cities across the United States hold Easter parades after Sunday morning church service. These parades aren’t what you normally expect from a parade—there aren’t any floats or big balloons being held up by 6 or more people. The Easter parade is simply a chance for participants to show off their new clothes, especially their elaborate bonnets. The most famous parade is held in New York City every year.
On the Avenue, Fifth Avenue….
In 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, Irving Berlin wrote the song “Easter Parade” about the grand fashion show that took place along 5th Avenue in New York City:
In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.
I’ll be all in clover and when they look you over,
I’ll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade.
On the avenue, fifth avenue, the photographers will snap us,
And you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure.
Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet,
And of the girl I’m taking to the Easter parade.
This Easter morning tradition began in the 1870s. Churchgoers originally brought fresh flowers from St. Thomas Church to St. Lucas’ church. Soon after it evolved into a chance for privileged class to march down 5th Avenue and show off their new designer outfits.
The height of the parade’s popularity came around 1948, after the release of the Fred Astaire/Judy Garland vehicle Easter Parade, based on Irving Berlin’s song. It included many more Berlin numbers, including the popular “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” and “A Couple of Swells”.
During those post-World War II years, the parade drew more than one million people from all over the world. Attendance for the parade in recent years has gone down immensely. These days the event is lucky to draw a little over 20 thousand people, let alone one million.
The Easter bonnet itself is nearly extinct in modern fashion. It’s a rare occasion to see a full-grown woman wearing one to church or other Easter Sunday events. These days you’re more likely to see a girl under the age of 10 wearing them, but even that is becoming rare. People, male or female, just don’t wear hats like they used to.
I, for one, would love to see the Easter bonnet and lavish spring fashions make a comeback. The “come as you are” casual attitude these days is a bit disheartening to me, but what can you do?
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