The History of the Easter Bonnet

For many people, getting a new outfit for Easter has been a longstanding tradition. Their new outfit is not complete without a dress or suit and tie, shoes, and an Easter bonnet. The Easter bonnet has been a timeless part of this holiday for the past decades. It was even popularized in the Irving Berlin song “Easter Parade.” But, do you know the history behind this Easter headpiece?

The Easter bonnet actually originated as a European tradition. People would wear new clothes and hats to celebrate the coming of spring and meaning of Easter. Spring and Easter signal new life and rebirth. Getting a new outfit and hat was one way to honor that meaning. The first bonnets were circles of leaves and flowers to show the cycle of the seasons. It was also a time when many people attended church a few days in a row for Easter, and a time to see who was wearing the latest fashions.

It wasn’t until after the Civil War that the tradition caught on in the United States. The first Easter after the war ended was known as the “Sunday of Joy.” Mothers, wives, and daughters came out of mourning and replaced their dark clothing with outfits full of pastel colors and spring flowers, to again signal a renewal of life. In the 1870s, the first Easter Parade in New York City occurred. The Easter bonnet was brought into American pop culture by the Berlin song in 1933. However, the parade and bonnets didn’t peak in popularity until the 1940s. Over one million people participated in the tradition in 1947. A year later, the headpiece received more attention from Berlin’s film, Easter Parade, starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.

The film depicted the Easter Parade, a popular walk people would take Easter morning from St. Patrick’s Cathedral and down Fifth Avenue in New York City. Officially known as the Easter Parade and the Easter Bonnet Festival, the parade was an informal, often unorganized event. People were seen leaving church Easter morning in their finest clothes and would stroll down Fifth Avenue. Quickly, more people and churches began to join in. Parade goers would start the route at 10 am and go from 5th Street to 57th Street, ending at 4 pm. During this time in America, the parade was at its peak. In 1947, over one million people participated in the tradition. One special part of the Easter Parade was that everyone was dressed to impress. Women would try to outdo each other with their best Easter bonnet. The tradition became known for its extravagant bonnets. During tough times in United States’ history, such as the Great Depression, a new hat for Easter was a simple luxury that many people valued.

Easter bonnets come in many different shapes, styles, and sizes. Normally, the hat is adorned with fresh spring flowers. Lilies, Azaleas, and daffodils are popular flowers. Also, the traditional Easter flowers of tulips, pussy willows, and hyacinths are worn. Now, Easter bonnets have become more fun and outlandish, complete with Easter eggs, chickens, and other springtime characters. However, elegant styles of bonnets are still worn.

Unfortunately, since the 1950s, interest and participation in the Easter Parade and the Easter Bonnet Festival has decreased. Today, the Easter Parade is still held in New York City and attracts visitors to the area every year. Also, various states hold their own parades. There are still some women who continue wearing elegant bonnets and new clothes Easter morning. Even the Royal Family participates in the tradition. It is also a popular school activity for children to make their own bonnet during Easter time. Whether you make your own or buy something new, there is nothing better than wearing your Easter bonnet “with all the frills upon it” on Easter morning.


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