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The History of the Easter Bonnet

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Why  Easter?

Why  Bonnets?

And what makes an  Easter Bonnet?

It's a tradition you hear about, but on this side of the Globe certainly don't see much evidence of, aside from the odd primary school project. Was it something that has died out, or is it something that never was Down Under? We celebrate Easter, but we don't tend to celebrate it whilst wearing hats! 

So why hats at Easter? 

Well the tradition appears to have origins in the Christian custom of Easter being the time for new clothes after the fasting of  Lent, and the Church-going notion of wearing your "Sunday Best", meaning that at Easter your best had to be "better than best" to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  

But there are roots in the more secular and pagan notion of Spring being the time of fertility, new life and rebirth. A time when wreaths of flowers and leaves were worn in the hair to celebrate the cycle of life and the seasons. 

The custom of wearing hats at Easter is also inextricably tied to the American tradition of The Easter Parade, which emerged in the 1870s after the end of the  Civil War. People were stepping out with positivity in their lives, and would stream out of the churches following the Easter service dressed up to the nines in their best hats. The first Easter Parade was the Fifth Avenue Parade in New York in 1870, which doesn't appear to have been an organised affair but organically came into being when the beautiful people came out of St Patricks Cathedral and surrounding churches and walked down 5th Avenue. Each successive year it gained in popularity reaching a peak in the 1940s where it's estimated a million people attended, but as it grew, lost some of its religious significance and became more about a show of prosperity and frivolity. 

These days the New York parade is a much smaller affair with about 30,000 showing up each year to flaunt their hats, but flaunt their hats they definitely do!   

5th Avenue Easter Parade

An early 5th Avenue Easter Parade

The 1948 film "Easter Parade" starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, and the music of Irving Berlin really immortalised the practice of wearing Easter Bonnets, with the popular song "Easter Parade" which was originally written in 1933 and became one of the most popular songs about Easter.

Why Bonnets? 

It's hard to find any references on whether " bonnet" is just used as a generic term for hat in this sense, or is more specifically referring to the style of hat (as in the soft-styled cap tied under the chin), and if so, why is that the hat of choice at Easter? We're guessing its most likely because the bonnet was the most common hat style during the late 19th Century when the tradition of Easter parades originated. Bonnets were worn to keep the hair tidy when indoors and to keep the dust and sun out when worn outdoors, women would have had a heavier bonnet for Winter and a lighter one, possibly made from straw for Spring, and Easter would have been the perfect occasion to whip out the fancy new Spring bonnet! 

Although Bonnets started out as a practical form of headwear they became more and more elaborate as the 19th Century progressed, and its clear that as the tradition of the Easter parade grew in popularity, the bonnets that accompanied them became more and more outlandish and much less bonnet-like!   

What makes an Easter Bonnet? 

An Easter bonnet these days is all about size, craziness and quirky references to Easter, with many covered in eggs, bunnies and chicks, but it's likely that the original Easter bonnets would have been covered in flowers and more natural ties to the coming of the new season. We personally love some of the more wacky examples we've seen coming out of the 1940s and 50s, particularly if they're shot in black and white, it just makes them seem more magical somehow! 

Check out our Pinterest board of vintage Easter bonnets, there's some wonderful examples on there. 

And was this ever a tradition Down Under? It appears that although Easter church services and parades have always happened, possibly inspired by those in the US, although just as likely steeped in Christian tradition, the custom of wearing a bonnet however is not an Australian tradition but has been popularised through the American practice. 

Nowadays wearing a hat a Easter is mainly the preserve of school kids, but we Headonists think this is something that we need to change, so don't be surprised if you hear about Easter hat parties originating from these parts in years to come!

In the meantime here's some of our favourite examples of vintage Easter Bonnets... 

xx TEH xx

Easter Bonnet, Morcambe UK, 1959

Easter Bonnet, Morecambe UK, 1959

5th Avenue Easter Bonnet c1940

5th Avenue Parade c1940

Ann Miller Easter Bonnet 1947

Ann Miller, Easter Bonnet 1947

Janice Baer Easter Bonnet Baltimore 1982

Easter Bonnet, Baltimore 1982

Louise Johnson Easter Bonnet 1976 Baltimore

Easter Bonnet, Baltimore 1976

Easter Bonnet, Sacramento California

Easter Bonnet, Sacramento California 1956

Easter Bonnets Baltimore 1985

Easter Parade, Baltimore 1985

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