The Tradition of Easter Bonnets Explained

If you had a cassette of Easter songs when you were a kid, you have probably heard the song “Easter Parade” sung by Judy Garland and featuring Fred Astair from the 1948 film Easter Parade. This song features lyrics like, “in your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade.” Why exactly do people wear Easter bonnets? How did the Easter bonnet get so popular? The Easter bonnet is such a recognizable part of this holiday, but you probably don’t know much about the origin. Here’s a little background of Easter bonnets that should, hopefully, answer all of your questions for the upcoming Easter holiday. 

A decorated Easter bonet

What is an Easter bonnet? 

An Easter bonnet is a hat that’s worn specifically for Easter. Easter bonnets are often homemade and decorated to the nines with Easter symbolism, like flowers, bunnies, lambs, and chicks. They’re referred to as a bonnet, instead of hats, because when the idea of the Easter bonnet was put into practice in the 1870s, women’s hats were still referred to as bonnets. Yes, this tradition spans back to at least the 1870s, if not earlier!

Why did people wear Easter bonnets? 

The tradition started, because Easter is seen as a time of rebirth and renewal. It’s also accompanied by a shift towards better weather. As a result, this is the time of year that many people purchased new clothing, especially for church. Lent is a time of sacrifice, a time for introspection, and a time of lack. Easter is the complete opposite. With the idea of new beginnings in the air, women would often showcase their new hats at church on Easter Sunday. 

Easter bonnets became very popular in the 1870s once New York City started hosting its annual Easter Parade. Men and women would show off their new ensembles along the parade route on Fifth Avenue. Over time the parade became so popular that around a million people attended in the 1940s! This was only bolstered by the above mentioned release of Easter Parade in 1948. The New York City Easter parade still occurs today, but has a lower attendance. There are still about 30,000 people at the Easter parade who carry on the tradition of the easter bonnet.  

What does the tradition of the Easter bonnet look like today? 

Today, Easter bonnets are primarily seen at parades like the New York City parade, although some schools in the UK also uphold the tradition. What started out as a showcase of a new, fine hat has turned into almost a contest for who can construct the most extravagant bonnet. 

Experiencing people’s creativity—and sometimes downright craftsmanship—is a lot of fun, and certainly something to look forward to every year. If your hometown throws a parade for Easter, check it out! You may find that looking at all of the hats is a highlight of the event. If you’re really taken by the idea of an Easter bonnet, why not try to make one yourself? 

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