Whatever happened to those Easter bonnets?

Mar 27, 2016 | 5 comments

Dale Espy at Two

Dale Espy at Two

Sometimes I think that women have become so wrapped up in the struggle over women’s rights and the feminist cause that the essence of feminism has been all but forgotten.  Take, for instance, hats.

“A hat is a flag, a shield, a bit of armor and the badge of femininity. A hat is the difference between wearing clothes and wearing a costume; it’s the difference between being dressed and being dressed up; it’s the difference between looking adequate and looking your best. A hat is to be stylish in, to glow under, to flirt beneath, to make all others seem jealous over and to make all men feel masculine about. A piece of magic is a hat.” – Martha Sliter

In particular, I miss the Easter Bonnet which, alas, seems to have disappeared right along with over-the-top Easter parades and getting dressed-to-the nines to go to church.  Even in my rather un-churchy childhood, Easter was all about dressing up in our “Sunday best” and going to the eleven o’clock service and singing “Up From the Grave He Arose” or, depending on which church we went to, listening to the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s “Messiah.”

Suzita Espy, c. 1920

Suzita Espy, c. 1920

Of course, nothing held a candle to the Easter Parades in New York City which, from the 1880s through the 1950s was one of the main cultural expressions of Easter in our country. The seeds of the parade were sown in New York’s highly ornamented churches—Gothic buildings such as Trinity Episcopal Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  In the mid-19th century, these and other churches began decorating their sanctuaries with Easter flowers and the women who attended the services began dressing to match – at least with regard to their hats.

In 1873, a newspaper report about Easter at Christ Church said: More than half the congregation were ladies, who displayed all the gorgeous and marvelous articles of dress… and the appearance of the body of the church thus vied in effect and magnificence with the pleasant and tasteful array of flowers which decorated the chancel.

Helen Richardson Espy, Medora Espy, Ruth Richardson, 1907

Helen Richardson Espy, Medora Espy, Ruth Richardson, 1907

Even in Oysterville, there was an emphasis on (or at least a concern about) sartorial splendor at Easter.  As Medora wrote about Easter Sunday in 1915:

April 4th Easter Sunday and no new Spring clothes but I didn’t mind as I was in Oysterville… We had a gay time getting the children ready for Sunday, but they were finally dressed and all looked very well, especially Mona.  She looked so dainty and dear.  Mother wasn’t feeling very well so I went alone to the program.  It was splendid considering the amount of time the children had practiced… 

5 Comments

  1. Claudette Ferriter

    Let’s have a shout out for hats! I love ’em!

    Reply
  2. Caroline Miller

    You’re right Sydney. Easter didn’t used to be Easter without a hat. Some of them were so much fun.

    Reply
    • sydney

      Unhappily, the elegance of the old-fashioned Easter Parades has deteriorated into a costume extravaganza — fun, but not the same! Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  3. Jean Stamper

    And we always had to have a new pair of gloves, probably white or a pale pastel to match the flowers on our hat. Now we even see folks in jeans at the symphony. Unheard of thirty years ago.

    Reply

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