In Your Easter Bonnet
A tradition of wearing new clothes on Christian holiday of Easter dates back to the 16th century, reflecting on resurrection and rebirth. A writer of the time observed that a farmer would sell a cow so he could have new clothes for Easter. In Romeo and Juliet, a character is taunted for wearing his new doublet before Easter. It became an accepted notion that bad luck would follow someone who failed to wear something new for Easter.
The tradition of new clothes for Easter didn’t catch on in the United States until after the Civil War. On the first Sunday after the war women put away their mourning clothes. They went to church wearing bright colors adorned with spring flowers.
The first New York City Easter Parade took place in the 1870s, with people strolling from St. Patrick’s Cathedral down Fifth Avenue. While this was a casual event, people still dressed to impress. It became known for extravagant bonnets as women tried to outdo each other.
On this date in 1910, North Dakotans were looking forward to Easter, which was coming up on the 27th. Easter, of course, is a religious holiday, but it also signals the arrival of spring. That was a most welcome event for folks who were not sorry to see winter depart. It has long been traditional to shed winter wear for spring fashions on Easter. The Hope Pioneer noted the significance of the date for women’s fashions, especially the Easter bonnet.
Fashion had become a key part of the Easter celebration. The newspaper described how a woman might cinch her corset to squeeze “a natural 26 waist into an unnatural 18 gown.” According to the paper, the uncomfortable waist and choking collar apparently did not matter, saying: “She is beautiful, therefore she is happy. Whether or not she is comfortable is a different and less pleasant matter.”
In 1933, Irving Berlin wrote a song about “your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,” and the idea of the Easter bonnet really took off in 1948 when the song was included in the movie Easter Parade starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.
Today the Easter bonnet does not take pride-of-place as it once did. But for many, wearing new clothes on Easter still remains a custom.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Hope Pioneer. “Easter approaches.” Hope ND. 3/24/1910. Page 1.
Forsyth Family Magazine. “The History of the Easter Bonnet.” https://www.forsythfamilymagazine.com/history-easter-bonnet/ Accessed 2/24/2021.