What's in your bonnet?

March 22 2016

No, we're not talking about car bonnets. We're talking about the history of Easter bonnets, and how all the wonderful colours and traditions started. 

In English tradition, the idea of getting new clothes on Easter to signify spiritual growth and renewal dates back to Shakespeare's days. In “Romeo and Juliet,” Romeo’s friend, Mercutio, chastises Benvolio for being too quick to lose his temper. To illustrate his argument, Mercutio points out how Benvolio will pick a fight with his tailor for wearing a new suit before Easter, “Didst thou not fall out with a tailor for wearing his new doublet/before Easter?” he says, designating Easter somewhat of a style-benchmark. Following forty days of Lent, filled with drab outfits reflective of fasting and “abstention,” Easter Sunday lifts the spirit, lifts the mood, and ideally inspires a wardrobe update.

Woman with large easter bonnet hat with rabbits and eggs

In the United States, it after the Civil War towards the 1870s, when women and children marching in Easter Parades replaced dark and drab mourning smocks with bright and cheerful clothing. By the early 1900s, Americans became more and more invested in the Easter outfit—and it was the hat that got particular attention. Because Easter coincides with a brighter, warmer and more abundant season, women put fresh flowers in their hair and in their bonnets. Lilies, daffodils, azaleas, hyacinths that explode in purple, pink white and yellow, as well as pussy willows and red tulips... these have become traditional Easter flowers.

Audrey Hepburn easter bonnet hat flowers


If fresh flowers weren’t accessible, women would customise hats with flowers made from paper, as well as ribbon, fabric feathers, sea shells and pine cones. The popularity of the Easter Bonnet peaked in 1948 when Judy Garland serenaded Fred Astaire in the film "Easter Parade". In this scene, Garland wears a white organza Derby hat with pink and violet rosettes, and immediately places herself at the forefront of pop-culture, glamourising Easter. 

Judy Garland Easter Parade bonnet

 

Easter Bonnets can be wild, ladylike, punk, avant-garde, simple... or whatever the wearer wants to do. In modern times, bunny ears can be added- so really, it's a day when anyone can wear a bit of fun on their head and really "own" the colourful whimsy of Easter.

Colourful flower easter bonnet hat