‘Sunday Best’: How Easter Hats Became Such a Big Deal

The 2017 Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival in New York City. (Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
The 2017 Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival in New York City. (Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

The holiday rivals the Kentucky Derby when it comes to glamorous headwear.

Easter has been associated with elegant suits, dresses, bonnets, and hats for centuries. While church has grown less formal in recent years and Americans are no longer as religious, Easter remains a fashion occasion for many who do observe the day. It’s one where men, women, and children have traditionally put on their Sunday best.

Since 1921, Dorfman Pacific, parent company to Tenth Street Hats, has outfitted customers in fine hats for Easter as well as for occasions like the Kentucky Derby, for which it is the official hat licensee. Racked spoke with Tenth Street Hats CEO Carson Finkle about the American Easter hat tradition, the derby, and how likely England’s royal wedding in May is to influence hat trends stateside.

NN: I’m curious about the history of Easter hats. When did they become popular with Americans?

CF: The first Easter parade was in New York after the Civil War. People had basically been dressed more like they were in mourning, in black, but that Easter they really wanted to come in bright clothes and Easter hats. The history and the tradition behind the hats really stems from that. For years, people were known to buy new hats, their first hats of the year, to wear for Easter. It’s a complete renewal for that year — new hat, new wardrobe.

NN: So how American is the Easter hat tradition, as we know it?

CF: Well, in the 1920s, there were some trends from Europe that infiltrated the US style a little bit, but the origination of American Easter hats really originate around that [first] parade.

NN: Church has gotten a lot more casual, and many people no longer attend. Who are the people most likely to wear Easter hats?

CF: For the African-American community and the community in the South, where church attendance is stronger, these Easter traditions are much more prevalent. Hats have a strong tradition there. They also have the Kentucky Derby in the South, where there is a hat tradition. I’ve seen a lot of parallels between the Derby hats, the church hats, the wedding hats, and the Easter hats. They all have a sort of similar overlap. There are a lot of [fashion] parallels in these big events.

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SOURCE: Nadra Nittle