The Evolution of Easter Hats: From Simple Bonnets to Extravagant Headwear

An elaborate 1920s Mantilla
archivio personale, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The Covering of the Head

The history of Easter hats begins with the long-standing tradition of covering one’s head in a place of worship.  This tradition developed in many religions including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In Christianity, the practice emerged from the earliest days of the church and in the Middle Ages, became even more widespread, with both men and women adopting the style. Seen as a sign of respect and reverence for God,  worshipers believed it helped to keep distractions at bay during services.

One example for women was the Mantilla, Spanish for veil or shawl.   The use of mantillas began in the 16th century in Spain and was especially popular during the Baroque period. In the Catholic Church, simple mantillas are still worn by some women during Mass as a sign of respect and modesty.

During the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, churches started to abandon the practice of requiring women to cover their heads.  A required covering morphed into stylish women’s hats, a tradition that continues today, especially in the African-American community with elaborate “Church Hats”

vintage church hat, south african red feather headdress
Vintage red feather Church Hat, South Africa
from the Madge archive

Easter Hats Reign Supreme

1940s Easter & Spring Hat Advertisements

Easter Sunday signaled a time of renewal and new beginnings. A perfect opportunity for people to wear new clothes to services. Wearing a hat or bonnet became an essential part of a woman’s Easter Sunday outfit in the United States during the late 19th and through the mid-20th century.

At the same time, Easter parades and fashion shows were popular with women’s hats often the centerpiece of these events. Often handmade with participants creating their own, spending weeks or even months on the project. The hats themselves became a symbol of status and fashion.  The New York City Easter Bonnet Parade still draws crowds.


New York City Easter Bonnet parade
2019 NYC Easter Bonnet Parade
Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA, USA, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Hollywood Puts Its Hat On

Hollywood coasting on the trend, cashed in with popular movies like 1942’s Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds.  This film not only introduced the song “Easter Parade” it also debuted the iconic “White Christmas”.  Not letting a good tune go to waste, MGM then repurposed the song Easter Parade in the 1948 movie with Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Peter Lawford, and Ann Miller.

“Easter Parade” from Holiday Inn
featuring Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds

The Easter Hat Tradition Continues

In some cultures, such as in parts of Africa and the Caribbean, the wearing of elaborate and colorful Easter hats is still popular. These hats often incorporate traditional fabrics and patterns and are seen as a way to celebrate both the religious and cultural significance of the holiday.

In the United States, the tradition of wearing hats on Easter Sunday also continues, although not as widespread as it once was. Some churches still encourage their members to dress up for Easter Sunday services, and many women parishioners choose to wear a hat as an important part of their Easter outfits.   

Here at Madge, we believe a beautiful spring hat continues to be a symbol of renewal, celebration, and creativity.  

“Easter Parade” featuring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire

Shop for Your Easter Finery Here

Photos copyright © 2023  MadgesHatbox Vintage.  We are a proud member of Got VintageCheck out their website.

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