On this Easter Sunday, it’s a little history, a little bonnet buzz and how to make a fashion statement directly from a milliner (and we’re not talking out of our hats!)

Easter bonnet 101

Beginning in the 1870’s, New York City’s stylish set would celebrate Easter by attending church and then promenading down Fifth Avenue in their fine attire. Men wore top hats and women wore elaborate millinery creations ornamented with flowers, netting, lace and feathers. This event, a confluence of religion and fashion, became known as “The Easter Parade” and was immortalized by the 1933 Irving Berlin song that begins, “In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it . . .” The song would eventually be the basis of a film called “The Easter Parade” starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.

Fashions and trends made their way slowly from New York to the rest of the world. Lewiston, like other prosperous industrial cities, had its own equivalent of an Easter parade.

Newspaper photographers would station themselves outside local churches to snap pictures of stylish churchgoers as they would come out of services and walked home. The Evening Journal would then publish these images the same day in their final afternoon edition.

With its own version of an Easter parade, Lewiston also once had a thriving hat culture. Everyone wore them, men, women and children.

Some of the gone-and-almost-forgotten hat shops in Lewiston included Star Millinery, Vida’s Hat Shop, Ward Brother’s and Peck’s, just to name a few. Buying a new bonnet was a time-consuming process, not to be made rashly or on impulse.

If the number of hat shops on Lisbon Street was any indication, the 1950’s were “peak hat” for both men and women. Following this high point, fashion and formality changed; interestingly, the automobile and the suburbs played a role in diminishing hat sales.

Why?

Because it’s difficult to drive with a hat blocking your line of sight.

Hat fashion meets 2018

Tracy Young, a New York milliner helping keep the art of hat making alive and well, has a hat studio, Millinery Treasures, located in Hudson, New York. Becoming a milliner was a second career for Young; she fell in love with millinery by chance after taking it as a prerequisite course at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. She actually wanted to learn how to make veils. She ended up earning her certificate in millinery and opened a hat studio. She continues to expand her knowledge by taking additional courses and studying techniques with international hat designers like Anya Caliendo.

Her hats are custom-made, although she does have ready to wear hats available in her studio and online. She makes hats for Easter brunches, luncheons. And she designs hats for what might be considered the “mother” of all hat events, the Frederick Law Olmstead Awards Luncheon, hosted by the board of trustees of the Central Park Conservancy. This fundraiser draws upwards of 1,500 men and women (including Martha Stewart) and is affectionately known at “The Hat Luncheon.”

Young doesn’t see hats disappearing any time soon. In the past, she said, “You would wear a hat to fit in. That was part of getting dressed.” A hat was part of “the face you presented to the outside, to society. You were properly dressed when you wore your hat, gloves. For men, you had your Fedora.”

“I think that there has definitely been a shift in our society about wearing hats and part of that, I think, is the reason to wear a hat has changed,” Young said. “Nowadays, people wear hats to stand out. So, if not wearing a hat is the norm, then I find that wearing a hat definitely calls attention to oneself. I see hats as part of a fashion statement. From that perspective, you will always have people, men and women, who want to make a statement.”

Tip of the hat to local trendsetter

Lewiston native Gail Gregoire Lawrence has loved hats ever since she was little.

“Every spring, just before Easter Sunday, my mom would shop for a new Easter ensemble for all of my siblings and me,” she said. “I was always excited when we finally decided on which dress I was going to wear because that meant we could now move on to accessorizing! She always made sure I had a hat, gloves, purse and shoes that coordinated.”

This continued until Lawrence graduated from high school.

She didn’t own another hat for 25 years and then she started seeing wide-brimmed hats in local stores. She bought one. Then she bought another. She started wearing hats to church for Easter again.

“My mom and I first started wearing our hats to Easter morning service,” Lawrence said. “No other women in the congregation were wearing them. On the following year’s Easter morning, I was elated to see that six or seven of the ladies were sporting hats.”

Her hat collection has grown to upwards of 20 hats, in a kaleidoscope of colors.

Lawrence is one of the coordinators for Les Troubadours, Lewiston’s French singing group, and hats are part of their repertoire. Les Troubadours have been known to don their fashionable spring hats for one of their springtime sing-alongs each year.

“I even decorate the piano area with lots of ladies’ hats and accessories to complete our ensembles!” said Lawrence.

A statement hat for every head

Dan Poulin, owner of Orphan Annie’s at 96 Court Street in Auburn, has a large collection of vintage hats for both men and women. Some of his men’s hat inventory includes traditional top hats, bowlers and fedoras. He, like milliner Young, says he sells them to theater groups or “to people who want to make a statement.”

If you want to make a sartorial statement and you missed this year’s Easter parade, there’s no need to panic. Potential hat events abound. According to Young, “things with horses still have people wearing hats” and the Triple Crown of horse racing begins May 5 with the Kentucky Derby.

Tucked in between the races, the next Royal Wedding will kick off the summer wedding season.


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