Easter: A Throwback To The Hat-Wearing Era


“Hippity, hoppin’, Easter’s on its waaaaaaaay!” If you remember the melody to those lyrics, you probably also remember the days when women wore hats to church. “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” was a popular holiday classic when I was growing up, sung by none other than TV cowboy hero Gene Autry.

It was a different time.

I miss Gene Autry — and I sort of miss the hats. If you were Catholic, it was absolutely mandatory; a sin if you didn’t wear one. So, before we left the house on any given Sunday, my mother would remind me 15 times to take my hat. But I was a kid — and a tomboy at that — so the beautiful white organza creation my grandmother had bought me was often left sitting on the couch. Once we arrived at the church, I would see all the other girls in their pastel creations and remember it. Then my 10-year-old heart would stop as I realized that I was now going to hell. I could skip church, of course, but then I would go to hell for that. Either way, nothing I did on Earth mattered anymore. Eternal damnation was my fate.

Then, just as we approached the big wooden doors, my mother would magically pull a lace mantilla or even a frilly handkerchief from her purse, affix it to my head with a hairpin and save the day. Talk about my hero! Her foresight saved me from doom more than once.

It was impossible to forget one’s hat on Easter, however. “In Your Easter Bonnet” had been playing on the radio for days as a reminder. Millinery marvels coursed up the church steps in waves — flowers, felt, feathers, buttons, birds, butterflies and veils. It was entertaining! A real-life translation of “Can you top this?”

Today, it’s more like “What’s a bonnet?” and “Who’s Gene Autry?”

So many things from the past are gone but, really, we have no one to blame but ourselves. I remember “The Demise of the Hats” very well.

Having left my 10th year far behind, my college job was to sell millinery in a department store. I was surrounded by hats three nights a week and on weekends. I now had hundreds of hats at my disposal, but often missed church “because I had to work.” Not even mom could save me now.

Then, just as I paid my last tuition bill, an American newspaper mistakenly published that the Pope had repealed the hats rule. Women rejoiced (throwing their hats in the air?) but it was the beginning of the end for the U.S. millinery industry. Now whose fault was that?

This Sunday, millions of women around the world will attend Easter services at church. Some will wear hats; some won’t. I can only hope that somewhere, a mother will plop a hankie onto her tomboy daughter’s head while humming, “In Your Easter Bonnet.”

The very thought of it makes me smile.