Tonja McNair, the owner of Headz Up Hats in Rochester, made this fascinator headpiece with a silk rose to wear for Easter this year. She attributes her increase in sales to the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, whose guests wore hats in a variety of styles. / MARIE DE JESUS/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Once upon a time, Easter was synonymous not only with bunnies, but bonnets. Now the look is making a comeback.
“Easter hats were very popular in times past,” says Tonja McNair, owner of Headz Up Hats on Mt. Hope Avenue in Rochester. “They represented the rising of Christ and women wanting to look their very best to celebrate that.”
When the first modern Easter Parades were held in Manhattan in the 1870s, women celebrated the religious holiday by marching in their Sunday best, complete with their finest hats.
The parade of hats and flowers was so popular that Irving Berlin wrote a song about it in 1933 — during the fashion accessory’s heyday — called Easter Parade.
“The Easter bonnet song was true,” says Joan Lincoln, owner of Panache Vintage and Finer Consignment on Monroe Avenue in Brighton. “Every woman had an Easter hat.”
But over decades, as fashions changed and American church attendance decreased, the Easter bonnet’s popularity waned among the masses. More than 1 million people attended New York’s Easter Parade of 1947; in 2008, it drew 30,000.
But, as with other trends, hats seem to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity, local fashion experts say.
“I started seeing them coming back a few years ago, but since the royal wedding, I sell hats all the time now,” Lincoln says.
The world saw a public parade of hats on the heads of celebrities, royalty and Brits who lined the streets for Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton on April 29, 2011.
It seemed to be just the high-profile event needed to make hat-wearing something more than a sign you were a member of the Red Hat Society, followed Orthodox Judaism or belonged to certain churches aligned with the Church of God in Christ (COGIC).
“There have always been small groups comfortable with wearing hats, but ever since the royal wedding, there has seemed to be a renewed interest,” says Frank Moretti, owner of Diva Shoes on State Street in Rochester. “We’ve gotten quite busy with hats.”
Moretti, who has operated Diva Shoes for 14 years, ordered an especially large shipment of Easter hats this year to satisfy increasing interest.
He says the most popular style Easter headpiece is the fascinator, which is a miniature hat often adorned with elaborate trimmings and decorations.
“Fascinators are really popular for women not used to wearing a bigger hat,” Moretti says. “They can start with something small and build up.”
He has found corals, greens and blues to be the most popular colors for fascinators this year, as well as fascinators with netting and flowers.
McNair, of Headz Up, also has seen a spark in hat sales and Easter bonnets since the royal wedding — and not just limited to women either.
“I sell Easter hats to men, women and children alike,” says McNair, who opened her hat store five years ago. “Hats are encompassing of everyone, and there is a hat for everyone.”
McNair notes popular Easter looks for girls this year are traditional pastel bonnets and bucket hats with flower adornments, and for boys plaid fedoras.
To men she is selling mostly derbies — stiff felt hats with round crowns and narrow, curved brims — and homburgs (commonly called Godfathers). Homburgs are one of the oldest formal style hats for men and are typically made of wool or felt and feature a round crown and narrow, curved brim.
For women, McNair says fascinators remain the biggest seller, as well as pillboxes — small hats with flat crowns, no brim and straight, upright sides, made popular in the 1960s by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Lincoln’s top-selling Easter hats this year were vintage bonnets and straw pieces.
She expects the styles also will be popular at the Daystar Derby in Rochester on May 4.
The Daystar Derby is held annually in the equestrian meadow at Nazareth College to benefit Daystar for Medically Fragile Children Inc. With a Kentucky Derby-like atmosphere, attendees are encouraged to wear hats.
“Charity events like the Daystar Derby have helped make hats a big deal here,” Lincoln says.
Of course, hats are the statement at the Derby — and Derby parties.
She also notes several other reasons she thinks hats are becoming more popular again year-round, including women being more concerned with skin cancer and protecting their faces from the sun, as well as a generational shift in attitude toward hats.
“The younger generation is really starting to enjoy completing their outfits with hats,” Lincoln says. “Unlike women of previous generations, this generation of women has grown up being allowed to wear baseball hats and they are more comfortable with hats in general.”
Whatever the reasons, McNair is thrilled hats are making a comeback.
“I’ve always had a natural love and liking for hats,” McNair says. “For me, putting on a hat is as natural as putting on my shoes.”