The Easter Parade, circa 1900
This view looking north on Fifth Avenue taken at the turn-of-the-century shows New York City holding its famous Easter Parade. The parade, known for its display of beautiful bonnets and fancy hats, has been occurring since the 1870’s in New York. You can see how packed the streets near St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Anyone could walk Fifth Avenue on Easter, but it was generally the well to do who participated in the exhibition. Fifth Avenue being home to some of the most expensive homes made this a natural gathering spot for the wealthy. But is that where the tradition began?
One of the first places crowds gathered to display their Easter finery in New York City was not Fifth Avenue, but Central Park. The New York Times of April 21, 1873 reported:
“In the afternoon the crowds began to arrive. By every line of cars they swarmed into the Park. And, strange to say, there was a full fair sprinkling of the comparatively aristocratic classes, besides those who habitually make the Park their paradise on fine Sundays. Many couples were promenading who had certainly come from St. Thomas’ and other Fifth avenue churches, for their prayer-books were still in their hands. It seemed to be a universal exodus. Their were ladies in the most delicate Spring attire, poor sewing and shop girls in their Easter finery, ragged little children playing tag, to the great scandal of the straight-laced. And their were gentlemen in fine Spring overcoats and in heavy Winter overcoats, in Spring suits and Winter suits. Their were ladies in heavy silks and warm furs, and beside them others in the latest varieties of cameo fabrics. It was evident that if some had come to parade their finery, the great majority had been perfectly surprised by such kindness on the part of Spring, but had determined, like sensible folk, to enjoy the fresh air and the glorious day in their old clothes It would be impossible to calculate the crowds that swarmed over the Park like emigrating bees.”
By 1879 the Easter Parade was officially taking place on Fifth Avenue according to The New York Times. The newspaper on April 14, 1879 commented “that Fifth Avenue was crowded with promenaders” and “Spring bonnets were worn by every lady promenader.”
The tradition of the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue continues in the 21st century and is no longer an aristocratic event, but one open to anyone wishing to show off their sense of style (or lack of it).