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Here’s How Easter Hats Became Such a Big Deal

The holiday rivals the Kentucky Derby when it comes to glamorous headwear.

The 2017 Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival in New York City.
Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

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Easter has been associated with elegant suits, dresses, bonnets, and hats for centuries. While church has grown less formal in recent years and Americans are no longer as religious, Easter remains a fashion occasion for many who do observe the day. It’s one where men, women, and children have traditionally put on their Sunday best.

Since 1921, Dorfman Pacific, parent company to Tenth Street Hats, has outfitted customers in fine hats for Easter as well as for occasions like the Kentucky Derby, for which it is the official hat licensee. Racked spoke with Tenth Street Hats CEO Carson Finkle about the American Easter hat tradition, the derby, and how likely England’s royal wedding in May is to influence hat trends stateside.

NN: I’m curious about the history of Easter hats. When did they become popular with Americans?

CF: The first Easter parade was in New York after the Civil War. People had basically been dressed more like they were in mourning, in black, but that Easter they really wanted to come in bright clothes and Easter hats. The history and the tradition behind the hats really stems from that. For years, people were known to buy new hats, their first hats of the year, to wear for Easter. It’s a complete renewal for that year — new hat, new wardrobe.

NN: So how American is the Easter hat tradition, as we know it?

CF: Well, in the 1920s, there were some trends from Europe that infiltrated the US style a little bit, but the origination of American Easter hats really originate around that [first] parade.

NN: Church has gotten a lot more casual, and many people no longer attend. Who are the people most likely to wear Easter hats?

CF: For the African-American community and the community in the South, where church attendance is stronger, these Easter traditions are much more prevalent. Hats have a strong tradition there. They also have the Kentucky Derby in the South, where there is a hat tradition. I’ve seen a lot of parallels between the Derby hats, the church hats, the wedding hats, and the Easter hats. They all have a sort of similar overlap. There are a lot of [fashion] parallels in these big events.

2017 Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival in New York City.
A group of women celebrate the 2017 Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival in New York City.
Photo: Taylor Hill/WireImage

NN: Are only women wearing these hats, or is there an Easter hat market for men, too?

CF: When you Google Easter hats, you see all of these images related to bonnets, and people are putting flowers in them and decorating them. But there are a lot of male traditions as well. There are fedoras and boater hats with red and blue ribbon that are popular around Easter, and our bright colored hats also do well with men for the Kentucky Derby.

NN: Older people and churchgoing people might be the most likely to wear fancy hats. How do you draw in consumers from other demographics?

CF: We have so many hats in more of what we call our lifestyle category. This includes the musical festivals that happen throughout the year. Coachella is the big one. Then there’s any beach, travel, or resort community. We sell hats from just a functional standpoint for sun protection.

NN: Events like Easter, the Kentucky Derby, and royal weddings, like the one between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry taking place in May, all make Americans more interested in hats. Is Tenth Street planning to emulate any of the styles that might be worn at the royal wedding?

CF: Meghan Markle [recently] wore a beret, and berets are definitely going to be a trend coming out in fall. Our designers do a great job with what’s going on on the runway and trends they’ve seen in Europe, and they try to get them in the marketplace. It’s just how quickly can you turn it around and get it in the marketplace while it’s still trending.