NYC’s Fifth Avenue Easter Parade

25 Apr

Chock-full of tradition and a fair share of pomp, Irving Berlin would have been proud of all these Easter bonnets.

Milliner Gretchen Fenston, left, at the 2011 NYC Easter Parade with three ladies donned in her elegant hats.

{NYC’s Fifth Avenue Easter Parade}

Spring could not have picked a better day to make its grand debut in New York City as on Easter Sunday with the finest aesthetes parading down Fifth Avenue in 100-year-old tradition of the Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival.

I, among the finely dressed paraders, reveled in the history of the event, which first began in the mid-1800s as high society ladies would promenade in their Easter finery following church.

But the significance of this promenade derives from the cultural phenom of Easter marking the purchase of new clothes, which evolved into a tradition that if not followed would lead to bad luck.

“At Easter let your clothes be new // Or else be sure you will it rue.” Poor Robin, an 18th-century almanac maker

Elliot Nesterman wears a classic 1920s style with a boater and seersucker suit.

Robert Vickers channels a late 1960s Beatles look.

While sporting a casual look, this New Yorker looked rather sharp!

“Vivianna” looked chic rocking out to her own Easter style!

Thanks to Wikipedia, I was amazed at all the literary references capturing this tradition’s origins and now it makes sense as to why we often get a new dress or suit for Easter Sunday!

But tough times, like during the Great Depression, made this palpable tradition a challenge which had New Yorkers scrambling for home-made hatmaking solutions and updates to their wardrobe.

The Parade, which today runs from 49th Street to 57th Street, swelled in popularity by 1947, when more than a million people were estimated to have strolled along Fifth Avenue.

The NYC Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival, 1900.

While in 2008, the crowds only numbered around 30,000, the Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival, still keeps to its other theme — an opportunity to call attention to various social issues.

This year, it was a peaceful rally for civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, but during the Great Depression unemployed workers demonstrated the disparity of wealth with a banner comparing the cost of one Fifth Avenue gown to a year’s worth of welfare relief for an entire family.

CLICK to watch Fred Austaire dance in Irving Berlin’s “Easter Parade.”

The grand display of finery, the prolific messages of love, hope and joy from nearby cathedral pulpits, mixed with the beckoning calls for social awareness, all created a momentous annual event which Irving Berlin finally captured in his song “Easter Parade” after 15 years spent composing it.

While the song was released in 1933, it later inspired the 1948 musical film starring Fred Austaire and Judy Garland, “Easter Parade.”

(For context, this film “was the most financially successful picture for both Garland and Astaire as well as the highest-grossing musical of the year.”)

As for me, the Easter Parade was the epitome of early-century gaiety, likely harkening the spirit of parades gone by — and those which directly inspired Mr. Berlin’s composition of “Easter Parade” during the 1920s and early 1930s.

Thanks to Drew Nugent & The Midnight Society, as well as a solid group of vintage dancers and vintage lifestyle enthusiasts, the corner of 54th & Fifth Avenue turned into a hive of hot jazz and Charleston-stepping.

Here is a video capturing some of the dancing, plus Drew Nugent & The Midnight Society’s rendition of Shelton Brook’s 1910 “Some of these Days”:

And, as for my outfit … only two pieces are vintage.

The felt hat, which is most likely from the 1970s or 1980s, although the style is universally classic to several decades, including the 1900s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. I picked this up just last year at a Salvation Army in Bergen County, NJ for $2.50.

The fur-collared bolero, from the 1950s, also has a matching wool-blend pencil skirt (with a size 25″ waist, which I’ve never been able to wear). This mint condition “Ro-Ann Originals” was sold by “Pickett’s” of Chattanooga and I acquired it while I was in college.

The modern items include my most recent Goodwill find, the charcoal Ann Taylor Loft blouse, and a college roommate’s gifted Express wool a-line skirt, as well as the tweed wingtip Aerosoles. (Check out the Ann Taylor blouse & the Aerosoles’ heels in this blog post: Look Like a Fashionista in 15 Minutes).

What Did I Do at The NYC 2011 Easter Parade?

Had my picture taken so many times that I began to feel like a princess at Disneyland. This was an experience I had not anticipated!


Made new friends with dapper gents, such as Jean-Paul.

Danced with dear friends, like Elliot Nesterman.

Had afternoon drinks at the St. Regis King Cole Room.

So, tell me: How did you make memories this Easter holiday?

The discussion’s live on the Thrifty Vintage Chic Facebook fan page!

All images on Thrifty Vintage Chic are shot in the context of real life. All images on Thrifty Vintage Chic are free from post-production “airbrushing” or touch-ups. All images and written copy on Thrifty Vintage Chic are copyright protected and may not be used without first gaining written permission.

6 Responses to “NYC’s Fifth Avenue Easter Parade”

  1. Dawn April 26, 2011 at 6:49 PM #

    You look beautiful! Your outfit is elegant and classy. The gents look dapper. Thank you for sharing such a time-honored tradition here.


    • Thrifty Vintage Chic May 2, 2011 at 4:18 PM #

      Absolutely, Dawn!! And, thanks for commenting about the gentlemen because it was so awesome to see so many men dressed so well and more than half of them actually dress this well on every other day of the week — and not just at special events or holidays!!


  2. Deborah April 27, 2011 at 2:37 PM #

    Love all the photos! This really does take me back in time! Looks like a wonderful time! Great vintage outfits!


    • Thrifty Vintage Chic May 2, 2011 at 4:16 PM #

      thanks, Deborah!! It was a blast and I am really so lucky to live here in NYC where there are so many REGULAR vintage-inspired events and a whole underground community! I’m happy to share a little peak into the scene here!



  1. Being a Hip Mom Never Looked So Cool « Thrifty Vintage Chic - May 6, 2011

    […] Fern and I just met — in fact, we met through friends during the NYC Easter Parade & Bonnet Festival, read/watch more here. […]


  2. The New York Easter Bonnet Parade: Celebrating a Colorful History | Thrifty Vintage Chic - March 25, 2013

    […] music by the finest the Jazz Age has to offer — then check out Robin’s post from 2011. CLICK here for more photos & […]


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