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In your Easter Bonnet

Easter is still two weeks away, and yet, somehow the delightful tradition, begun in childhood, of having something new to wear Easter Sunday morning, has me scrambling. The girls (8 and 10 respectively) plead their case last year, not to have to wear gloves and hats to church, but one still feels the need to be turned out fresh and new to celebrate not only the Saviour’s triumph over death, but also spring’s triumph over the cold of winter.

A Wet Sunday Morning by Edmund Blair Leighton.
A Wet Sunday Morning by Edmund Blair Leighton.

In Jane Austen’s novels and letters, Easter is seen more as a time of travel (Mr. Collins to be ordained, Darcy travling to Kent, Mrs. Rushworth staying in Twickenham, along with Jane’s mention of herself, Henry and Edward all traveling at different times during Easter) rather than a season for new clothes. However, the long held habit of beginning a new season with new clothes can be dated back at least to the 16th century, with only a look at Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (“Did’st thou not fall out with a Tailor for wearing his new Doublet before Easter?”) or even the great Samuel Pepys, who wrote:

30 March (Easter Day) 1662
Having my old black suit new furbished, I was pretty neat in clothes to-day, and my boy, his old suit new trimmed, very handsome.

The almanac writer, Poor Robin (1661-1776) notes,
At Easter let your clothes be new
Or else be sure you will it rue.

An image from Atelier de Modistes Le Bon Genre 28, c.1807
An image from Atelier de Modistes Le Bon Genre 28, c.1807

Still, for many the cash strapped maid, a fresh gown might be out of the question, but bonnets could be newly trimmed with ribbons and flowers, and the earliest spring fashion plates were eagerly looked for as a sign of spring to come. This idea was put into popular song in 1933, by the American Irving Berlin, in his musical Easter Parade, when the economy was at a low ebb (as it was during Austen’s era.) With a new hat on, all seems bright and fresh and possible.

In your Easter bonnet
with all the frills upon it,
You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade

The Pink Bonnet by Edmund Blair Leighton.
The Pink Bonnet by Edmund Blair Leighton.

 

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austentation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book. Her greatest joy is the time she is able to spend in her home with her family (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog.)

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