Easter in Old New York: The Fifth Avenue Fashion Stroll

In the picture above: People in Sunday finery stroll past the New York Public Library building. The library had not even been open two years by the time this picture was taken in March 23, 1913.

New York City’s time-honored Easter custom — the Sunday morning Fifth Avenue Easter bonnet stroll — once turned the wealthiest residents of Fifth Avenue into primping peacocks, their Sunday best on display.

The makeshift parade, which some believe traces back to New York’s Dutch days, blossomed into a full-assault of expensive headwear once the upper crust made Fifth Avenue their home.

Thousands lined the street, either brandishing their most expensive apparel or else to gawk at those wearing it. It was the closest New York got to a high-end fashion show, with dressmakers parked on the corner, taking notes.

“All the women were slim who could be,” remarked the New York Tribune’s fashion writer, “and a few were who couldn’t.”

But the 1910s brought a new accessory to the Easter parade — automobiles.

A decade before, there were probably no more than 1,000 automobiles in all of New York City. By 1913, there were enough to create what must have been Fifth Avenue’s very first automobile traffic jam.

All the photographs featured here are from Easter Sundays, between 1912 and 1915 (images courtesy the Bain Collection/Library of Congress.

The magnificent Enrico Caruso even participated in the Easter stroll. He looks fanciful in his top hat and a bit like Batman villain the Penguin.

Apparently it was an unseasonably cold day that Easter in 1913 and most society women, braving the chill, wrapped up their fine gowns in heavy wraps and coats of various animal skin.  “Furs and pink noses” was the fashion assessment, according to the Tribune.

Still, in the sea of coats and curious hats, one woman managed to make an impression. “LADY IN VERMILION AN EASTER CUBIST‘ cried the newspaper the following day — on its front page, no less.  “…[W]ho was the young lady in bright vermilion, with lips of a vivid purple, who talked excitedly to hide her shivering as she passed St. Patrick’s Cathedral?”

The New York Tribune ran this banner photograph the following day. (Note the dog in the corner.) Sadly I don’t believe any of these ladies was the aforementioned ‘vermilion lady’:

Of course, there’s still an annual Easter bonnet parade; it’s smaller but far more flamboyant.

Pictures courtesy Library of Congress

1 reply on “Easter in Old New York: The Fifth Avenue Fashion Stroll”

-I learned that one of the first ever fashion shows in NYC happened around Easter of 1913.
-I feel like this connected to the period of the roaring twenties because automobiles were being built and people really had enough money to show off their wealth.
-Some sources they incorporated were pictures that were primary sources. Also they had lines that was according to newspapers.
-One question that i have after reading this post was that, did they have street lights during this period for cars?

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