Gilded Age Easter Parades bloomed into spectacular affairs in both small towns and big cities across America. Easter remained a religious holiday with a post-church promenade for many. For others, church took a back seat to the chance to strut spring outfits.
The most famous Gilded Age Easter parade was the stroll down Fifth Avenue in New York City. It flowered into an eye-popping affair where the latest fashions for men and women became trends. It was also the target of satire and criticism as vanity and conspicuous consumption elbowed the have-nots to the sidelines.
Mark Twain Named The Late 19th Century “The Gilded Age”
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner co-wrote their famous satirical novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. Published in 1873, it has appeared in more than 100 editions since. Set in post-Civil War America, the story is about a poor rural family’s money-making schemes to sell a piece of land. Thematically it reflects the greed and corruption of the time and the title ultimately gave name to the era.
According to Twain, The Gilded Age glittered on the surface, but was corrupt beneath. Industrialists, bankers and tycoons enjoyed extraordinary wealth while controlling politicians behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the working class struggled to feed their families.
In her book, The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, Esther Crain writes:
“Many today remain fascinated by the Gilded Age. Perhaps it’s the contradictions and extremes of the era that draw us in. White marble mansions modeled after Italian palazzos lined Fifth Avenue, just a streetcar ride away from the airless flats and rookeries of the East Side slums.”
The Greatest Of The Gilded Age Easter Parades
By the 1870s, Easter had become a major holiday in America. In 1878 President Hayes launched the annual Easter egg roll on the White House lawn. In New York City, people gathered at Central Park.
The New York Times of April 21, 1873, writes that people swarmed into the Park. It was a mixed crowd of aristocratic and working classes.
“There were ladies in the most delicate Spring attire, poor sewing and shop girls in the Easter finery, ragged little children playing tag, to the great scandal of the straight-laced. And there were gentlemen in fine spring overcoats and in heavy winter overcoats, in spring suits and Winter suits. There wee ladies in heavy silks and warm furs, and beside them others in the latest varieties of cameo fabrics…It would be impossible to calculate the crowds that swarmed over the Park like emigrating bees.”
By 1879 the Easter Parade officially took place on Fifth Avenue. According to viewing.nyc, New York’s churches began to decorate their sanctuaries with Easter flowers. Parishioners walked from church to church to inspect the oral displays — and so began the custom of the NYC Easter parade.
“Well-to-do New Yorkers attired in the latest modes strolled through the boulevards, watched by middle class citizens eager for the lowdown on new fashion trends”.
By 1880, the Easter parade had became a permanent fixture in New York’s calendar. No longer an event primarily for aristocrats, the Parade embraces everyone.
Puck Magazine Poked Fun At Gilded Age Easter Parades And Fineries
Puck Magazine ((1877-1918) was one of the first satirical/humor magazines in America. The creation of Austrian immigrant Joseph Keppler, it included colorful cartoons, illustrations and articles. The vanity and conspicuous consumption of Easter celebrations became one of the publication’s favorite targets. (Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” in 1899 in his book, “The Theory of the Leisure Class,”)
Following are a few of Puck’s “Easter best.”
Psyche admiring her reflection, 1909.
Wearing he Easter bonnet, Psyche admires her reflection in a small pool of water, with irises and lilies.
Woman performing magic trick, 1900.
A woman performing a magic trick makes Easter eggs and other prizes flow from a paper cone.
Red devil hiding in Easter lilies, 1910.
A bright red devil hides amongst white Easter lilies.
Man carrying wife’s Easter bonnet, 1908.
A well-dressed man carries his wife’s Easter bonnet under an umbrella. She cannot attend due to an illness, but at least her bonnet will be seen by all.
Messenger asking woman to sign for Easter bonnet delivery, 1899.
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