The Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue

New York’s Easter Parade began as a religious and fashion spectacular in the 1880’s, conceived in New York’s ornate Gothic churches such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity Episcopal Church, and St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church.

Fifth_Avenue_and_Vanderbilt_Mansions,_New_York_1900
Fifth Avenue and the Vanderbilt Mansions during the Easter Parade of 1900 in New York. Author: Unknown

In the nineteenth century, the sanctuaries of these churches were decorated in abundance with Easter flowers, which inspired church members to incorporate this decor into their Easter attire. By the 1880s, Fifth Avenue had become a spectacular religious and cultural promenade for the wealthy, visiting the beautiful churches to see the flowers.

Easter_on_5th_Ave.,_N.Y.C._(LOC)_(2162691601)
Easter on 5th Ave., N.Y.C., ca. 1910 Bain News Service.

The Easter parade grew into a spectacular annual event, with merchants engaging in commercial promotion of Easter and the parade, while people in the poor and middle classes attended the parade to observe the latest fashion trends.

However, not everyone was pleased with the ostentatious display.  In the 1930’s during the Depression, groups of unemployed workers marched in worn clothing, carrying banners comparing the cost of one gown to one year of welfare relief for a family.

The parade had become primarily a demonstration of American prosperity as the religious attributes had fizzled out by the 1950’s. The parade, which had begun as an elegant and religious display had become a pretentious bore.

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