Mary Kelly remembers the outfits well.
Her girls, Mimi and Margaret, wore matching navy blue sundresses with white polka dots, baby blue tights and matching headbands. Her son, Peter, wore a white oxford shirt, tiny navy blazer and khakis.
Her young family was "somewhat picture perfect," she said, laughing — at least as close as three small children could be.
The occasion, of course, was Easter Sunday.
Kelly, who since that near-perfect Easter has had two more boys, Joseph and Leo, still outfits her family in their Easter finest each year. The girls wear matching dresses and for many years wore the ubiquitous pastel hats, until Mimi, now 14, began to protest around fourth grade, and Margaret, now 9, soon followed. Peter, 12, Joseph, 5, and Leo, 3, still wear button-down shirts and and proper dress pants.
"I think it's important to dress up, especially for the holidays for Mass," the Omaha mom said.
While holidays often are a reason to wear your best clothes, Easter has the bonus of arriving with warm weather and the first of the spring flowers. And with spring weather comes an urge to go spring shopping, said Holly Weill, owner of Posh Princess, a children's boutique at 16901 Wright Plaza.
"A lot of my customers just want something new and fresh," Weill said. "They're sick of their heavy clothing, and they know they're getting together with family or going to get pictures taken."
The tradition of buying new clothes for Easter — or at least a new hat — can be traced back centuries. Even Shakespeare alludes to saving new clothing for the holiday.
The Easter hat trend, though, is more recent and more complicated.
In the 1860s, Empress Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III) popularized straw and felt hats with festive strings or ribbons, said Barbara Trout, associate professor of textiles, clothing and design at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A few decades later, Trout said, hatmaking in the United States took off. Soon nearly every town had a local hatmaker, and many even had hatmaking schools.
Then, in the 1930s, Hollywood began to take an interest in Easter traditions, she said. The 1933 Irving Berlin song "Easter Parade" was a huge hit. The New York Easter Parade, after which the song was named, drew bigger and bigger crowds each year, peaking in the mid 20th century.
Manufactures and retailers noticed the newfound interest in Easter and got on board, Trout said.
The Easter craze, combined with the ongoing popularity of women's hats, led to the widespread adoption of the Easter bonnet. And even as women's hats grew less popular overall, the Easter bonnet stuck around, in part because postwar parents were enthusiastic about dressing up their children, and retailers continued — and continue — to push Easter hats and dresses, Trout said.
Even so, the Easter bonnet's heyday is likely in the past.
Weill, of Posh Princess, said she's noticed that the bonnet has fallen from favor a bit, at least among her customers.
"I didn't even order any traditional Easter hats (this year)," she said.
Now, she said, it's all about headbands for girls, especially ones embellished with soft tulle flowers or pretty bows.
Kelli Bryant, ladies' sales manager at Dillard's at Oak View Mall, said that was true for women as well.
While Dillard's has a large selections of women's hats this year, Bryant said they're also stocking lots of fascinators and headbands adorned with feathers, fabric or flowers.
"We've sold more of those than we actually have the big-brimmed hats," she said.
While the hat is giving way to headbands, the Easter dress is thriving, for young and old alike.
For women, this year's styles are soft and frilly, with ruffles, lace, pleats and other feminine details, Bryant said.
"We've gotten a lot of strapless in, some sweetheart necklines — just really feminine, nice dresses," she said.
The trends are the same for girls, Weill said — soft fabrics, embellishments like flowers or bows and lots of layers and ruffles.
"The trimming on things are really mimicking women's fashions," she said, "but they're done in a sweeter way."
Weill said the boys are dressing up, too, wearing neckties and bowties with their button-downs. And, in contrast to the girls, more boys are wearing hats — particularly fedoras.
"I've sold out of all my fedoras," she said.
Weill, whose family is Jewish, will dress children Julia, 7, and Levi, 3, in matching outfits for Passover: a pale yellow tiered dress for Julia, a fedora, pale yellow polo shirt and linen shorts for Levi. She expects the kids will wear the outfits often throughout the spring and summer.
Kelly will coordinate her family for Easter Mass at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, though her girls boycotted matching dresses not long after they protested wearing Easter bonnets.
Mimi has a dress picked out — a "pale buttery cream chiffon" with little pleats across the front and a subtle floral pattern, which will double as her confirmation dress. Margaret will coordinate in a pinky peach dress, and the boys will wear dress shirts and pants, continuing many years of special outfits for a special spring day, a tradition Kelly hopes lasts for generations.
"I feel like it shouldn't be like every other day," she said.
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