In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it
You'll be the grandest gal in the Easter parade.
I'll be all in clover, and when they look us over
We'll be the proudest couple in the Easter parade.
-Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade" (1948)
Easter bonnets have been a tradition for Easter for as long as women have worn hats. The Easter Parade came later: It began in the 1870s and still continues today in some cities. Women promenaded about, displaying their Easter finery like proud male peacocks. I'm sporting a petite Flamenco hat here, also known as a "pert hat", which was popular in the late 1930s.
Easter Bonnets are a throw back to the days when the people denied themselves the pleasure of wearing finery for the duration of Lent. Then on Easter Sunday, everyone ate, drank, and wore whatever they enjoyed.
It's been said that adorning our hair with chaplets of leaves and flowers was the beginning of the Easter Bonnet. Young girls, and even boys, would wear the first signs of Spring to celebrate its arrival. The pagan beginnings of May Day (along with the May Pole) were on May 1st. This celebration of Spring was frowned upon by the Puritans, which is why I suppose most (or all) of us Americans have never seen a May Pole here.
One memorable Easter was the Easter just after the Civil War was ended. That day, many women celebrated by wearing bonnets which were covered in all sorts of showy materials, such as feathers, shells, colorful ribbons, netting, and I've even seen pictures of entire stuffed birds perched up there. It's not a pretty sight (as you can see).
We've grown away from wearing hats entirely, with the exception of a short-lived fad in the 80s which is probably best forgotten. But sometimes I long for the days of Eliza Doolittle's scrumptious hats. If you'd like one, there is a haberdasher that reproduces them. Go here to feast your eyes on them!
Hat Works is the UK’s premier museum dedicated to the hatting industry, hats and headwear. Located in a former Victorian hat factory, Hat Works has 3 floors of informative fun including guided tours of working millinery machinery, to reconstructed hatters cottage, office and shop plus a giant gallery of hats, family fun area, shop and café.
If you're consumed by the need to make one yourself, I've found a fascinating site here which has even the forms needed to create your custom design! Who knew? Just remember, if you make the hat only, you're a hatter. If you decorate it, you become a milliner. And just be glad that hatters don't work with lead-based materials any more, or you'd become "mad as a hatter", too!