Easter tradition brims with choices

Hats: Men and women across Baltimore find quite a selection of hats for Easter festivities at local shops.

March 30, 2002|By Nora Achrati | Nora Achrati,SUN STAFF

Hunting for the perfect Easter bonnet is a little like playing Goldilocks at the Three Bears' house: some are too big, some are too small, and sometimes, there's one that's just right.

"Some like them wide, some like them small," says Josephine Murray, sales clerk at Mauri, a Mondawmin Mall hat shop in West Baltimore. "They like all kinds."

Easter week has brought scores of men and women to hat stores in search of the right 10-gallon chapeau or 2-ounce pillbox. It's an annual rite of spring that, come Sunday, will be in full array throughout the Baltimore area.

"They bring in their suits sometimes, and I help them coordinate a hat," Murray says.

It's a tricky process.

"You have to like the hat," Murray says sympathetically to a customer who couldn't make up her mind.

There are so many hats to like. Hat shops like Mauri and Westview Mall's Mirage carry up to 100 different kinds of hat at Easter.

The walls of Mauri are covered in gold, silver, dark blue, light blue, orange, green, pink, purple-striped and white hats. The hats are draped in netting and ribbon twisted into every kind of flower and every size bow.

"Easter is one of the most festive times for Christians, symbolizing a new beginning," says the Rev. Walter Scott Thomas, pastor of New Psalmist Baptist Church on Old Frederick Road in West Baltimore.

Thomas suggests the tradition of wearing bonnets to church at Easter "probably grew out of the excitement surrounding the holiest of times for Christians."

For Christians, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus.

Lavinia Dobler, author of Customs and Holidays Around the World, said Easter was once known as the "Sunday of Joy." In this country after the Civil War, mothers and daughters began wearing colorful flowered hats and elaborate corsages as part of the celebration, Dobler writes.

Easter and spring bonnets are a natural fit, says Fred Belinsky, a California-based hat dealer who's sold and studied hats for 23 years.

"The tradition is to wear a felt hat to keep one warm in the winter, and straw hats are spring and summer hats, Belinsky says. This is the time when we introduce the straw hats."

Easter, Belinsky says, is "a way for a woman to wear her new straw hat at kind of a coming-out event, such as an Easter parade or church services.

"Easter eggs have evolved and have become more sophisticated, and you could say the same thing about the wearing of the hat at Easter."

At the Hecht's store in Security Square Mall in Woodlawn yesterday, the Easter bonnet hunt was on. "I love my hats," said Loraine Clark, 48, who was with her daughter, Ashley, 13. "I had my last Easter hat for 14 years. I thought it was time I had a new one."

For Clark, an organist for Metropolitan United Methodist Church in West Baltimore, hats are a family tradition.

"I was brought up wearing hats. It was my mother's culture - a lady is not dressed unless she has her hat and her gloves."

Her daughters don't subscribe to the tradition, Clark said. Unimpressed with her mother's hats, Ashley tried on sunglasses.

Her mother settled on a white wide-brimmed straw hat with feathers and beads on the cap.

"This is my Easter bonnet," she said.

Nearby, another mother tried on hats, accompanied by her son.

"It's my head! My head's too small!" said Marian Zeigler, 89, from underneath a pink-and-white hat.

"Try this one," her 60-year-old son, Ray Zeigler, said mischievously. She disappeared beneath an enormous blue-and-white brim.

Marian Zeigler wanted a spring hat, not necessarily an Easter hat, but one for keeping her hair under wraps when she needs to.

"I went and got my hair cut, see," she explained. "And it looked so good. And ... the next day, it looked like I never got it done."

Sun staff researcher Paul McCardell and editorial assistant Joan Walters contributed to this article.

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