Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rite of Spring - The Easter Parade

Jean says: On April 24th, we donned our gay apparel and headed to Fifth Avenue for that amazing New York event known as the Easter Parade. In keeping with the tradition that started in the 1800s, we wore fabulous hats and dressed to the nines. Although we try to consult in advance to know what each of us is wearing (so we could possibly wear complementary outfits), neither one of us can really make up our minds until the last minute. It would be nice to blame our indecision on the weather (the forecast called for spotty showers and thundershowers), but I'm just a procrastinator. Although it was more by accident than design that we both ended up wearing bold black and white outfits, it appeared to all the world that we were totally coordinated and in sync, that the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas were a well oiled machine of style and taste. Ha!

Valerie says: I tell people who ask (and they do ask!) that we never know what we're wearing to the Easter Parade specifically because the weather is so unpredictable. After all, you're out in the elements for hours, not just running from a car into a building, when a little cold or rain would be no more than a minor momentary nuisance. I've done the parade at least since 1995 or so, and a few times I've been miserably frozen or hot or encumbered by a $2 umbrella - and wet shoes - because the weather was not at all what I expected. So much of dressing depends on what appeals to you THAT DAY, so even if I knew what Jean was wearing, and even if I had something complementary, if it somehow didn't appeal to me that day, and something completely different DID, I would happily forgo matching up to wear what appealed. The freedom to choose your wardrobe is a form of armor. Wearing what you want can be very empowering.

For the record: Valerie's photo appeared in Bill Cunningham's column in today's New York Times. We both appear in the online video.

(above photo thanks to the genius of Helen Uffner)

To see Bill Cunningham’s weekly On the Street column, click here.

And here's the link to Bill’s video and commentary.

Valerie says: Bill doesn't yet realize that The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas come as a pair. I feel as if Hardy got printed without Laurel.

Jean says: We saw this adorable couple and both of us snapped their picture. When editing our shots, we laughed when we realized that we'd both referred to them as the Jude Law couple because of the gentleman's close resemblance.

Not only did Carol and Richard dress up, they color coordinated their outfits.

This stylish pair managed to pull it off without looking gimmicky.

Men and women of all ages came out in their finery to walk up and down Fifth Avenue past Rockefeller Plaza and St. Patrick's Cathedral. This lovely lady sported a vivid blue picture hat to set off her white suit.

Jean says: I especially like the fact that some couples dress up and promenade together. I cannot even imagine wrestling my husband into submission and getting him to put on a suit and stroll with me.

Valerie says: For me, the Easter Parade is a celebration of the pinnacle of dressing - what you would wear to church if perfection - and not price - were the object. So I have little patience for people who come dressed in marshmallows. If you wouldn't wear it in front of the priest or deacon or pastor, mostly I think it belongs at the Halloween Parade, that Rite of Autumn. But there are always some wonderful exceptions. My favorite this year was Mia, who made and wore this tea cup hat made out of nothing more than cleverly folded and pasted paper. It was breathtaking in its delicacy and craftsmanship. Well done, Mia! The hat below is another wonderful exception.

Jean says: As you can see, participants really get into the spirit. This lady's daffodil headpiece was quite lovely, and so well done.


Every year Elaine, a graphic designer, paints a hat with a New York theme. This year her theme was Grand Central Station. Elaine can't even estimate how much time she spent on planning and painting, but the result every year is dazzling perfection. Here is the top side of the hat, and below is the underside of the hat, and Elaine herself.

Jean says: Here we are with our friends Tziporah Salamon and Tim John. I find it fascinating when total strangers come up to us and ask to take their pictures with us, as the two individuals in this photo are doing. I wonder what their friends back home think when they see the pictures. Valerie says: the people who ask are almost invariably people with accents from out of town or out of the country. One wonders if a look into certain guidebooks might reveal a paragraph that reads: "If you are in town during the Easter, if at all possible attend the Easter Parade. And don't be afraid to ask to have your picture taken with the locals. The natives are friendly, and enjoy the attention." Tziporah and Tim are both aficionados of the Chinese decorative arts. Tziporah is dressed in early 20th century Chinese silk and embroidery, but Tim is wearing a Japanese hakama (divided skirt) and a Spanish hat.

Helen Uffner (right) is the owner and manager of a costume rental shop, and often lends to movie and theater productions. Here she is with her assistant, Jessica, both of them dressed to the nines in vintage clothes from Helen's warehouse. Jean says: Can you imagine having a warehouse full of vintage clothing? How divine! Helen appeared in Bill Cunningham's photo review.


An Easter tradition of the Fifth Avenue churches (St. Patrick's Cathedral and St. Thomas' Church) is for the ushers to wearing morning suits, complete with dove grey gloves and vests, striped trousers and tails. Very spiffy! Here, Michael Griffin from St. Patrick's poses for a picture.

This pair is always a crowd-pleaser, dressing in various combinations of pastel suits, shoes, hats and neckware, accompanied by their French bulldog. They aso carry baskets of something fabulous -- this year, it was flowers; last year, it was pinwheels for the kids. Their photo made it into today's New York Times.

As Bill Cunningham noted his review, the men were the true peacocks at this year's parade.

Valerie says: I LOVED this guy, dressed up like a gangster out of Guys and Dolls. He also reminded me of Richard Widmark, and with his hat perched the way it is, I imagine he used to be a drill sergeant who, any time he had a weekend pass, was transformed into a completely different person. Jean says: He was a real hoot. He complimented us on our outfits, saying "Somebody has to show these people how to dress!" He also made it into Bill Cunningham's column. I find it uncanny how many of our photos overlapped with Bill's pictures in the paper and in the online video. (Great minds ... you know the rest.)

Valerie says: Many years ago I met a Japanese gent who had been a highly placed government official. (A number of government officials, once they leave the government, take cushy jobs at private corporations, where they can grease the wheels of business with their connections. They are referred to as "amakudari", or "descended from heaven", a cheeky reference to their lofty, god-like status.) When he retired from the cushy corporate job, he traded in his standard issue blue suits and began to dress in red, from head to toe, including hats and shoes, and it didn't matter to him if the shades of red were mismatched. His wife was perplexed, but amused and resigned. Years later, I continue to notice occasional older men who love red clothes with the same passion. They don't love yellow or orange or purple in nearly the same proportion as they love red, making me ask myself what accounts for it. I wonder if it might not have something to do with fading eyesight - the man's version of a woman with very dark penciled in eyebrows or very red lips. I love and applaud this man - I'm just musing about the overwhelming choice of red by guys who have the freedom to choose. Knowledgeable readers, please weigh in.

This gentleman carried off the look with total aplomb - nothing too fussy or too formal. Very classy.


Our friends Daniel (in the bowler) and Carole and their friend in the sporty boater paused for a picture before they headed over near the swing band to shake a leg. (Go, Daddy-O!) Those kids really know how to party. Daniel and Carole seamlessly blend their love of vintage into their everyday lives. Daniel looks suave and Carole manages to look both lively and demure at the same time.

The lady in the yellow jacket and cloche hat looked very inch the flapper. She and her companion were in Bill Cunningham's column.

Valerie says: Big guy, little hat. He was at last year's parade, too. Yet another exception to my rigid rules. Maybe it was the verve with which he presented himself. I took two pics of him, and both times he pointed to his Easter bonnet.

Jean says: Double vision in black and white, like something out of a Gloria Swanson movie. These two were featured in Bill Cunningham's column. Yes, says Valerie. They definitely stole the show. The woman on the right is milliner Gretchen Fenston, and very likely the hat is of her own making. We've run into Gretchen any number of times at vintage shows, and she's always wearing a fabulous hat. Every time we've asked, she's said she made it, and we're always stunned at her perfect balance of materials, colors and shapes.

Here's a close-up of the back of Gretchen's hat. I loved the black and white bakelite buttons. Her friend was wearing a beautiful pastel pink print dress and mutued turquoise and pink ruffled hat, complete with pink turtle dove. She looked fabulous in person (and made it into Bill's column too.) Valerie says: I think I heard the other woman say her hat was also a Gretchen design. Another stunner, at a time when well made hats are harder and harder to find.

CIRCUS MAXIMUS - Parade as Street Theater:

This mother-daughter combo included platter-sized hats with (from right to left) buildings; moss and flowers; and a table top setting complete with flowers in a vase.

Valerie says: Given my rabid defense of traditional millinery, you'd think I would turn my nose up at these guys, but I loved them. I thought they did a wonderful rendering of the moai of Easter Island, and it was a fabulous visual rebus. Jean says: In my book, they get an A for their tongue in cheek concept and A+ for execution.

Jean says: I loved this merry couple's happy approach to the festivities. They were having a ball.

Valerie says: These ladies were extremely tongue-in-cheeky, but you'll notice they're wearing traditional hats, albeit with non-traditional outfits. I thought there was something vaguely pre-war Berlin about them.

Jean says: Lady of Spain, I adore you! This lady's crimson torreador cape and giant fan and mantilla were show-stoppers. Needless to say, no one else was wearing the same thing.

Jean says: This sweet young thing matched the petals on her mini-dress to those on her tea cup. The dress was very 1960's Youthquake. Very cool.

Jean says: Marcus (on the left) was strutting his stuff in sky high heels and was wearing a great headpiece with a beautiful veil. As you can imagine, it wasn't the veil that most people were focusing on. After our first meeting, whenever our paths crossed during the day, Marcus shot me a big wink and air-kiss. He and his companion were actualy quite sweet and VERY funny.

Jean says: As a big Tim Burton fan, I couldn't resist stopping this woman to compliment her on her Nightmare on Christmas headpiece. That's when I noticed she was also wearing a terrific necklace made of black metal Cracker Jack prize airplanes. What an unexpected treat.

Valerie says: I loved this couple, but I particular loved the man in his comic book suit. I ran into them (actually I ran up to them) at a wooden police barrier, and then shooed them away from it - I made them back up sufficiently so I could photograph them from head to toe. They seemed quite amused at my friendly badgering, and I myself was a bit surprised by my insistence. Jean and I did our best to get full length photos of costumes, but it often wasn't possible. There just wasn't enough room to back up. And if there was, someone would cross in front of our photo subject just as we were snapping the picture. Hazards of the profession.

Jean says: I couldn't resist! When I saw this little dachshund in tuxedo and top hat, I was stopped in my tracks. He was so calms and well-behaved in a very noisy, very crowded street.

Valerie says: Jean photographed - or aimed her camera at - a few people that made me cringe. Once or twice I said to her ominously "if you put that in the blog, I swear I'll delete it!" I saw her racing for this hat, and she saw me seeing her, and she got a look on her face like "uh oh - is this going to be one of the deletes?" But this is a really cool hat, even if, in complete contravention of the rules of thumb I mentioned above, you wouldn't wear it in front of your priest or deacon or pastor. It looks like a long-lost Dadaist sculpture that the wearer found in someone's attic. (And what about the priceless combination of Cartier's and the hot dog stand?) Jean says: I loved this weird contraption and especially liked the fact that she'd spray-painted it gold. I couldn't quite figure out the purpose of the black squeeze ball suspended on a string, but why question perfection?

Jean says: What can I say? I'm a sucker for Harlequins. This time, it turned out to be a Hare.

Jean says: This pair were refreshingly unselfconscious and were obviously having a great time, soaking up the atmosphere and getting into the spirit of the day.

Valerie says: Here's another couple wearing hats they probably wouldn't wear in front of their pastor, but they were too creative to pass up.

Jean says: This character was totally wild. I didn't know where to look first -- at his rainbow-colored beard, his wedding dress and train, his flower headress, his white feathered wings or his wagon full of white poodles? The live pigeon on his headress is definitey what threw me over the edge. No lie! Click on the photo to enlarge.


At The Modern

In keeping with what now seems to be our tradition, Jean wanted to go to MOMA's Modern restaurant after we finally found - or were found by - Bill Cunningham, for cocktails. Their menu had a drink with cilantro-infused gin, which sounded intriguing, but I didn't like the other ingredients. I finally settled on a kir royale, and asked if a smidgen of the cilantro-infused gin could be added. The bartender worried about the combination, so he gave me a mostly filled kir royale, and a separate small glass of the gin, to mix in as I pleased. I found the three ingredients to be a really intriguing combination, which I have no trouble recommending.

Jean, showing her stripes, so to speak, had a marguerita. (I LOVED this outfit!!!) Our table, unfortunately, was rather close to the 'facilities', shall we say. But that turned into a plus, as everyone had to pass us at one point or another, and everyone stopped to tell us how much they loved our hats or our outfits. Even Jason, the maitre d', stopped to chat, saying he remembered us from last year, and accurately described our companions and where we'd been seated! Holy cow!

And so, having seen and been seen, and having completed the Rite of Spring, we turned, swanning for the camera one last time, and made our merry ways home.

Jean is wearing an Express shirt, Ensemble vest, H&M skirt, Ann Taylor socks, 1990's straw flying saucer hat, Pataugas leather ankle-strapped flats, Lux de Ville handbag.

Valerie is wearing a vintage white felt and black straw hat with two labels: Boggs & Buhl Millinery Pittsburgh and 711 Fifth Avenue, G. Howard Hodge New York; black and white plastic target earrings, black lipstick and nail polish by Brucci, white linen suit by Calvin Klein with 3/4" electrical tape stripes, Pleats Please blouse, vintage Issey Miyake belt, metal cuffs from Matsuya Ginza, silver ring from Pastec, white felt ring from DKNY, black woven Cole Haan shoes with Liquid Paper white diamond and electrical tape diamonds over the instep.


  1. When too many hats are barely enough...thanks Jean and Valerie for indulging us so thoroughly! the parade sounds like lots of fun.
    NB> what did you think of the Royal Wedding stylefest? particularly Princess Beatrice's hat? (it's a fave of mine)..
    And on men who wear red: perhaps they have read this article:
    or this:!

  2. I love seeing Bill Cunningham's shots from the Easter Parade, and yours are definitely just as delightful. It would be wonderful to see these colourful and eclectic outfits in person--Easter in NY! I'm certain the two of you stood out amidst the reds, yellows and other brights with your sharp Black and White theme.