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Silver Threads: Easter still brings out the finery

Remember when people dressed up to go almost everywhere except the grocery store and Pontchartrain Beach? Their best bibs and tuckers came out for the old Blue Room in the Roosevelt Hotel — Leon Kelner was playing there; restaurants with white tablecloths; the stores and movies on Canal Street; and, especially, their churches.

My grandmother once told my mother that she needed to go out and buy a new spring hat, else she wouldn’t be able to show her face for services that Sunday, a remark my little brother overheard and embarrassed her by repeating around our neighborhood.

“My mam-maw can’t go to church …” I got to thinking about that the other day and wondering whether the Easter dress code at houses of worship is as casual now on that day as it usually is, what with folks sporting blue jeans or khaki shorts and tees and sandals. I wondered whether little girls and boys still wear new clothes on Easter Sunday.

If I were more of a mall shopper, I’d have known that that particular secular custom of the season is still very much observed. (Buying garb in street-side stores exclusively for women doesn’t keep you in touch with what the small-fry and their mammas are doing.)

It makes sense that Easter is the right time to debut new spring duds, because the weather is warm enough to pack away the minimally heavy winter outfits we New Orleanians possess. I can, however, remember a few early Easters during my childhood — spent 100-200 miles north of here — when the March winds were a little nippy, and a jacket had to go on over a new silk or linen outfit. It did look a little silly with your white shoes.

Wearing new white shoes is what I remember most about the Easters of the ‘40s and ‘50s. They were the feminine foundations of spring and summer wear for church. We were never in doubt as to the proper time to begin wearing them either, although years after I grew up and approached middle-age, Sunday newspaper columnist Miss Manners reiterated a “Yankee” decree that they are appropriately worn only from Memorial Day until Labor Day. By that time I’d realized that white shoes made my size 10AAA feet look like I was wearing the box they came in, and had substituted black patents. But like the women who staffed the late Vivant Section of The Times-Picayune, I disagreed with the etiquette guru, and applauded their decision to write and tell her she was dead wrong. She wound up writing another column about their correspondence, but refused to budge from her position.

The opinions of Miss Manners and her ilk probably account for the fact you’ll see no white shoes in the iconic “Easter Parade” starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire and surely playing on Turner Classic Movies even as you read this. They are, after all, “on the avenue …. Fifth Avenue” in New York City!

Well, anything they can do, New Orleans can do better. You can check out Easter fashions right here at home by scheduling a day of parade watching:

Catch the Historic French Quarter Easter Parade, which begins outside Antoine’s at 9:45 a.m. Sunday, with carriages and convertibles proceeding to St. Louis Cathedral and — after mass — a promenade in Jackson Square.

Chris Owens’ annual parade begins at Canal and Bourbon at 1 p.m. with floats, bands, beads, Easter trinkets and will go down Bourbon to St. Phillip, to Decatur and back to Canal.

At 4:30 p.m., the Gay Easter Parade begins at North Rampart and St. Ann, proceeding to Bourbon, to Esplanade, to Royal, St. Louis, North Rampart, Toulouse, Burgundy, and ending at Orleans. There will be carriages, limos, wagons and trolleys. The march will benefit the meal deliveries of Food for Friends, so I assume they’ll pass the hat along the route.

Do be sure to wear your new white shoes, especially if they’re comfortably canvas.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at


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