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On Easter Sunday, There Were Always Hats...

Beautiful hats, funny hats, feathered hats - why are we so reluctant to wear them nowadays?

For me, Easter Sunday stirs memories of all things new - a new season, fresh flowers, and new spring clothes.

Along with a pastel organdy dress and patent leather shoes, my childhood Easter wardrobe wasn't complete without a brand-new hat. I remember one in particular - a white straw number with satin flowers lining its brim and a long satin ribbon streaming down the back.

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In those days my mother also wore a hat to church, as did my grandmother. My favorites, as I recall, were typically concocted from nets and feathers, reminding me of the birds' nest I had found in my grandmother's yard. (Today I'm sure these hats would be highly collectible at our local vintage clothing shops.)

Wearing my own bonnet on Easter Sunday made me feel very grown-up, not to mention glamorous.

In his lyrics for "The Ladies Who Lunch," songwriter Stephen Sondheim asks, "Does anyone still wear a hat?" These days, it seems, hats aren't nearly as popular unless you are under 9 or over 90. Which seems odd and rather sad, considering that it wasn't so long ago when men and women weren't considered fully "dressed" without them.

'IF, as the saying goes, clothes make the man, it might also be said that hats make the woman. Over the centuries and over the world, hats have provided a quicker way than clothes to identify a woman," writes Nancy Lindemeyer in "The Romance of Hats" (Victoria Magazine/Hearst Books).

Veiled or wide-brimmed, tilted above one eye or pulled down over the brow, a hat lends an air of mystery. The protection it provides from the elements is of secondary importance.

I can't think of remarkable people without thinking of remarkable hats. Scarlett O'Hara's coquettish garden hat. Jacqueline Kennedy's trademark pillbox. Leslie Caron's picture-brim in "Gigi." Diane Keaton's floppy fedora in "Annie Hall." Charlie Chaplin's dapper bowler. Harpo Marx's battered topper.

Earlier this year I hosted a tea for some of my women friends, mainly to chase away the winter doldrums. On the invitations I asked my guests to wear "silly or serious hats," only if they wanted to, just to keep things from getting too stuffy. Surprisingly, many of the women actually arrived wearing hats - beautiful hats, funny hats, feathered hats, vintage hats.

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These hat-wearing women looked wonderful, prompting quite a few to ask why we didn't wear our hats more often.

"We don't wear them because we are victims of what's in fashion," one friend remarked. "Not many people are wearing hats now, so I just don't feel right about putting one on."

I knew how she felt, as I own several hats but rarely gather enough courage to wear one unless I'm attending some sort of costume party.

The fact that few of us wear hats, I think, is just another sign that American culture has lost its flair for romance and mystery. These days we bare our heads, our hands, our hearts, and sundry other parts in public. Some of us are so casual that we've even taken to wearing blue jeans to church.

In honor of Easter Sunday, though, maybe I'll summon up the nerve to wear a pretty hat to church. For old times' sake.

* Cynthia La Ferle is a nationally published newspaper columnist from Royal Oak, Mich.

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