Learning to Love Lilly Daché and Tales of the Easter Parade

You’re dynamic, groovy and urbane–sickeningly so, in fact. With your Palm Pilot, cell phone and your corporate-speak, you’re a modern girl who gets things done. But there’s a “disconnect” and a “downside” to your brittle pragmatism. Sincerity and sweetness have taken a back seat to your goal-oriented urban agenda–and, most importantly, you’re not having much fun. Why? Because your life is both tradition-free and doily-free.

Be warned! Nobody is keeping score of all your accomplishments, and when they scatter your ashes, there’s a real danger some wrinkled sage will say: “Such a smart girl–but she missed out on so many of life’s frivolous pleasures. Do you know she never once went to the Easter Parade?”

The Easter Parade? Yes, I know you think it’s hokey and time-wasting–maybe even scary and Diane Arbus-ish–but that is precisely the point. Take my advice–start chasing rainbows. Hit the Easter Parade (Sunday, April 15, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Fifth Avenue from 49th Street to 57th Street), hit it hard, and learn to laugh again. All you need is a bonnet.

Choose from the following three genres:

1. The Vintage Bonnet. Scour the 26th Street Flea Market and eBay for chapeaux bearing the name Lilly Daché. This long-dead, cantankerous, French-born milliner was, by the middle of the last century, a Seventh Avenue legend. Read all about her undisciplined, neurotic ways (you might learn something) in Steven Gaines’ Simply Halston: The Untold Story ($10 on Bibliofind.com). Halston, né Roy Halston Frowick, was her best-known protégé, closely followed by Arnold Scaasi and Mr. Kenneth, the creator of countless Carvel coiffures.

Lilly was a gas! Literally. Ms. Daché’s phenomenal talent was, according to Mr. Gaines, matched by an equally phenomenal gas problem. She suffixed each of her pungent farts with a blast from a large atomizer filled with her favorite perfume. So you see, when you buy one of her hats, you’re getting a real slice of uplifting American fashion history.

P.S.: There is a great-looking caramel-and-lace Daché currently on eBay for $15; don’t pay more than $20. Ditto Halston: Keep your eyes peeled for one of his 1960’s sculptural-futuristic hats–Jackie O., bonjour !

2. The Sloane Ranger Bonnet. The term refers to those upper-class English girls–often minimally educated–who live on or near Sloane Street in Knightsbridge. They are frequently seen wandering around Harrods in shrieking pairs–think Fergie and Diana in the 1980’s. Sloane Rangers buy gigantic confectionery hats to wear to the Royal Enclosure at Ascot and to various snotty garden parties, and they speak with incomprehensible upper-class accents. The accents are long gone (now everybody in England pretends to be common–a pet peeve of moi’s ), but the hats live on.

Samuel’s Hats at 74 Nassau Street (www.samuelshats.com) specializes (unwittingly) in this 1980’s English look. Samuel’s has a great selection of giant, posh-girl hats by English designers Philip Treacy and Frederick Fox. The bad news: Prices range from $250 to $600. The good news: Samuel’s is located near Century 21, always worth a rummage.

3. Lastly and most importantly, the Black Church-Lady Bonnet. According to journalist Craig Marberry, author of the new book Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats ($27.95, Doubleday), these particular hats come in only three sizes: “big, biggest, and ‘why-d’ya-have-to-sit-in-front-of-me.'” Paul the apostle decreed that women should cover their heads: White ladies do it in a restrained way (e.g., grim little Amish bonnets), and black ladies do it with what Deirdre Guion calls “HATTITUDE.”

Ms. Guion is one of 50 hat queens featured in Mr. Marberry’s phenomenal new book. Working with photographer Michael Cunningham, Mr. Marberry provides an inspiring and gorgeous window into the magical world of black church-lady hats. The fascinating Mr. Marberry told me that “from the time slave women put flowers in their head-wraps, the African-American experience is traceable through hats.” He’s a very smart dude with a genius subject. Accost him at his book signing at Macy’s Herald Square on April 12 at 12:30 p.m.–or, better still, go to the Fulton Street Brooklyn branch of Macy’s on Easter Saturday at 1 p.m. Harriet Rosebud, a major Southern hat designer, will be on hand, as will the Bethel Baptist Chorale of South Brooklyn.

Where to get your black church-lady realness? Mary’s Fashion Hats (2133 Ralph Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-209-1568). Buy a hat–they start at $20–and check out Mary’s float, entitled “The Queen of Hats,” at the Brooklyn Easter Parade (April 14, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., starting at Fulton Street and Flatbush Avenue).

Re: Easter goodies … Fauchon make the strangest Jeff Koons-ian chocolate bunnies, $15 and up. These rodents have chic, egg-yellow ribbons around their necks and, judging by their grimacing, open-mouthed countenances, suffer from continual rectal shooting pains. Delicious. (442 Park Avenue, 605-5919.)

Egg-decorating? Even with your new petal-strewing, rainbow-chasing lifestyle, you don’t have the time or skill to sit around blowing dye onto eggs. But Martha Stewart does: I’m referring, of course, to her current Martha By Mail catalog, which sells a set of miscellaneous pre-dried eggs–dyed, decorated, beribboned and ready for dangling ($22, 800-950-7130 or www.marthabymail.com). She also sells a 43-inch-high, incredibly hip, white-wire tree from which to dangle your eggs–and which, in my opinion (but probably not in Martha’s), doubles as a great Christmas tree ($88).

Easter gifts for calorie-counting bunnies? For her: carrot perfume. L’Artisan Parfumeur has created Fleur de Carotte. It actually contains, amongst other things, carrot and lettuce essence. Don’t let her drink it. ($92 at Barneys, Henri Bendel.)

For (straight) him: vintage Playboy magazines from www.PBcomplete.com, a site that specializes in back issues. May 1963 is one of my personal faves; it contains one of the most sexist photo shoots of all time, entitled “The Femlin Comes to Life” ($20 to $50, depending on condition).

For (gay) him: Easter Parade . This is the only-mildly-pill-addicted, 25-year-old Judy at her sparkling best ($13.99, Amazon.com). For the hard-core fan craving the later, off-her-trolley Judy, you couldn’t do better than give the double-CD set entitled Judy Talks ($13.99 at Other Music, 15 East Fourth Street).

There are those who say Judy was the first punk rocker–I happen to be one of them. You must admit her twitchy movements definitely recall the onstage body language of the great Johnny Rotten. Once you’ve heard Judy Talks , you will buy the punk hypothesis 100 percent. There is no singing; it’s just hours of a semi-coherent Judy railing against the people of whom she is no longer fond.

Sid Luft: “He’s a pimp and a sadist” (she pronounces it “saddest”). Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper: “I know their makeup man and what it takes to pull their faces up and make them look human.” Sheilah Graham: “A big, fat, ugly, red-headed English idiot.”

Happy Easter!

Learning to Love Lilly Daché and Tales of the Easter Parade