In its heyday in the 1950s, the Easter Hat Parade was one of Luton’s top social events, regularly attracting more than 40,000 people.
Families lined the streets to see a colourful procession of floats, with those on board modelling the latest headwear produced by the town’s thriving millinery industry.
An Easter Bonnet Parade was held in 1953 to tie in with celebrations surrounding the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and a Carnival Queen was chosen from among female workers in Luton’s hat factories.
The Luton News archive of 1.5 million photos, which is kept at Luton Museum in Wardown Park, includes a set of images from the 1954 parade, two of which are featured here. And the event attracted national interest the following year when a film crew was sent by British Pathe to capture the sights and sounds of the occasion.
An historic clip can be seen on British Pathe’s website, with some weird and wonderful hats on display, including a ballet dancer bonnet, a cockerel bonnet and a creation shaped like a tarantula.The film also features Luton MP Dr Charles Hill, who at the time was the Postmaster General, wearing a straw boater.
The decline of the hat trade meant an end to the Easter parade, although one was staged in 1990 and it was revived in 2004 by the Mayor that year, Michael Dolling.
It was held in Wardown Park and young people from across the borough designed 1,000 entries for a hat competition as part of the parade. An auction of exclusive designer headgear after a fashion show raised more than £1,000 for charity. Cllr Dolling said the hat trade remained an integral part of the local economy and the culture of the town.