What would Bill Cunningham, the man who transformed street style photography (before it was even known by that name) into social anthropology, have made of the currently empty grid of New York, its echoing avenues walked only by the occasional pedestrian venturing out from home, maintaining a careful six feet of distance between themselves and anyone else?
He probably would have donned his blue French workman’s jacket, hopped on his black Biria bicycle and started documenting the world the novel coronavirus hath wrought: the different ways people have decorated their homemade masks, the shift in apparel from suits and heels to working-from-home leggings and sweats.
But, like the rest of us, he probably would have mourned the end of the fashion show that was the street — the daily swirl of color and identity that could be found simply by standing on a street corner (his street corner, at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, say) watching the world go by.
This weekend he probably would have felt it even more keenly, in the absence of the annual New York Easter parade. Bill chronicled the event, which he called “a carnival celebration of spring,” from the 1950s until the end of his life in 2016.
For him it was the very best treasure hunt, although instead of searching for foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, he was searching for the sartorially extraordinary, the item of clothing that reflected the propulsive joy of new beginnings reflected in the parade. The towering gardens of homemade hats, adorned with flowers real and fake; the lacy fripperies of parasols and gloves that evoked eras past (also the morning suits and walking canes); the pastels contrasting just so with houndstooth checks.
In honor of those efforts, and in place of the event that isn’t, we offer up this selection of Bill’s images of Easter parades past, as published in Sunday Styles between 1997 and 2007, as the last century came to an end and the current one began. And though the broad-shouldered swing coats segued into slimmer silhouettes (and roller blades mostly disappeared), what is striking is how much stayed the same.
Diving into these pictures is not the same as being there in person, but it is a reminder of the sheer delight that dressing can bring, the imagination it can express. And an affirmation that as it was once, so it may be again.