New Clothes

New Clothes

The custom of wearing new clothes on Easter Sunday dates back to ancient times. Most commentators trace it back at least as far as the fourth century, when Easter became the most popular time of year for baptisms. The ritual of baptism introduces new members to full participation in the Christian faith. In ancient times candidates for baptism were expected to disrobe before undergoing the required immersion in water. Afterwards they put on new, white robes as a sign of their change in status. They wore these robes in church during the following week.

By the start of the Middle Ages, the custom of the Easter baptism was already fading. Yet the association of Easter with newness, and renewal, remained. It may have been strengthened by the fact that Easter falls during the spring season, the time when both plants and animals bring forth new life. Moreover the Easter festival itself celebrates the renewal of life in the face of death (see also Resurrection). Finally, in medieval times, some European countries observed New Year's Day on March 25 (see also Annunciation; Spring Equinox). Folklorists suspect that all these associations between Easter and newness encouraged the custom of wearing new clothes at Easter time.

Wearing new clothes at Easter eventually came to be seen not only as a religious custom and symbol, but also as a means of insuring good luck. An old Irish saying advises, "For Christmas, food and drink; for Easter, new clothes." Poor Robin's Almanac once warned, "At Easter let your clothes be new, or else be sure you will it rue." In Ireland some children wore crosses made of ribbons on their right arms, perhaps serving as a substitute for those who could not afford new garments. Italian folk custom dictated that if a man sent a woman a new pair of gloves for Easter it signified his desire to marry her. If the woman wore the gloves it signaled her intention to accept such an offer. An American superstition counseled that wearing three new items of clothing on Easter Sunday would attract good luck for the rest of the year.

In past times central Europeans not only showed off their finery in church, but also strolled about town and even into the countryside afterwards. Similar outings on Easter Monday, called Emmaus walks, may have inspired the American Easter parade.

Further Reading

Myers, Robert J. Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1972. Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Consumer Rites. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954.
References in classic literature ?
Many years ago there lived an Emperor who was so fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on them in order to be beautifully dressed.
He did not trouble himself in the least about his soldiers; nor did he care to go either to the theatre or the chase, except for the opportunities then afforded him for displaying his new clothes.
The mania of selling his new clothes for a quarter of what they were worth had rendered our hero sufficiently celebrated in Orleans, a city where, in general, we should be puzzled to say why he came to pass his days of penitence.
Rebecca'll have some new clothes now," said Delia, "and the land knows she needs 'em.
However, the widow made a pretty fair show of astonishment, and heaped so many com- pliments and so much gratitude upon Huck that he almost forgot the nearly intolerable discomfort of his new clothes in the entirely intolerable discomfort of being set up as a target for everybody's gaze and everybody's laudations.
Thomson, and he with me on my new clothes and my estate, you could feel very well that we were nearer tears than laughter.
Concerning the new clothes, the simple couple were like children; they were up and down, all night, to see if it wasn't nearly daylight, so that they could put them on, and they were into them at last as much as an hour before dawn was due.
He begins to be very ragged, and I hope I shall be pardoned if I equip him with new clothes and frocks.
Or throw ourselves into those new clothes, so as to be ready," added the younger Kearney, looking down at his ragged trousers.
If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit?
She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn't do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up.
He's still shaggy, all right," remarked Button-Bright; and Ozma nodded brightly because she had meant the shaggy man to remain shaggy when she provided his new clothes for him.