What is St Catherine’s Day?
Every year, near the end of November, milliners all over the world raise a glass, or at least share a social post, to celebrate St Catherine’s Day. Although this ancient holiday is not on most people’s calendars, it is definitely a special day for hat makers. But do you know why?
The Early History of St Catherine’s Day
St Catherine’s Day was created in the 10th century to commemorate Catherine of Alexandria, an early Catholic martyr. Since medieval times, St Catherine has been known as the patron saint of unmarried women.
In France, girls traditionally prayed for husbands and held a feast for local ‘Catherinettes’ (unmarried women over the age of 25) on the feast day each November. The Catherinettes sent postcards to each other while their friends made them elaborate green and yellow hats, meant to symbolise wisdom and faith, which they had to wear throughout the day. Isaac Israels depicted two Catherinettes in his 1905 painting by the same name (above).
Haute Couture Catherinettes
By the early 1900s, French milliners had identified a marketing opportunity in the Catherinette celebrations and were holding their own St Catherine’s Day hat parades to show off their latest work. At this point, St Catherine unofficially became the patron saint of milliners.
The Parisian Haute Couture fashion house also began organising lavish Catherinette parties for their unmarried female employees, who would parade down the Champs-Elysée and rue de la Paix on St Catherine’s Day (as shown in the 1932 photo above). The women would dress up in outlandish outfits and hats for an evening of feasting and fun.
21st Century St Catherine’s Day
In recent years, a move to revive the millinery traditions associated with St Catherine’s Day has been gaining momentum. The holiday officially falls on 25 November but hat-centred St Catherine’s Day events have become regular fixtures on the international millinery calendar throughout the entire month.
The US Milliners Guild, for example, meet up to commemorate St Catherine’s Day (above) and parade to Grand Central Station together. Their event is free and open to the public. Wearing yellow and green in encouraged but not required.
In New Orleans, a Catherinette Parade has been held on the weekend before Thanksgiving since 2009. As a nod to the holiday’s origins, this fun and colourful hat event (above) is held in honour of a different unmarried woman named Catherine each year.
If you normally take part in a St Catherine’s Day event, we’d love to hear about it. Please get in touch to tell us more!
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