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What is a Fascinator?

Fascinators are those imaginative and often unusual little hats that perch on fastidiously styled hairdos.

The name fascinator is older than the style itself; fascinators of the past (around 1860s) were somewhat more sensible, scarf-like and they “fastened” to the hair (the spelling “fastenator” might have been more appropriate). Others say it comes from the Latin ‘fascinatus’ meaning ‘to bewitch, or cast a spell on’ – the head shawl was meant to add “seductive mystery” to Victorian fashion. Since they were knitted and draped around the head and neck, they were frequently marketed and sold as a seasonal item for warmth right next to scarves and mittens.

In the 1920s, a generation of flappers greatly influenced British fashion. These rule-breakers lived for hair decorations, particularly pearls, sequins, and cloche hats with feathers protruding on one side. The ’40s, by contrast, saw the rise of “doll hats,” feminine, miniature hats perched on the front of the forehead or nestled into an updo. In Europe, they were seen as a pièce de résistance in defiance of the austerity of Nazi occupation.

In the 1960s and 70s, the definition of a “fascinator” was loose. It sometimes referred to modernized versions of the original scarf style of head-wear, but slowly it also began to apply to the smaller, clip-in hats that had existed for decades.

Sarah Jessica Parker

By the 1990’s, the term “fascinator” had become firmly attached to a specific kind of hat—small, jaunty, and often bedecked in beads or feathers or any manner of frills and flounces. And, as with many trends in fashion, the fascinator is not always a favorite.  Worn for formal occasions veil fascinators and wedding fascinators become the choice for guests to formalize an outfit. Milliner Laura Whitlock adds whimsical cocktail hats to her line in 1995. Sarah Jessica Parker wears designer fascinators in Sex and the City on TV in the late 1990s/early 2000s.

At the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, Lady Gaga’s steak fascinator opens the door for an anything goes mentality for headwear. Gaga is also known for incorporating the hair into the fascinator shape and includes such surreal designs as a telephone.

Lady Gaga

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s royal wedding in 2011 was very fascinating indeed, when virtually every female guest sported an flamboyant sculpture in her hair. Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie made waves for their custom — and now iconic — Philip Treacy fascinators. 

While fascinators serve minimal (if any) functional purpose, they do have a several desirable qualities. For one, they can elongate your silhouette by adding the illusion of height. Also, if you get yours custom made, fascinators can be true works of art and expressions of your personality. Furthermore, they are so light weight, there’s no need to worry about “hat hair”.  Therefore, who wouldn’t want to wear a chic, historically noteworthy, conversation-starting, creative, statement piece?

Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie

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