A Quick Introduction to Fascinators

Author: Neha Vispute

Fascinators are a fascinating subject; these bizarre and beautiful hats are completely unlike anything else in the fashion world and always make for some interesting photographs, as demonstrated by the snaps of the crowd at Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry.

Over the years, the British aristocracy has, rather disappointingly, become much more restrained in the outlandish things that they wear. Fascinators and hatinators are one of the last remaining go-to fashion options of choice for the upper echelons of the British establishment.

What is a Fascinator?

In short, a fascinator is a type of hat. However, it is very distinct and unusually interesting. Interest in these fascinating curiosities has piqued since the royal wedding, and will no doubt rise again next time there is a major gathering of fancy-hat wearing aristocrats.

Unfortunately, the fascinator’s name doesn’t derive from the fact that they are fascinating, nor that they make the wearer more fascinating by virtue of the elaborate headwear they have chosen. In fact, the word fascinator refers to the lacy fabric that European women draped around their heads during the 17th century. It’s believed that the modern term ‘fascinator’ may have evolved from the original word ‘fastenator’.

Another theory is that the name derived from the Latin word ‘fascinatus’, which means ‘to bewitch’ or ‘to cast a spell upon’.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes the fascinator as being a head shawl designed to add a sense of ‘seductive mystery’ to Victorian-era fashion. The word was first recorded in the US in the 1860s. In 1943, the word fascinator was referenced in the musical ‘Oklahoma!’ However, the word was largely absent from the English vocabulary during the latter half of the 20th century.

Who Invented the Fascinator?

It is believed that the fascinator in its current form was invented by two milliners, Stephen Jones and Philip Tracy. However, they did not give the design its current name. While the origins of the fascinator can be traced back to Victorian England, the fascinator as we know it today was invented in the 1990s, beginning as simple hair decorations that incorporated feathers, clips and headbands.

Fascinators UK have always been part of formal attire, and since their reappearance in the 1990s, they have been seen at royal events, weddings, Ascot and the like. According to the powers that be at Ascot, who are as qualified an adjudicator as any others that we can think of, they mandate that the fascinator is officially the decorative part of the hat without the base. As such, they have ruled that any hat that has 4 inches or more of trimming can’t be classed as a fascinator.

Where Did the Fascinator Originate?

The fascinator can trace its origins right back to the 17th century when British women were exposed to and began adopting many of the principles of French high fashion. It evolved throughout the 1600s, when flamboyant attire became more popular. Charles II was returned to the throne in 1660, bringing with him a penchant for luscious wigs that set high society alight.

During the 18th century, Mari Antoinette’s extravagant hairstyles influenced fashion across the entirety of Europe. Throughout all the turmoil and wars in Europe over the following centuries, fashion trends would remain similar throughout much of the continent.

An exception to this was during the 19th century when a combination of factors, such as war, recession, and general political turmoil, meant that the more extravagant look pioneered by Marie Antoinette fell out of favour, even among the upper classes. Until this time, British women had favoured the ‘Dutch’ hairstyle, which featured a topknot. However, the topknot then was not what we know now.

The topknot that British women wore during the 19th century, also known as a ‘pompom’, consisted of decorative items like ribbons and feathers that were secured to the front and side of the head. These headdresses are probably the earliest example of the headwear that can be clearly identified as the progenitor of today’s hatinators.

When to Wear a Fascinator

Fascinators are usually only worn to formal occasions; weddings in particular. Outside of weddings, the only other place where fascinators make a prominent appearance is at Ascot. Fascinators are far too extravagant to be worn casually.

Fascinators certainly stand out easily amongst the usual wedding hats, although some are much more understated than others. Fascinators come in a variety of styles and, even though they all adhere to the same basic principles, there are fascinators to suit most formal looks.

How to Wear a Fascinator

A fascinator, like many occasion hats, should be worn on the side of the head. It doesn’t matter which side you choose; you can pick whichever side you prefer or whichever suits your current look the best. It is sometimes acceptable to wear your fascinator towards the front of your head, but you should try and wear it on the side of your head first. They should be placed just above your left or right eyebrow.

What to Wear Fascinators With

Fascinators should be paired with formal wear. However, beyond that, you are pretty much free to choose whatever matches them. There are lots of things to consider when choosing an outfit, depending on the occasion in question. Many of the guests at the recent royal wedding chose an elegant yet simple dress, and fascinators are the perfect accent for these kinds of outfits.

When to Take a Fascinator Off at a Wedding

There is a common myth about fascinators that says they can only be worn during the daytime. A general rule with hats is that, the smaller the brim of the hat, the later in the day it can be worn. For example, a wide-brimmed hat is best suited for morning or early afternoon. Fascinators barely have a brim and are often worn as cocktail hats. They can be worn at any hour of day and so they can stay on throughout the wedding.

The fascinator has a long history and is the culmination of many centuries of fashion innovations in Europe. If you have a wedding or other formal occasion coming up, a fascinator could be the perfect way to add some style to your wedding outfit.