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The History of Fascinators (Little Hats)

  • A type of hat that is purely ornamental

  • Little hats go back to the 16th century

  • Today, the hatinator is preferred by most

If you have any interest in the Royal Family, you have no doubt often heard the term Fascinator used when describing the formal head piece worn to complement their outfits.

In short, a Fascinator is a type of hat that is a decorative design attached to a band or clip that is purely ornamental. Unlike traditional hats they offer little or no protection from the weather. They are a staple for both Royals and the fashion forward!

The word Fascinator is derived from the latin verb fascinare (to fascinate). In simple terms it means a simple thing that is extremely interesting, which is why you often see outlandish designs like Princess Beatrice’s pretzel fascinator at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (She also wore an elaborate butterfly fascinator at the wedding of Princess Anne’s son if you want to Google that).

Fun fact: The term fascinator is also applied to a person or animal that has the power to render others unable to move or escape.

The European fashion of decorating a head with a hat can be traced back to the late renaissance era of the 16th century. Marie Antoinette can be seen in photos using ostrich feathers. It wasn’t until the late 19th century in the United States that the term fascinator was applied to head wear. There was a time in the 1930’s that that they went out of fashion all together.

By the 1960’s the term cocktail hats were used. Popular milliners (Hat designers) Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy are largely credited with having popularized fascinators in 20th century couture - Philip Treacy being the designer behind Princess Beatrice’s pretzel fascinator.

Another fun fact: In 2012 Royal Ascot (A British Thoroughbred horse racing event) announced that women would have to wear hats, not fascinators, as part of their tightening of their dress code. Which could explain the emergence of the Hatinator which is the middle ground of a hat and a fascinator. It’s been said that Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge favors the Hatinator.

England is considered the home of the hat, hats are part of the social fabric and etiquette dictates that one is worn at weddings. Today fascinators have been wholeheartedly embraced by young fashionistas preferring the fun elaborate designs to more traditional hats. Because of often crazy designs they are sometimes considered not as sophisticated.

However they are here to stay as stated in Vanity Fair magazine – ‘So much poetry and power fastened with a band a clip and comb.’

Tea parties and fascinators just naturally go together – the customary attire worn is semi formal. Ladies sport hats & gloves and brightly colored suits or dressed. Black is never appropriate for a Tea party. An elegant look is a tea length dress with a fascinator.

Ronnie Swais

Exec Publisher, A Beautiful Life Publishing

Host, A Beautiful Life Podcast

Exec Producer, LifeCon™

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