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Catherine, Princess of Wales, then Duchess of Cambridge, wearing a red fascinator during her visit to Canada in 2011
Antoine Watteau: Studies of a woman wearing a cap (1717–1718)

A fascinator is a formal headpiece, a style of millinery. Since the 1990s, the term has referred to a type of formal headwear worn as an alternative to the hat; it is usually a large decorative design attached to a band or clip. In contrast to a hat, its function is purely ornamental: it covers very little of the head and offers little or no protection from the weather. An intermediate form, incorporating a more substantial base to resemble a hat, is sometimes called a hatinator.


The word "fascinator" is derived from the Latin verb fascinare ("to fascinate"), and simply means a thing or person that is enthralling or extremely interesting.[citation needed]


Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun: Marie Antoinette, Queen of France (1778) with feathers on her hair cover.

Earlier decorative headpieces[edit]

It was customary for Christian women in Europe to wear some sort of headcovering.[1][2] The European fashion of decorating the female head with a round-brimmed headgear (or hat) can be traced back to the late Renaissance era of the 16th century when some rare Tudor bonnets appear to have a brim.[3] Starting with the Baroque era of the 17th century, brimless head decorations developed. Queen Marie Antoinette made the fashion of using ostrich plumes as a head decoration popular among the European royal courts. Increased trade with Africa meant ostrich feathers were becoming more readily available to be used in fashion items, although this was still costly and therefore affordable only to the aristocracy and wider upper classes.[4]

19th-century fascinators[edit]

In the mid-19th-century United States, the term "fascinator" was first applied to headwear. In this context, a fascinator was a lightweight hood or scarf worn about the head and tied under the chin, typically knitted or crocheted.[5] The earliest citation identified by the Oxford English Dictionary for the use of the word in this sense is from an advertisement in the Daily National Intelligencer of December 1853.[6] The fascinator was made from soft, lightweight yarns and may originally have been called a "cloud".[7] The "cloud" is described in 1871 as being "a light scarf of fine knitting over the head and round the neck, [worn] instead of an opera hood when going out at night".[8] The fascinator went out of fashion in the 1930s, by which time it described a lacy hood similar to a "fussy balaclava".[9] Apart from the common terminology, these fascinators bore no relationship to the modern headpiece.


The use of the term "fascinator" to describe a particular form of late-20th- and early-21st-century millinery emerged towards the end of the late 20th century, possibly as a term for 1990s designs inspired by the small 1960s cocktail hats, which were designed to perch upon the highly coiffed hairstyles of the period.[9] The Oxford English Dictionary cites a use of the word (in quotation marks) from the Australian Women's Weekly of January 1979, but here it appears to have been used in a slightly variant sense, to describe a woman's hat incorporating a small veil (in other words, a cocktail hat).[6] However, the term was certainly in use in its modern sense by 1999.[6]

Although they did not give the style its name, the milliners Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy are credited with having established and popularised fascinators in 20th-century couture.[9]


The British royal family, with the Queen wearing a blue hat, Catherine—then the Duchess of Cambridge—a pink hatinator, Princess Eugenie of York a fascinator, and Princess Beatrice of York a black hat (June 2013).

A fascinator is worn on occasions where hats are customary, sometimes serving as an evening accessory, when it may be called a cocktail hat. It is generally worn with fairly formal attire. In addition, fascinators are frequently worn by women as a Christian headcovering during church services, especially weddings.[10][11][12]

A substantial fascinator is a fascinator of some size or bulk. Bigger than a barrette, modern fascinators are commonly made with feathers, flowers or beads.[13] They need to be attached to the hair by a comb, headband or clip. They are particularly popular at premium horse-racing events, such as the Grand National, Kentucky Derby and the Melbourne Cup. Brides may choose to wear them as an alternative to a bridal veil or hat, particularly if their gowns are non-traditional.

At the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in April 2011, various female guests arrived wearing fascinators. Among them was Princess Beatrice of York, who wore a piece designed by the Irish milliner Philip Treacy. The unusual shape and colour caused quite a media stir and went on to become an internet phenomenon with its own Facebook page.[14][15][16] Princess Beatrice used the publicity to auction it off on eBay, where it garnered €99,000 for charity.[17][18]

In 2012, Royal Ascot announced that women would have to wear hats, not fascinators, as part of a tightening of the dress code in Royal Ascot's Royal Enclosure.[19] In previous years, female racegoers were simply advised that "many ladies wear hats".[20]


The term "hatinator", which emerged in the early 2010s, is used to describe headgear that combines the features of a hat and a fascinator.[21] The hatinator is fastened on the head with a band like a fascinator, but has the appearance of a hat, while a fascinator is much smaller and normally does not go over the sides of the head. The particular style of headgear favoured by the Princess of Wales, is sometimes described as a hatinator.[citation needed]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hunt, Margaret (11 June 2014). Women in Eighteenth Century Europe. Taylor & Francis. p. 58. ISBN 9781317883876.
  2. ^ Newman, Paul B. (15 February 2001). Daily Life in the Middle Ages. McFarland. p. 119. ISBN 9780786450527.
  3. ^ Tudor Bonnets, Men and Women: A Portfolio of Images, working pages on the University of Vermont website uvm.edu. Retrieved 12 February 2020.
  4. ^ "Here's Why Guests Will Be Wearing Fascinators to the Royal Wedding". Allure. 20 May 2017. Archived from the original on 27 January 2018. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  5. ^ Gordon, Beverley (1982). Shaker Textile Arts. UPINE. pp. 249–250. ISBN 9780874512427. Archived from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "fascinator, n.". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  7. ^ Severa, Joan L. (1995). Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840–1900. Kent State University Press. p. 544. ISBN 9780873385121. Archived from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  8. ^ Kemp Philip, Robert (1870). Best of everything, by the author of 'Enquire within'. London: W. Kent & Co. p. 235. Archived from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  9. ^ a b c Mancoff, Debra (17 May 2011). "Fascinating Fascinators: What's in a Name?". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 20 May 2011. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  10. ^ "What are Church Hats?". Southern Living. Archived from the original on 7 March 2019. Retrieved 14 January 2018.
  11. ^ Barrett, Colleen (21 February 2011). "Why Do British Women Wear Hats to Weddings?". PopSugar. Archived from the original on 7 March 2019. Retrieved 14 January 2018.
  12. ^ Cathcart, Laura (25 May 2017). "A milliner's guide to wearing hats in church". The Catholic Herald. Archived from the original on 14 January 2018. Retrieved 14 January 2018.
  13. ^ "Millinery Madness: Hat Makers With Attitude". New York Times. 3 October 2011. Archived from the original on 30 June 2017. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  14. ^ "Princess Beatrice's ridiculous Royal Wedding hat". Facebook. Archived from the original on 15 May 2012. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  15. ^ Emmrich, Stuart (28 December 2011). "The 75 Things New Yorkers Talked About in 2011". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 5 November 2017. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  16. ^ Nick Carbone (7 December 2011). "Princess Beatrice's Fascinator". Time. Archived from the original on 15 December 2011. Retrieved 5 April 2012.
  17. ^ Considine, Austin (6 May 2011). "Perched, Frothy, Headpieces Fascinate: Noticed". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 10 September 2017. Retrieved 26 February 2017.
  18. ^ "The Top 10 Everything Of 2011". Time. 7 December 2011. Archived from the original on 15 December 2011.
  19. ^ Royal Enclosure page of official Ascot website. Archived 2 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine URL accessed 25 January 2008
  20. ^ BBC Website: Fascinators in ban at Royal Ascot's Royal Enclosure Archived 30 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine URL accessed 21 January 2012
  21. ^ Cuthbertson, Kathleen (4 September 2009). "'Hatinator' to rule at the races". Herald Sun. Melbourne: The Herald and Weekly Times. Retrieved 29 January 2012. The term 'hatinator' emerged last year to describe the trend for smaller hats worn the same way as fascinators.

External links[edit]

Media related to Fascinators at Wikimedia Commons