A fascinator is a headpiece, a style of millinery. Fascinators were originally a form of lightweight knitted head-covering. Since the 1990s the term refers 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, sometimes incorporating a base to resemble a hat, in which case it may be called a hatinator.
Photo: Hatinator Hat
The term hatinator, which emerged in the early 2010s, is used to describe headgear that combines the features of a hat and a fascinator. 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 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is sometimes described as a hatinator.
Photo: Fascinator Hats
During the Tudor period, between 1485 and 1603, fashions dictated that English and Welsh women adorn their heads with veils, coifs, pillbox hats, and curls. With many of these headpieces being highly elaborate and costly, Tudor hats became status symbols decorated by pearls, lace, feathers, glass jewels, and gold thread. As dressed-up coifs grew in popularity in the early part of 1500s, the word “milliner” came into use, a term for a maker of women’s hats — fascinators included. Much like atelier workers, milliners craft by hand, meaning each hat doubles as an original work of art. Milliners “block” their own shapes and “roll” their own flowers. The more intricate, extravagant, and bespoke the fascinator, the more it costs, which is why these accessories have long featured hefty price tags.
Photo: Princess Beatrice
Throughout the 1600s, British women became increasingly exposed to French fashions. First, they were inspired by Charles I’s wife, Henrietta of France, who wore her hair flat on top and curled at the sides. Then, by the time Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, flamboyance reached a new high. His use of luscious wigs set society into an extravagant frenzy, and women soon adopted the fontange hairstyle made popular by the French Marquise de Fontange. The fontange hairstyle was essentially a combination of headdresses and tall hairstyles. Once again, their stacked curls were decorated with flower attachments, bows, veils, and small hats.
With the 18th century came the world’s most iconic hair decorator: Marie Antoinette. This queen craved beauty, prestige, luxury, and most importantly, attention. Her lavish spending habits may have been inappropriate considering France’s financial status at the time, but Antoinette’s hairstyles did succeed in igniting a spark of fashion creativity among the European upper classes. She regularly decorated her hair with outrageous trinkets, including miniature landscape gardens, animals, feathers, and even a scaled model of La Belle-Poule, a victorious war battleship.
Photo: Marie Antoinette
Similarly — although to a much less extravagant degree — British women in the 18th century paired the popular “Dutch” hairstyle with a topknot, but not the kind of topknot we’re familiar with nowadays. These “pompoms,” as they were called, were made up of ribbons, feathers, butterflies, and jewels and were secured to the front and the side of the head — perhaps the closest thing, aesthetically, to the modern-day fascinator.
Nineteenth century Europe was plagued by wars, revolutions, and a global recession, and with that, Marie Antoinette’s extreme headdresses soon fell out of fashion. That being said, in Great Britain, bonnets, pearls, shells, and veils were still considered appropriate hair accessories on special occasions. By the 1860s, hats were reintroduced into women’s wardrobes. Over-the-top feathered riding hats soared into the air and were considered most stylish when tilted onto the side of one’s head.