Fascinated by Fascinators

 Caricature by Isaac Cruikshank, satirizing the
fashions of high-society Parisiennes, 1799

Have you ever worn a fascinator? It’s similar to a hat, minus the traditional crown or brim. It's usually worn at a rakish angle, and it can feature a small attached veil and/or feathers, ribbons, jewels or other types of trim. I think of it as a hat's less-inhibited, cheeky cousin - lighter and more fun. 

Although currently popular, fascinators in some form have existed for centuries. During the Regency and even earlier, women often wore jeweled headbands in their coiffures and added ornaments such as ostrich plumes or flowers.  

Similar hat-alternatives are worn today, and they are nowhere more in evidence than at the annual Royal Ascot races in Berkshire, England. In fact, hats for women are part of the dress code for this event, which dates back to 1711. The tradition of wearing flamboyant hats to the Ascot races was highlighted in the Ascot Gavotte scene in the 1964 movie My Fair Lady. The hats designed by Cecil Beaton were so large it was hard to see who was under them!

Today's attendees at the races wear similar outrageous headgear, both as fascinators or as oversize hats:
A race watcher in the Royal Enclosure
at the 2009 Ascot races.

The younger British royals favor fascinators, too. Here's a photo of Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, wearing a fascinator to the 2011 Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa:

Photo by Pat Pilon

Likewise, Princess Beatrice of York has several fascinators in her closet, including this one that she wore in April of 2012 to a Maundy Thursday service:

Princess Beatrice is also famous for wearing this fascinator, designed by Philip Treacy, to the royal wedding of her cousin Prince William to Kate Middleton: 

To me, Princess Beatrice's fascinator and the others on this page look like direct descendants of the type of headgear Marie Antoinette perched on her head.

A portrait of Marie Antoinette,
circa 1779 by Charles Emmanuel Patas 

What do you think? Are fascinators silly or high fashion? Let me know in the comments.


Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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