Coco’s Closet: Fascinators

-Izzy Fernandes (‘20)


The world seemed to pause for a moment on November 27th, when Clarence House announced the engagement between a certain red-haired prince and an American actress. It sent American media into a frenzy; some might even say more so than British media, considering how entranced the former is with the royal family. Additionally, it left millions wondering how her image as a Duchess would be shaped, and whether she would adopt many of the similar styles and pieces as the Duchess of Cambridge, including clutches, nude pumps and the decorative little headpiece known as the fascinator.

Fascinators saw their start in Louis XVI’s court in the 18th century, where French noblewomen would adorn their hair with extravagant hairpieces. These were constructed from an assortment of materials and often contained items, such as jewels or feathers, with a central theme. In some cases they depicted entire scenes with items such as model ships, or birdcages with live birds in them. Great Britain also saw a rise in lavishly decorated hair during this time, as French fashions easily reached them due to the close proximity (Royal Hats).

As time went on, these hairpieces decreased in size, and by the late 19th century they were replaced entirely by ‘doll’ hats, as these ‘doll’ hats were still elaborate while placing less strain on the neck. In the early 20th century, these hats were popular alongside brimless ‘toque’ hats, but both quickly went out of fashion as simplicity served a show of patriotism during World War I. After the war, however, the brimless hat made a comeback and the cocktail hat emerged. The latter is the closest in resemblance to the modern fascinator, and thus is dubbed the headpiece’s early ancestor (V is for Vintage).

By the 1950s, the cocktail hat was reserved for formal occasions and in the 1960s was marked as “elderly” fashion by the population, who considered it conformist and old-fashioned. Nonetheless, they reemerged in the 1980s as a fashion statement, and were seen regularly on Princess Diana and Grace Jones, amongst others. In the same decade, two London-based milliners, the world renowned Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy, attracted many royals and celebrities to their industry. This led to the fascinator becoming almost a standard for the elite of Great Britain, a place which it holds to this day (Allure).

Now, we see fascinators often, as they provide the perfect blend of refinery and fun for the wearer. Although they are most prominent in English society, they are popular for weddings, and more than a few can be spotted at the Kentucky Derby. Since they are often seen atop the heads of posh English women at formal events such as at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s royal wedding, we can expect more than a few of these at that of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

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