Hat Types: The Fascinator

Fascinator | Royal Hats

History: Since ancient times, women have been adorning their hair with ribbons, pearls, and feathers. These hair ornaments came into a Renaissance of sorts during the 18th-century in Europe. Women in the court of Louis XVI (1774-1791) wore ‘poufs au sentiments’ – large hairpieces that displayed ostrich feathers, butterflies, fruit, model ships, animals, jewels or whatever else struck the wearer’s fancy. During the 19th century, these hair embellishments decreased substantially in size and were replaced with bonnets and hats with much less elaborate trimmings.

The term ‘fascinator’ first appeared in America in the 1860s in reference to a lacy, light-weight, loosely-knitted  shawl worn over the head. When cocktail hats were introduced in the 1930s, they brought small feathered headpieces back into fashion. During the 1960s, it became fashionable to affix a veiled, feathered, bowed or beaded comb to one’s beehive hairstyle instead of wearing a full hat.

Embed from Getty Images
Lady Gabriella Windsor in 18th century costume for a ball at Kensington Palace, July 1, 2000

A second Renaissance for the fascinator was introduced in the early 1990s by London-based milliners Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy. By 2000, fascinators were seen on countless catwalks, the popular TV show “Sex And the City”, at the Ascot Races and on a number of royal heads. While the popularity of fascinators now seesm to be on the decline, you will still see them perched on heads at occasions where hats were traditionally worn- weddings, christenings, National Days, major royal events etc. The one place you will not see a fascinator is in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot- the dress code adopted in 2012 requires that all hat alternatives have base diameter size of 4 inches. For a fantastic history of the fascinator from the 13th century to current day, refer to this article at V is for Vintage.

Characteristics: A large hair decoration on a band, clip or comb usually with elaborate trimmings (feathers, ribbons, flowers, bows etc.). Like a cocktail hat, fascinators are usually worn perched on the top or side of the head and do not fully cover the wearer’s head. Unlike a cocktail hat, a fascinator does not have a large base.

Royals Associated with this Hat Style: Almost everyone:

The Duchess of Cornwall, May 6, 2006 | The Royal Hats Blog  Crown Princess Mette Marit, June 20, 2006 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Maria Carolina of Bourbon Parma, August 27, 2011 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Mabel, October 20, 2010 | The Royal Hats Blog

The Duchess of Cornwall, May 6, 2006; Crown Princess Mary, April 14, 2011; Crown Princess Mette Marit, June 20, 2006; Princess Maria Carolina, August 27, 2011; Princess Mabel, October 20, 2010

Princess Eugenie, June 17, 2006 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Irene, October 5, 2013 | The Royal Hats Blog Queen Elizabeth, May 17, 2008 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Marilène, October 5, 2013 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Michael of Kent, June 8, 2013 | The Royal Hats Blog

Princess Eugenie, June 17, 2006; Princess Irene, October 5, 2013; Queen Elizabeth, May 17, 2008;
Princess Marilène, October 5, 2013Princess Michael of Kent, June 8, 2013

 Princess Mathilde, April 30, 2006 | The Royal Hats Blog Queen Silvia, May 21, 2007 | The Royal Hats Blog

Princess Tatiana, April 14, 2011; Princess Mathilde, April 30, 2006;
Queen Silvia, May 21, 2007; 

Zara Phillips, November 2, 2009 | The Royal Hats Blog Queen Sofia, April 29, 2011 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Máxima, April 13, 2011 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Margriet; September 16, 2008 | The Royal Hats Blog Princess Alexandra, June 23, 2013 | The Royal Hats Blog

Zara Phillips, November 2, 2009; Queen Sofia, April 29, 2011; Princess Máxima, April 13, 2011; 
Princess Margriet; September 16, 2008; Princess Alexandra, June 23, 2013

I hope this clears up any confusion between a cocktail hat and a fascinator (the mainstream press often gets this wrong). As you can see from the parade of fascinators above, these headpieces come in all shapes, sizes, colours and materials and are limited only by the imagination of the designer. My favourite royal fascinator is the one Crown Princess Mary wore for the christenings of her four children… although like a moth to a flame, I am inexplicably drawn to the Philip Treacy black looped and feathered extravaganza on Zara Phillips above. What is your favourite royal fascinator?

Photos from Tim Graham and Antony Jones/Brendan Bierne/ UK Press via Getty; Pascal LaSegretain/Getty via Zimbio; Antony Jones via Getty; Britta Pederson/EPA/Corbis; Patrick van Katwijk via DPPAnwar Hussein  via Getty; Patrick van Katwijk via DPPAnwar Hussein via Getty; Patrick van Katwijk via DPP; Wakeham via CorbisBauer Griffin via Zimbio; Julian Parker/Mark Cuthbert and Chris Jackson via Getty; Sean Gallup and Robert Prezioso/Getty via Zimbio; Reuters; Associated Press via Sulekha; Patrick van Katwijk aand Patrick van Katwijk via Dutch Photo Press 

22 thoughts on “Hat Types: The Fascinator

  1. Does the Queen’s hairnet with bows come into the fascinator league? I am afraid I am not fasinated by the fascinators, I find them rather silly. But I am totally enchanted by Beatrice Barromeo’s.

  2. I think my favourite ones are those masquerading as cocktail hats, ie substantial enough that one can’t really tell about the base. Mary’s (which seems to me quite hatly, since it actually lies flat and covers quite a lot of the head) is good, and I also like Camilla’s beside it, and Mette Marit’s black one, as well as Tatiana’s very large blue flower. Of the less substantial ones, my favourites are Princess Margriet’s turquoise one, which just seems really well balanced with the outfit, as well as being a lovely and somewhat unusual colour, and Beatrice Borromeo’s swirl, which gets points for novelty pulled off with aplomb.

  3. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone’s feeling………….I just don’t get this craze for fascinators………..if I took a head band and glued some fluff and flowers with sparkles to it……….would that be a *fascinator*. The lady with the 2 black things going around her head, she is one very beautiful lady and yet those black things so distract from here face……..I just don’t get it or them………………maybe I am to old to understand these things, I like my hats sitting on my head, flat, titled or just looking pretty. Again I am sorry for hurting anyone’s feelings, I still don’t like them that is all.

    • No worries. We all can’t be expected to like all the hats! That’s what makes it interesting.

      You’ll be happy to hear that Philip Treacy announced last year that the Fascinator craze is over. We’re seeing less and less of them- in the Spring/Summer 2014 collections, there are lots of percher hats and cocktail hats but not many fascinators.

  4. I have never liked fascinators much but this post was so interesting. I hadn’t thought about how fascinators were a long part of history (longer than hats?) so thank you for this informative post. I was also very surprised to see Queen Elizabeth wearing a fascinator! I didn’t expect that! Before reading this post I would have thought that fascinators were mostly worn by the youngest royals but this shows that quite a few older ladies wear them and wear them very well. The red one is my favourite. That princess looks so elegant and classy.

  5. It is a two-way tie for me: Beatrice Barromeo’s gravity defying swirly thing. It should have been too odd for me, but on her lovely face it worked. Crown Princess Mary’s vintage floral look. So classic. So perfect for her.

  6. Well, to me it seems that the Queens of Europe that have been on the throne and been in the position of being Queen know what hats really are, these so called *fascinators* are not hats. They are things your wear on your head like bobby pins with flowers glued to them…….Hats sit on the head, not sliding down the side of the face or flying off into the air ………..

    • No matter how much one dislikes a fascinator, they still are an important style of royal headwear. For a comprehensive look at the world of royal hats, I’m afraid fascinators must be included.

      Feel free to disagree but please- let’s all be mindful of our tone.

    • What a rude comment. If you read this post you will learn that fascinators are a long established hat alternative worn by royals and nobles for more than 500 years.

      And for the record, they have been worn by Queen Silvia, Queen Sonja, Queen Beatrix, Queen Fabiola, Queen Paola, Queen Sofia, Queen Elizabeth, and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa. And of course, Queen Mathilde and Queen Maxima. So every living Queen has worn one. I have no idea the “real” Queen you are referring to who has not worn one.

      • Let’s keep the tone throughout this discussion respectful, please.

        I’m also curious too see Queen Paola and Queen Beatrix in a fascinator! Can you share a photo link?

  7. I have 4 favorites: the one worn by Crown Princess Mary, Princess Irene’s, Queen Sofia’s, and Princess Maxima’s. Princess Irene and Queen Sofia’s fascinators match their outfits so nicely, and I just like Mary’s and Maxima’s, they are flattering on them, and pretty.

  8. I have to stress, that NOWHERE on the Ascot website does it say that fascinators are not welsome at Royal Ascot. There is a clause with regards to entry to the Royal Enclosure which states “Hats should be worn; a headpiece which has a base of 4 inches (10cm) or more in diameter is acceptable as an alternative to a hat.” In fact in relation to the Grandstand (for the rest of us mere mortals!) the dress code states “Ladies are kindly asked to take particular note of the following: A hat, headpiece or fascinator should be worn at all times.”

    I hope this clarfies Ascot’s position of the fascinator as I know send multiple large fascinators and cocktail hats to Ascot and the Royal Ascot every year.

    The “banning” of fascinators at Ascot is simply a fallacy and mis-representation that has been peddled by the UK press to great effect, but the fact remains, that it is simply untrue!


    • I stand corrected- fascinators are not allowed just in the royal enclosure (since a fascinator does not have a base, it can’t meet the 4 inch minimum requirement). You’re right- there is a misnomer circulating in much of the press that fascinators are banned throughout Ascot when this is clearly not the case. Thanks for the correction.

      • The UK press were unbelievably sloppy last year (and the year before, when the changes to the dress code were initially brought in) and it is very damaging because clients simply aren’t aware of the truth.

        Every year it is a battle to re-educate people who have believed what they have read in the papers and online, which usually has been hyped up, but without checking for themselves.

        Ascot do have their “Hat Police” out in force offering suitable replacements for women who haven’t adhered to the dress code, but it’s very easy to get it right the first time.


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