Fascinators: five things royal wedding fans need to know about the accessory

A fashion staple for big occasions since the 1920s, fascinators shouldn’t be mistaken for hats; they are less substantial, and are usually affixed to the front or side of the head

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2018, 1:17pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2018, 1:16pm

An extravagant collection of elaborate fascinators is the one thing spectators should expect from the wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Saturday.

Female guests will likely be sporting a dizzying array of headpieces at Windsor Castle – at past royal weddings we have seen some of the most extravagant and bizarre examples.

Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie lit up the internet with their bold choices – an elaborate pale pink hat with a giant bow standing on top of it and a blue cap with an explosive spray of flowers and feathers – seven years ago at the wedding of Harry’s older brother, Prince William, and Kate Middleton.

Beatrice, whose pink headgear was likened to a pretzel, afterwards sold it on auction site eBay for £81,100 (US$109,000) and donated the proceeds to charity.

Since women in the royal family must wear hats for formal occasions, Meghan Markle, who’s American, has also started experimenting with the British accessory since the announcement of her engagement in November.

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She has been seen in public in at least three different outfits with fascinators, which added a royal flair to her increasingly elegant style.

Here are five things you may not know about fascinators:

1. Where they come from

The small headpiece pinned to the wearer’s head with a clip or comb has its roots in the 15th century, when European women in the Renaissance started to adorn their heads with veils and coifs even outside of religious or ceremonial occasions.

Headpieces became more intricate, with various forms, in the following centuries. In the 19th century, women were wearing scarfs around their heads and tied under the chin. The name “fascinator” originates from the “fastened” scarfs.

It was only in the late 1920s that present-day fascinators started to become popular. Their popularity has risen steadily since then thanks to milliners including Philip Treacy, who designed the famous cap worn by Beatrice.

2. How to wear them

Fascinators are usually affixed to the front or side of the head, and go well with simple hairstyles such as a ponytail. People wear them on occasions ranging from weddings to drinks parties and horse races, where hats are customary.

As fascinators generally have big decorations, wearers should be mindful to take them off indoors to avoid blocking the view of others, especially at a cinema or theatre.

3. Why they’re everywhere at major horse races

Fascinators have become wardrobe staples at horse racing events such as Royal Ascot in Britain and the Melbourne Cup in Australia. The tradition of wearing headgear on race days began in the early 20th century, when the affluent like to show off their wealth at these events. Women would wear their finest dresses and extravagant hats as a way to indicate their status and fashion sense.

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4. How are they different from hats?

Fascinators are smaller than hats, and do not have a brim as hats do. They also have bigger decorations. A hat is considered more formal than a fascinator. Many praise Kate Middleton’s tendency to wear fascinators instead of hats, which brings a sense of freshness to the royal family’s public image.

5. Where can you buy a modern-day fascinator?

You can get your own high-fashion fascinators from millinery brands, such as Philip Treacy. Other notable designers include Stephen Jones, Piers Atkinson, and Eugenia Kim. Fascinators can also be bought through online shopping sites such as Net-a-Porter and, with prices ranging from HK$10,000 (US$1,275) to HK$45,000.