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What is a Fascinator?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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A fascinator is a headpiece which is designed to be attached to the hair in lieu of a hat. Traditionally, fascinators are worn by women only, and they are typically paired with formal wear, although one could wear a fascinator on less formal occasions. These hairpieces vary widely in size, shape, and style, from modest versions to decadent creations with feathers, silk, and tulle.

Any number of things can be included in a fascinator, which is typically attached to the head with a comb, pin, clip, or headband. Feathers and ribbons are common, along with silk flowers, but it is also possible to see ribbons, various fabrics, and beading, among other things. In some cases, a fascinator even teeters on the line of hatdom, looking more like a small hat and less like a hairpiece.

Fascinators were especially popular in the early 20th century, and for some examples of classic fascinators, flapper hairstyles are often an excellent resource. Fascinators can be used to draw attention to unique or complex hairstyles, to complement fine formal wear, and to dress up a more casual look. In the modern day, women have fewer causes to don a fascinator: they tend to show up at weddings and formal horse racing events more than anywhere else.

The diversity of fascinators allows them to be used in a variety of ways. More subdued fascinators, for example, can be worn to church, and some have partial veils attached, for women who like to wear modest veils while in mourning. Radical and festive fascinators can call attention to someone's head at a party, with trailing feathers, beading, and other ornaments, and fascinators made with fresh flowers can bedeck the heads of members of a wedding party. At formal events where fascinators are common, like the Ascot Races in England, women's fascinators may vie for attention, with extremely ornate styles being quite common.

One of the advantages to a fascinator, as opposed to a hat, is that a fascinator can be cheaply, easily, and quickly created, although it is also possible to purchase a fascinator. Some crafters enjoy making custom fascinators to go with various outfits, and creating a fascinator can be a fun project. Manufactured fascinators vary in style and quality, from extremely expensive versions bedecked with precious stones to much less costly and more modest styles.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon175855 — On May 13, 2011

How do you pronounce fascinator?

By anon171646 — On May 01, 2011

It's called a fascinator because of the feather a male bird uses to fascinate the female. Of course, in the human species, females try to attract the males with bright plumage.

By anon171042 — On Apr 28, 2011

I heard a milliner today say that the fascinator is a bird that fluffs up its feathers to attract the opposite sex.

By anon38212 — On Jul 24, 2009

I've always thought it was because they simply 'fascinate' people who see them...

By anon20436 — On Oct 30, 2008

I would like to know why they are called "Fascinators" - does anyone know the origin of the name?

By anon17820 — On Sep 08, 2008

Why are they called fascinators?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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