Is a fascinator a hat or a hair ornament? A cocktail hat is a small extravagant evening hat with a short veil. Fascinators are extravagant hair ornaments worn on the side of the head. Although fashion historians and purists might object the terms cocktail or evening hat and fascinator have become interchangeable, both referring to a small, elaborately decorated hat.
When a hat is part of an outfit it may be worn indoors except in an office. A large hat should be removed in theatres or anytime it obscures other peoples’ view. Many current hairstyles are not hat friendly, removing a hat exposes hat hair that is not quite as bad as bed-hair but not hair you want to be seen in public with. Enter the fascinator, which is small enough to remain on the head. Originally, a fascinator was a large, long scarf made in a fine lacy knit worn over the head or around the shoulders. Think of Betty Davis in the “Letter”. They were fashionable in the early 1890’s and worn at intervals since. The term fell into disuse by the 1970’s. It has been recently been made popular by the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton); however, the modern fascinator has little in common with it predecessor. The modern version is more like a hair ornament on steroids than a scarf. It is usually made with feathers, flowers or beads and is attached to the hair by a comb, headband or clip.
A fascinator may be worn instead of a hat on occasions when a hat was traditionally worn such as weddings, or as an evening accessory. It is generally worn with formal attire. Current fascinators tend to project a sense of frivolous humor.