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A fascinator is a headpiece, a style of millinery. Fascinators were originally a type of lightweight knitted head-covering. Since the 1990s the term refers to a form of formal headwear worn as an alternative to the hat; it is usually a large decorative design attached to a band or clip, sometimes incorporating a base to resemble a miniature hat, in which case it may be called a hatinator.
In the 19th century, a fascinator was a lightweight hood or scarf worn about the head and tied under the chin, typically knitted or crocheted. It was made from soft, lightweight yarns and may originally have been called a "cloud." The "cloud" is described in 1870 as being "a light scarf of fine knitting over the head and round the neck, [worn] instead of an opera hood when going out at night." The fascinator went out of fashion in the 1930s, by which time it described a lacy hood similar to a "fussy balaclava."
The use of the term "fascinator" to describe a particular form of late 20th- and early 21st-century millinery emerged towards the end of the late 20th century, possibly as a term for 1990s designs inspired by the small 1960s cocktail hats designed to perch upon the highly coiffed hairstyles of the period. Although they did not give the style its name, the milliners Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy are credited with having popularised and established fascinators.
Today, a fascinator may be worn instead of a hat on occasions where hats were traditionally worn—such as weddings—or as an evening accessory, when it may be called a cocktail hat. It is generally worn with fairly formal attire.
A substantial fascinator is a fascinator of some size or bulk. Bigger than a barrette, modern fascinators are commonly made with feathers, flowers or beads. They need to be attached to the hair by a comb, headband or clip. The fun, fanciful decoration is often embellished with crystals, beads, or loops of ribbon, and attaches via a comb or headband; some have a small, stiff, flat base that can be secured with bobby pins. They are particularly popular at premium horse-racing events, such as the Grand National, Kentucky Derby and the Melbourne Cup. Brides may choose to wear them as an alternative to a bridal veil or hat, particularly if their gowns are non-traditional.
At the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in April 2011, various female guests arrived wearing fascinators. Among them was Princess Beatrice of York, who wore a piece designed by the Irish milliner Philip Treacy. The unusual shape and colour caused quite a media stir and went on to become an internet phenomenon with its own Facebook page. Princess Beatrice used the publicity to auction it off on eBay, where it garnered 99,000 Euros for charity.
In 2012 Royal Ascot announced that women will have to wear hats, not fascinators, as part of a tightening of the dress code in Royal Ascot's Royal Enclosure. In previous years female racegoers were simply advised that "many ladies wear hats."
The term hatinator, which emerged in the early 2010s, is used to describe headgear that combines the features of a hat and a fascinator. The particular style of headgear favoured by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is sometimes described as a hatinator.
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