Fascinators have fascinated for 300 years

Paris's $5.99 fascinator

Paris's $5.99 fascinator

With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner and incomprehensibly depressing news out of Japan, it might be time for a pick-me-up on Thursday, March 17. One way to get in a festive mood on St. Patrick’s Day or any other day is to wear a fascinator, an accessory with a long history that’s had a comeback in the last couple of years.

You might have seen one of these hair accessories, usually made of feather plumes and beads attached to a comb or headband, on celebrities such as Kate Middleton or Paris Hilton.

A fascinator can dress up your day dress for an evening out or be added to any outfit as a signal that it’s time to celebrate, whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day, Middleton’s engagement party, Hilton’s 30th birthday party or whatever your occasion might be.

The good news is you don’t need to have either woman’s wealth in order to obtain this flirty headwear. Fascinators can be high fashion at featherweight cost if you look in the right places. They’re available for next to nothing at boutiques, department stores and outlets. I bought my peacock feather and rhinestone fascinator last December for $5.99 at Ross Dress for Less in Clackamas, Ore. That’s less than the average cost of going out to lunch and leaves room for other expenditures. May I suggest a donation to a charity helping out in the earthquake and tsunami relief effort in Japan?

Feather headwear has a long history. European aristocrats, both men and women, began wearing plumed cavalier hats (the hats worn by the Three Musketeers) in 17th century, according to headwear history expert Beverly Chico of the Chico Group in Greenwood Village, Colo. European women in the 18th century wore their own variations of the broad-rimmed plumed hats, Chico says. For example, Duchess Georgiana (Spencer) Cavendish, June 7, 1757-March 30, 1806, (played by Keira Knightly in the 2008 film, “The Duchess”) was known for wearing a tall feather plumes in her up-do’s to add height.

However, today’s fascinator takes its name from another hair accessory that bears little resemblance.  Originally, a fascinator was a decorative covering made of lace or other delicate material for the head and shoulders, Chico says.

“It has gone in and out of fashion since the 17th century,” Chico says. “By the 19th century Victorian era, somehow its name became interchangeable with ‘cloud,’ but I am not sure why.”

I wore my modern-day fascinator to Christmas and New Year’s parties and plan to don it as my St. Patrick’s Day patch of green (because of the green on the peacock feathers). So far, it’s brought in a flock of compliments, indicating this resurrected accessory hasn’t lost its ability to fascinate.

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    Paris Achen

    Paris Achen writes stories about fashion and education with the motto that a frugal fashionista must be a well-educated one. Her blog weaves together commentary on fashion, beauty and fun, frugal tips on how to net the looks on the catwalk. You ... Read Full
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