Monday, July 8, 2013

Fascinators: Modern, Victorian and Old West Headwear


 
KateI’ve been rather fascinated by the word “fascinator” since hearing it used to describe some decorative head pieces – outlandish in some cases -- worn by guests at a certain royal wedding. When I recently saw a photo of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, with a lovely example topping her long dark tresses, curiosity got the better of me and I went hunting for the origin of these hair baubles.

First of all, what is a fascinator? According to Julie Boyne of V is for Vintage, a website I recommend, “A fascinator hat is a small ornamental headpiece that fits on the head using an alice-band-type base or headband or even a small comb. It is always lightweight and usually features feathers, beads or flowers. The [modern] use of the term fascinator began in the 1990s when such headpieces became popular for wearing at weddings without ruining your lovely hairstyle or giving you a helmet head.”
Victorian lace fascinator
However, the term dates back farther, at least to the late 19th century when it referred to a lace or crocheted head shawl. Secured to the crown or hairline, such delicate fascinators draped over the back of the head to the shoulders or lower, adding a hint of seductive mystery to proper Victorian ladies. By the 1930s, the term meant a lacy hood, but it faded from use soon thereafter, replaced by the small, chic cocktail hat -- bearing a strong resemblance to today’s fascinators.

During the 1960s, small decorative hats much like cocktail hats of the previous two decades were worn in Australia. They were called fascinators. At the same time the beehive hairdo worn by many American women offered a chance to attach all kinds of accents, also precursors of 21st century fascinators. 

The history of women’s headwear is an absorbing, sometimes jaw-dropping subject, summarized very well by Ms. Boyne on her informative site. While reading about it I kept wondering how much of the elegant millinery fashions of the 1870s, ‘80s and 90s made it to the western frontier. In many a western romance we read about dressmakers and milliners setting up shop in frontier towns. Were they actually that common? If so, did women’s hat makers find enough customers to earn a living? I mean, I can’t imagine farm and ranch wives, especially the hard scrabble ones, purchasing fancy hats when they could barely afford the basic necessities.

saloon girl & farm wife

Again turning to the internet, I found this staged photo on dreamstime.com of a saloon girl and a pioneer wife. It kind of makes my point, showing the young wife in a poke bonnet – practical for working in the hot sun on a farm or ranch. I guess that red feather in the cigar smoking saloon hostess’s hair does qualify as a fascinator, and I’ve read that “shady ladies” did dress in a more respectable fashion when not working. Presumably, that would include headwear.

I also learned that millinery truly was a very popular women’s enterprise across America, including the West, in the 19th century. Often, to support themselves or add to their husband’s income, milliners would diversify, combining hat making with dressmaking, a bakery, boardinghouse, etc. In 1873, in Kaluma, Washington Territory, one enterprising woman ran a millinery department in her husband’s men’s clothing store. In Helena, Montana, another woman operated her own branch of her husband’s millinery business in the 1880s, quite successfully it appears.These pioneer ladies were good businesswomen. Something to keep in mind for future novels!

That’s it for this month. If you have a spare moment, I invite you to stop by my remodeled website, where I will soon begin hosting guest authors on my Monday Author Meetup feature. http://lynhorner.com
 

21 comments:

Caroline Clemmons said...

Great post, Lyn. I wish we still wore hats because I have limp, lifeless hair that is so thin my scalp shows. A hat would improve my morale.

Lyn Horner said...

Caroline, I know what you mean. My hair used to be nice and thick but not anymore. I loved wearing little girl hats when I was a kid and looked forward to wearing "big lady" ones. Then came the flower children era and hats almost disappeared. I do own a red cowgirl hat that I love, but can't see myself wearing that around town. Darn!

Ginger Simpson said...

It's nice to know that others suffer from thinning hair. I was worried I had male pattern baldness, but the thinning seems to be confined to the very front. If I don't have a perm, my hair is hopelessly straight and unmanageable. Thank goodness for my hairdresser.
I so enjoyed the article, and although I did wear an Easter Bonnet when I was around ten, I often wish hats would make a comeback. Although, I tried wearing a cowboy hat during the country craze and I looked like a dork. I envy those gals who can wear a baseball cap and cover up a multitude of unruliness. :) Great article to stimulate conversation and teach us about Fascinators.

Lyn Horner said...

Ginger, you certainly aren't the only one. Unless I carefully style my hair, my scalp shows, mostly at the crown of my head. Annoying!

When I was about five or six, my parents and I were visiting my mom's family. They all lived in a small town about fifty miles from Minneapolis, where we lived. (My dad's family was down here in Texas.)

It was Easter and we went to church with the relatives. I got to dress up in a pretty dress, a small ruffled bonnet and lacy white gloves. I was so proud of my outfit. Oh, for the good old days!

Kathleen Rice Adams said...

Great post, Lyn! I've always loved hats. Like y'all, I wish they'd make a comeback. I love my Stetson, but there's just something so fun about a jaunty, feminine chapeau. :-)

Lyn Horner said...

Hi Kathleen, thanks for stopping by. Maybe if we all plead for hats to make a comeback, some fashion bigwigs might listen. Yuh think?

Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

We've been discussing facinators a lot in the Beau Monde lately. Something to so with Kate and Will's baby.

Gerri Bowen said...

Loved your post, Lyn. I think some of the fascinators are lovely, and wish I had places to go where I could wear one. Not surprised that Millenery shops were popular with those enterprising women of the west.

Carra Copelin said...

Great post, Lyn. Fascinating! I'll go ahead and join the group with my love of hats. I own several, but I'm never comfortable wearing them in public. Alas, they sit in their boxes waiting for me to get over myself. ;) Thanks for sharing this info today!

Lyn Horner said...

Ella, it was that photo of Kate in her pretty flower fascinator that prompted me to write this post. Thanks for coming by.

Lyn Horner said...

Gerri, I love them too, but I have no place to wear them. I so seldom dress up anymore. Millinery was one of the few respectable jobs open to women back when, so I guess it would be popular.

Lyn Horner said...

Carra, we need to start a hat wearing club, kind of like the Red Hat Society. Only we'd have to come up with a clever name befitting our writing profession. Maybe the Romantic Hat Guild, or something much cuter than that.

Sharla Rae said...

I loved this post and as much as I love old west history the term facinators is new to me. Thanks for the great info and fun info.

Ruby said...

I really enjoyed your article. I learn a little something everytime I come.I remember when hats were worn to church. Everyone wore their "sunday best" and there was formality.. Then I noticed a trend toward casual wear in church-jeans etc and no hats. In fact wearing hats became passe anywhere and the only place hats were worn was funerals and the Kentucky Derby. I was told once that women's hems changed with the stock market and the economy-same goes for hats I suppose. Of course the British will always wear hats for dress-up occasions.

Lyn Horner said...

Sharla, the term was new to me too until I heard it used to describe the headwear worn by several women at Kate and William's wedding. I'm glad you enjoyed the blog.

Lyn Horner said...

Ruby, I enjoy casual dress but must confess I miss seeing ladies dressed up in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. Same goes for the gents. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Glad you liked my post.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Too bad hats have dropped in popularity since the 1950's here in the US. I love hats, little fascinator types included, but it takes a brave soul to wear them now. I have a big collection that includes some hats from the 60's like the pill box style worn by Jackie Kennedy. Maybe the British love of hats will stretch across the pond.
Great article, Lyn.

Ellen O'Connell said...

I'm of the age and from the religion that if you didn't wear a hat to church, a nun would come along and embarrass you to death by pinning a tissue on your head. So I wore hats to church for a lot of years and can't say I miss them.

I was only familiar with the term fascinator to mean a shawl-type thingy in the 1800's. Didn't know the term was still in use.

Meg Mims said...

I had no idea I used to wear fascinators myself in church... until the times changed and we refused - if boys didn't have to wear hats, we weren't gonna either. LOL... the nuns used bobby pins to put Kleenex on our heads. Wonder if that counted as a fascinator. ;-)

I remember the pillboxes and veils, and I'm actually fascinated by the English hats for Ascot current and in the past. My rebellion is over.

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Abdul Bari Chanessra said...

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