Collins English Dictionary defines the word fascinator as: a lightweight decorative head covering worn by women on formal occasions.
Fascinators are all the rage today and are absolute must-haves in any English lady’s wardrobe. Their popularity has expanded around the globe too because there are so many places to wear these amusing little accessories. But with very little investigation however, it looks like this modern trend actually has roots in 19th century England.
A Tiny Diamond Fascinator
Britain’s Queen Victoria ascended to the throne at the tender age of 18. A petite figure, she was not even 5-feet tall. Her 63-year 2-day reign at the time made her the longest ruling monarch in British history. Recently, her great-great granddaughter Elizabeth II surpassed that record however.
She was a vain monarch stories tell. And in her youth, she was focused on maintaining a teeny-weeny figure. Her husband of 2 decades died suddenly and unexpectedly throwing her into a period of mourning from which she never recovered. She kept her widow’s clothing on for her entire long life including the little lacey head covering that was part of her ‘widow’s weeds’ as the ensembles were called. She was summoned back to public life by her exasperated subjects after more than a decade of retiring from society.
No Colors Allowed Please
During the Victorian era, and probably afterward, there were very specific rules governing the restrictive use of mourning attire. The wearing of only black attire was expected. Jewels should likewise not be colorful. So, during that period, black jewelry became popularized by Victoria who loved her jewelry but could not be seen wearing colorful accessories. Diamonds were thought to be ok to wear as they were colorless.
Returning to public service, Victoria commissioned a regal headdress that could sit atop her lacey widow’s cap. She didn’t fancy the heavy Imperial and State crowns that were head-ache producing, and also would not stay secure over her lacey cap. So, a miniature version of these imposing regal crowns was commissioned by her using diamonds from her own necklace. Although diminutive, the mini-crown’s design followed traditional crown standards.
Because of its petite size - 4 inches across by 4 inches high – the crown possesses no internal lining like the large sized versions made before it. Her early fascinator consisted of 1,162 brilliant cut diamonds and 138 rose-cut diamonds weighing 132 carats in total. The metal was silver, a ‘modern’ choice at the time, since saving money on gold was not an issue.
If You Got It, Flaunt It
Some historians claim she also loved this miniature head gear because it accentuated her small frame.
She wore this unique headpiece for the opening of the Parliament and for many occasions thereafter.
Queen Victoria’s first fascinator was so identified with the sovereign that it was placed on her coffin top before her funeral in 1901.