A British Invasion of Fascinators -- Feathers, Plumage and Flowers Oh My!

We are, after all, birds of a different feather.....

By , Contributor


The British have always embraced plumage with enthusiasm. Whether the delicate game bird they love to serve under silver domes, ceremonial helmets, quill pens or best of all, their unabashed adoration of chapeaux. 

No better exhibition of this passion was apparent than the parade seen entering Westminster Abbey on Friday. For those of us who rousted ourselves at 4AM EST so as not to miss a minute of the pageantry, we were treated to a gaggle of gals upon whose beautifully coiffed heads were perched more public art than millinery. 

They are appropriately called 'fascinators.'

The earliest representations of these were found at the end of the 16th century. English Cavaliers and French Musketeers sported feathery adornment upon their helmets. Part camouflage, part preening bird, they were to own this sartorial statement until women adopted the plumed extravagance and have never returned the favor. 

marie-antoinette.jpgMarie Antoinette, style maven, would attach diminutive ships, stuffed animals, butterflies and flags to her meter-tall wigs.  This era might be considered the advent of the fascinator.  While women have since eschewed the wigs: feathers, badges, jewels, fruit and flowers, artfully combined upon a clip, band or comb, are now reigning as the modern day cocktail hat.

Easier to wear and much more expressive than a brimmed version, these beauties can embellish the simplest suit or frock. Women of all ages can carry a fascinator.  Proportion, as well as a complementary coif dictates the difference between fabulous and folly.  Kate and Will's nuptials brought out the best in this category.

Victoria-Beckham-Royal-Wedding-Hat.jpgVictoria Beckham wore a simple navy dress of her own design (to complement her 7 months of pregnancy) in tandem with a Philip Treacy creation that was perched, ever so, upon her pouty countenance. Outrageous and creative, perfectly proportioned, Victoria expressed herself. I do think that a smile is the best and most beautiful accessory.  It would have been the perfect enhancement to her chic and sleek ensemble.  Smile, Victoria!

Princess Beatrice.jpgContrary to the elegant simplicity of Mrs. Beckham's choice, Princess Beatrice most definitely made a statement with her Treacy piece. Wedding etiquette dictates that a thoughtful guest should be considerate of upstaging the bride.  While no one could have stolen Kate's beauty and thunder, Beatrice tried.  Off with her head! 

SophieCountessofWessex.jpgOthers who triumphed with their millinery were the regal Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson (like it or not, it was a glorious ensemble) and Zara Phillips (part hat, part fascinator, totally magnificent!).

The proverbial genie is out of the bottle. British aristocracy is not known for setting the sartorial tone on this side of the pond however, these aristocratic guests have raised the bar for all weddings, fetes and horse races this season.  The Triple Crown showcases our millinery cream-of-the-crop set, so I'm quite sure that the horsey crowd is already speed-dialing the ateliers of Barbara Feinman and Suzanne Couture in New York City.

The Kentucky Derby, jewel in the Triple Crown, is America's venerable venue for all things chapeaux. Since our English counterparts have paved the path for every possible permutation of headgear, the viewing public will have our own royal fashion occasion to anticipate though it may not be quite the spectacle.

We are, after all, birds of a different feather.....

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Cynthia Carr Gardner is a free-lance stylist in New York, Los Angeles and Boston. She began her career at Glamour Magazine as a sportswear editor and arbiter of the famed 'Do's and Don'ts.' Her work spans 33 years incorporating feature films, commercials, and currently, personal stylist for ESPN Monday…

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