“Fascinator” is an example of something that my brother calls “24 Hour Syndrome”, a word or phrase that you hear or read for the first time and then encounter again in a completely different context within the next 24 hours. Looking back over the 580 pieces that are available to you on this Blog right now I am surprised to find that “24 Hour Syndrome” has not yet been mentioned, but the concept is similar to that covered in a few playful “Coincidence Corner” pieces posted in 2016, beginning with this one. They developed from the idea of people claiming that things are “amazing coincidences” when really they’re not. As I noted here in 2015: “Things happen. We are not surrounded by weird coincidence every minute of the day.”
My first encounter with the word “fascinator” over the weekend was in the ITV quiz show “The Chase”. The episodes that are currently being broadcast, on both ITV and Challenge, are all repeats. I often tune in for the last 10 minutes of these repeats, the 2-minute rounds which decide if the contestants win any money or are caught by The Chaser. One such question last Saturday asked where, on the body, would a fascinator be worn. The answer: the head. That was news to me.
The following morning I heard a discussion about fascinators during this episode of “Desert Island Discs”, in which hat designer Philip Treacy selects the eight recordings he would take to his desert island. I am a fan of the show but have missed out on plenty of episodes from the last year or two. I have taken to listening to downloads while out walking, though there is always a danger that the interviewee could recount something that leaves me misty-eyed. That was certainly the case with David Baddiel talking about his late mother, followed by the recording of his 10-year-old daughter singing a version of “Your Song”. Fortunately I was listening to those moments at home. John Motson describing his memories of Hillsborough was something I would rather have heard in private than in public.
Kirsty Young’s introduction for Philip Treacy includes the following: “Not for him the charms of the dainty pastel-feathered fascinator. No, his hats are constructions of such spectacular drama, ingenuity and engineering that he’s turned millinery, well, on its head.” Early in the show the word is discussed at more length, with Treacy explaining how people are supposed to dress for Royal Ascot:
“People have to wear a hat, they can’t wear an excuse for a hat, so that dreaded word fascinator that we all hate … it just sounds like a dodgy sex-toy to me … it sounds like such a weird word … a fascinator really is sort of a hairband with a floppy flower on it and any child can make a fascinator. So, a hat is a different thing …”
Dictionary.com defines it as “a scarf of crochet work, lace, or the like, narrowing toward the ends, worn as a head covering by women.” You can see several examples on this page from bridesmagazine.co.uk, a site that had passed me by before today. It has the title “12 Times Kate Middleton Wore The Perfect Wedding Fascinator” and if you scroll through it you will see, among other things, “a fun feathery” creation, “a striking swirly design” and “how a circular fascinator looks great with a loose hairstyle”. None of these examples is described, in the words of Philip Treacy, as “sort of a hairband with a floppy flower on it”. Clearly the Duchess of Cambridge would never wear such a thing.