Fascinators, Hats & Headpieces. What's the History Behind Them? What Do I Choose for Myself?

Updated: Nov 23, 2019

One of America’s most famous milliners, or hat makers, was Mae Reeves. She created beautiful designs for some of the most elite Black women of the past. Her designs has a permanent collection by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American Culture. During the 1940’s and 50’s, Mae Reeves created hats for Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt and Marian Anderson. She was active in her field from 1940 until 1997. Sadly, Reeves passed away in 2016 at the age of 104 years old. Her granddaughter, Donna Limerick, continues to lift the memory of her grandmother’s legacy by showcasing her hats on display. Woman of any age has probably worn hats that have been inspired by Mae Reeves. The most seasoned of women acknowledges the beauty and originality that her designs exemplifies. A deeply rooted tradition in the African American community was wearing flamboyant hats to church, which has both spiritual and cultural significance. The centuries-old custom continues to flourish throughout the Southern U.S. and in strong Black Northern communities,

including Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and Harlem. An important cultural symbol has been made by these beautiful fabricated dress hats that have since evolved into an art form. See for yourself.

The 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 use of the term fascinator began in the 1990s when such headpieces became popular for wearing to weddings without ruining your expensive hairstyle or giving you a helmet head.

The headwrap originated in sub-Saharan Africa, and was often used to convey modesty, spirituality and prosperity. Even men in Africa wear head wraps to symbolize wealth and social status. Head wrapping is literally a way that Africans for centuries have been able to non-verbally communicate their place in life. The headwrap of a woman walking down the street will tell you if she’s a widow, a grandmother, or if she’s a married young woman. It has been an element in the daily living of an African woman. Headwraps also serve a practical function in protecting the head from the rays of the hot sun.

The variety of hairstyles and head-wear in Africa matches the diversity of the people who live on the continent. Different cultures have used hairstyles and headwear to show tribal association, gender, religion, job, and social status. In addition, the various cultures have created wigs, hats, hair ornaments, razors, and combs to aid in adorning the head. The importance of head-wear to African culture is witnessed by the many statues and masks of ancient Africa that show detailed hair ornamentation.

DIY: Making Your Own Hat; Creating A Unique Look

Girrrrrrrl, some of these hats are expensive!!!!!

Depending on what you are searching for, the pricing for hats can range from $17 for a straw sun hat to $500-$2000 for a more Kentucky Derby styled hat adorned with feathers and frills. Personally, I lack that much creativity to DIY and build my own hat or fascinator.However, it is super impressive and remarkable at how creative we women can be. I can definitely see the hat with colorful feathers and netting in my mind's eye, but that's not where I choose to focus my minimal creative energy. Notably, we women come with many talents, and I know there are those of you who could nail the DIY. For those of you who are great with your ideas and making them come to life, or just need an instructional video to follow. Here you go! Just know that if it looks good, I'll be coming to you to make an order. Good Luck!

The headpiece/ hair jewelry is yet another option women seek to make their outfit unique by creating a visible difference to the norm within the room. Historically, a headpiece is an object worn on the head for decoration or protection. Headpieces may refer to a typically thin metallic crown, headband, or tiara worn around the forehead. It was commonly worn by ancient rulers, and once served as a symbol of authority, power.

Ultimately ladies, anything you choose will be just perfect. Keep that chin up so your crown doesn't slip.