I’m going to a wedding in England this summer and I’m pretty pleased about it. Of course, I’ll be happy to see the bride and groom get married, and to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a year or more, but mostly I’m looking forward to what I’ll get to wear: a fascinator.
For those of you who aren’t in the know, a fascinator is one of those funny little creations that Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, has on her head a lot (and that everyone who came to her wedding competed with each other to have the wildest one of): a construction of shapes and ribbons, or possibly plumes, which sits rakishly over your ear or slants seductively down over your eyes. It’s the done thing over there at “occasions” to wear one of these, that or a hat, and I’m looking forward to being someone who’s got one on.
In fact, I already have mine. I bought it last September at a very posh “occasion” store in Royal Tunbridge Wells down in Kent. It was for my step-daughter’s wedding and when my colleagues heard how much I had spent on it, they suggested I recycle it for this time round. Actually, they said I ‘d better recycle it.
Let’s face it, where can you wear stuff like that over here? If you showed up for a wedding with a bunch of feathers on your head in Connecticut, most people would ask you if it were your Halloween costume. The only community in Connecticut where it’s a completely respectable thing to wear a hat on your head to go to an “occasion” is in the African-American community. You can believe I take full advantage of this. Not because I’m African-American, but because I work in an inner-city school where half of the children and their parents are.
Now, I don’t want you to think I show up for work looking like I’m going to the Kentucky Derby every day, but in the winter time when it’s cold, I do wear fur hats. I have three. One my father bought for me a long time ago in a western currency shop in Leningrad and the other two were purchased more recently in Quebec City from a very funky shop on the Petit Champlain. Russia and Canada are two countries where wearing a hat in the winter isn’t just a fashion statement, it’s a necessity. I can tell you this because I once went out without a hat in February in Kiev and I can’t begin to describe what it felt like. I didn’t know ears could be that color, or that they could feel like that, and for so long after you came inside.
The vice-principal of the Lyceum where I taught English in Russia once said that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. He was a very philosophical person, as are most Russians. So, in Russia (and Canada) they’ve taken to designing fur clothes that look terrific, even if they might not be politically correct. (After all, I’m an animal lover, too, but do you know what it feels like to be out in -30 degree weather with a stiff wind off the Volga?) And even though I’m long returned from Russia, I still continue to wear a hat in the winter. My second graders run their hands over it for good luck when I dismiss them each winter afternoon.
I don’t think that the reason the English women wear fascinators is because of the weather. I mean what a good English downpour can do to a delicate head-concoction of plumes and feathers and beads doesn’t bear thinking about, but it might just be the reason they still wear hats. And for that matter, maybe those African-American ladies are merely continuing the Southern tradition of wearing a hat on your head when you go out in the brutal noonday sun. Maybe all fashion is still just determined by climate. Maybe we haven’t advanced all that much from the shapeless fur tunic days. But whatever the reason, I’m going to England with a fascinator in my luggage and a song in my heart. And I’ll be posing for all those wedding photos wearing an expensive hand-made headband decorated with feathers and plumes and loving every minute of it.