Kate Middleton starts hat-craze stateside

Princess-to-be Kate Middleton is being touted worldwide as a "fashion icon." and it seems some of her style sensibilities are making their way to the United States. Most notably, her love for hats, which local retailers say has given the headwear market a welcome boost.

At local accessory boutiques, more and more clients are coming in asking for a british staple. "I'm interested in the fascinators - the little ones - those are cool. I think that would be fun," said Sara Baker, one shopper.

Here in the U.S., they used to be called "cocktail hats" and were rather rare -- until Kate Middleton made the fascinator modern, youthful and chic.

"It's a small hat that sits on top of your head. It's not quite a hat but it has features of a hat - this is on a headband," explains Anna Fuhrman of The Proper Topper, a Dupont boutique that specializes in the hats.

Fascinators come in an array of styles and colors with feathers, ribbons and flowers. But this season, trend-setters aren't stopping with these mini headpieces.

Danielle Benson has studied abroad in London and says hats were "definitely the accessory" there. "In fact, the bigger, the better," she said.

In Silver Spring, Sharon Bullock, owner of Metamorphosis boutique, said hats have a transformative power. She calls it 'hatitude.'

Beyond weddings, horse races and church services, hats are an easy way to add a little whimsy to your wardrobe which is why the Proper Topper's Fuhrman said American women are now investing in headpieces.

"I think a few years ago this would have been over the top but because Kate Middleton wears them a lot, Sarah Jessica Parker wears them, they've become so much in the lexicon of hats," she said. "And once you try them, it's hard to leave bare-headed."

Despite this trend, finding fancy fascinators and hats can be a challenge. Right now, it's mainly small, specialized boutiques that stock the headpieces.