Guide: Historical Women’s headwear

Ladies in various styles of veil.
Medieval ladies in various styles of veil. Maciejowski Bible.

During the fourteenth century, adult ladies (and gentlemen) did not generally go around in public with their hair on display. Hair was considered private and not something to be displayed outside of the home, in the same way that Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women often cover their hair when out in public today. Fourteenth-century gentlemen would more commonly cover their hair with coifs, hats, or hoods, while ladies covered theirs with fabric veils and wimples.

This post will focus on the different headcoverings available to ladies of various classes during the fourteenth century, displaying some examples worn by our group members.

Why cover the hair?

Apart from the religious nature of veiling, covering the hair was often a highly practical measure in a culture where ladies’ hair was not usually cut short and so needed to be kept controlled so that a woman could carry out her daily tasks. Veiling could also help to keep hair more hygienic by preventing transmission of lice, and protect the hair from woodsmoke damage from the ubiquitous fires, as well as obvious protection from the sun.

Basic Headcoverings

Veils and wimples are some of the most common headcoverings worn by women in the fourteenth century. A veil is a cloth pinned over the top of a lady’s head and covering her hair, but leaving the neck uncovered. A wimple is another, similar cloth that can be worn in addition to this, and covers the neck. These would often be supported by fillets:small strips of fabric to attach veils to.

 

 

These are fairly basic headcoverings and would have been worn in various styles by ladies of all classes in the fourteenth century. Wearing a veil without a wimple was a less conservative style and more commonly found in young unmarried ladies or perhaps young and recently married ladies. Adding a wimple was a more conservative style and seen on older, married ladies. It was a must for widowed women, who would often wear it even higher than in the photo, completely covering their chin.

Higher Class Veils

As a general rule, the higher class a lady was, the less conservative her veiling could be. This often included very lightweight veils through which hair could be seen, more expensive veil fabrics such as silk, or elaborately decorated fillets or snoods to contain the hair. While it was more permissible for higher-class women to show some hair, this hair would never be loose, but would always be styled (dressed) underneath, or perhaps contained within decorative fillets or snoods.

 

 

Hoods

Hoods were an outer-layer garment worn by both men and women, though there are some differences between men and women’s hood styles. Women wore their hoods for both warmth and to protect their veils, as veils could be damaged if they became wet. Hoods were always worn by women in addition to veils.

A lady wearing a hood. Note that her veils are visible underneath.
A lady wearing a hood. Note that her veils are visible underneath. Luttrell Psalter.

 

 

Note: While we have attempted to find images as date and regional appropriate as possible, it was necessary to make some concessions due to the lack of available public domain images, therefore some of these images as from as early as 1250 and as late as 1410, however, in all cases, the styles of veils they depict are well represented in late fourteenth century British manuscripts.

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