Historical Men’s Headwear

During the fourteenth century, it was normal for adult men to go out in public with their heads covered;  in much the same way as Orthodox Jewish men often wear some form of head covering when outside today. In the fourteenth century men would commonly cover their hair with coifs, hats, or hoods, and later in the century chaperons also started to appear. This post will focus on the different headcoverings available to people of various classes during the fourteenth century, and will show both historical images and modern recreations as worn by members of the Garrison. It will focus exclusively on civilian headwear and will not look at military helmets. There will be a post discussing military helmets appearing shortly.

Why cover the hair?

There were many considerations which influence the abundance of headcoverings for men. Apart from religious motivations, covering your head was a vastly practical thing to do: it helped keep hair more hygienic by protecting it from damage by wood smoke, and also limited the spread of lice. In warm weather lightweight brimmed hats kept the sun off and in winter a heavyweight woollen hoods helped keep the wind and the rain out, and kept one warm.

Basic Headcoverings

Coifs were the most basic form of headwear for men in the fourteenth century, and were either worn on their own or are occasionally depicted in manuscripts worn in conjunction with hats and hoods. They were typically made of unbleached and undyed linen, which allowed them to be washed frequently, as they come in direct contact with the body. At the beginning of the century they were worn by a wide cross section of society from the very poorest to wealthy individuals. The main difference between lower-  and higher-class coifs was the quality of fabric used to make them; with lower-class coifs made from unbleached, coarse linen, and higher-class coifs made of bleached, finer linen.

Coifs can be worn in conjunction with hats and hoods as the linen would absorb sweat and grease from the hair, stopping this from soaking into the coloured wool of the hat or hood, which needed to be washed as little as possible to stop the dye from fading. During the fourteenth century use of coifs was decreasing dramatically amongst the upper echelons of society and coifs were more likely to be seen on poorer individuals or those who needed to appear respectable and/or old fashioned, for example physicians and lawyers. You can see parallels of this today with lawyers even now wearing more formal clothes than the average; you would probably be more likely to trust a lawyer wearing a suit than a pair of jeans. British lawyers today still wear old-fashioned horsehair wigs in court. Although coifs are much rarer by the end of the fourteenth century amoungst all class they did persist well into the fifteenth century.

Hats

Hats were also common headgear for fourteenth century men, and were worn by all classes of society. Straw hats were one of the most basic types of hat, and were generally wide-brimmed and used to protect the head and neck from the sun. Pilgrim hats were also common, in a wide-brimmed style similar to a basic straw hat. These hats were worn as a practical garment to keep out sun and rain whilst on pilgrimage. They were made of felted wool in various colours, and often had some kind of religious adornment, for example some had one side of the brim pinned up with a pilgrim badge – an accessory which commemorated an individual’s pilgrimage. Other kinds of felted hat were also worn for a variety of activities. These include the “bycocket” (note, this appears to be a modern name for this style – in contemporary documents these are referred to as “hats”), a style of felted hat often worn for hunting, and the “bag hat” (again this is a modern term), a basic hat style which appears to be made from woven fabric rather than felt and was worn by many different classes.

Note: it is not necessary for Garrison members to wear a hat in conjunction with a coif unless they wish to. It is difficult to know how common the usage of coifs in conjunction with hats is, whilst there are some depictions of them worn in this style hats worn alone seem to be more common.

 

Hoods

Hoods were an outer-layer woollen garment worn by both men and women. Unlike today, they were a separate item of clothing and not attached to the main outer garment such as the coat or cloak. There are some differences between men and women’s hood styles. Men’s hoods did not have a front fastening because they did not need to be worn in conjunction with veiling as women’s hoods were, and were generally intended to be simply pulled over the head. Hoods were worn by people of all stations, and men’s hoods were often highly decorated with fashionable features such as dagging, liripipes, embroidery and applique. Hoods appear to quickly replace the coif from the very begining of the century and by its end are the most abundant type of headwear worn by all classes. In the late fourteenth century, hoods begin to be warn by younger men in more daring and to modern eyes somewhat bizarre styles, apparently for the sake of fashion. It is theorised that this is where the later chaperon style comes from.

Note: again, it is not necessary for Garrison members to wear a hood in conjunction with a coif unless they wish to; perhaps if they are depicting someone from a more old-fashioned profession such as a physician.

Chaperons

These are highly stylised woollen hats consisting of a stuffed roll of fabric to be worn around the head with a liripipe and skirt. They are believed to have evolved from the more daring and fashionable ways of wearing hoods earlier in the fourteenth century, which are depicted above. They were generally worn by the wealthier classes. They start to appear in the late fourteenth century and the style persists into the fifteenth century.

 Garrison Members’ Hats

Here are several group members in their authentic headgear:

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 1415, however, in all cases, the styles of headwear they depict are well represented in mid to late fourteenth-century British manuscripts.

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