Guide: Historical men’s headwear

During the 14th 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 14th Century men would commonly cover their hair with coifs, hats, or hoods. 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 14th 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.

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 wood smoke and also limited the spread of lice. In warm weather, lightweight brimmed hats kept the sun off and in winter a heavyweight woolen hoods helped keep the wind and the rain out and kept one warm.

Coifs
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, coifs 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. This would stop it 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 14th Century, use of coifs decreased 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 conservatively dressed, for example physicians and lawyers. You can see parallels of this today with lawyers even now wearing more formal clothes than the average person (you would also probably be more likely to trust a lawyer wearing a suit than a pair of jeans). Although coifs were much rarer by the end of the 14th Century amongst all class, they did persist well into the 15th Century.

Hats
Hats were also common headgear for 14th 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, for example the “bycocket”, a style of felted hat often worn for hunting.

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 woolen 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 always have a front opening because they did not need to be worn in conjunction with veiling as women’s hoods were. 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 beginning of the 14th Century and by its end were the most abundant type of headwear, worn by all classes. In the late 14th Century, hoods begin to be worn 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 so-called ‘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
From the mid-14th Century, some fashionable men took to wearing their hoods in a style now known as a ‘chaperon’. To do this, the face opening was rolled back before being placed on the head like a hat. The liripipe was then wrapped around the hood to create a decorative shape.

As time progressed, this style became more exaggerated until, in the 15th Century it developed into a hat consisting of a stuffed roll of fabric with trailing vestiges of the liripipe and cape.

 Garrison Members’ Hats

A coif:

A straw hat:

A pilgrim’s hat:

A hood, worn conventionally:

The same hood, worn chaperon style:

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. However, in all cases, the styles of headwear they depict are well represented in mid to late 14th Century British manuscripts.

Author: Sally

Hi Everyone, I am the current Treasurer for the Cardiff Castle Garrison. I'm interested in all thing living history including crafts, textiles, cookery and daily life in the medieval period, with a particular emphasis on late 14th Century fashion. I am currently a 3rd year Geology and Physical Geography student at USW. In my spare time I like to spend time horse riding and am hoping to start riding side saddle in the near future.

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