History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

27 December 2006

Headresses: fashion? Or a medeival torture device?

I found a fabulous book at our local library called Medieval Costume in England and France The 13th, 14th and 15th centuries by Mary G Houston.

My current fascination is with the elaborate headdresses of the time. Here are a few:

Forked head-dress.
Butterfly head-dress.
Steeple head-dress--also called a "Henning."
Horned head-dress.

These started out simple and became these large, heavy, elaborately decorated contraptions that had to be stiffened with wire. They weren't worn upright, but sticking out behind the wearer at about a 45 degree angle. My hair is approximately hip length and if I put it into an updo in that angle...YOUCH! It pulls horridly against the scalp and makes my eyebrows float upward like I've had one too many trips to the plastic surgeon. I can hardly imagine an extra five pounds of weight pulling my eyebrows and hairline back. And that was before aspirin.

Anyway, these were held in place with ornamental pins. The heaviest of the heavy used a Frontlet. The Frontlet is a type of cap made of wire netting. It passed over the head and allowed a small loop to appear on the forehead. It was covered in black material and was used to take the strain and discomfort off the head of the wearer of these tall hats.

Okay... so I guess my question is... often they say they women of this time were of the fashion to pluck their forehead and eyebrows. I dunno. Seems to me that sort of weight would just cause someone to start going bald in the front the same way wearing a hair clip in the same place day after day can cause hair loss. And--yikes!--I know that type of achy dull headache I get from a misplaced hair pins/hairbun makes me want to snatch out my eyebrows.

LOL! So, I'm glad this fashion has gone away, but it's fun to study.


Blogger Unknown said...

It's honestly not that bad to wear, I swear! Your hair is low, coiled against the head as an anchor, the hat is set over the hair and pinned on (an none of the Medieval hats I’ve ever worn was anywhere near 5 lbs, more like a big cowboy hat in weight). The worst part? The veil, hands down. It catches on bloody everything! And big hats really suck in a high wind. *grin*

(yes, I grew up in the Society for Creative Anachronism, and I’ve worn lots of silly hats over the years . . .)

8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have any idea how or why these came into fashion? Were they an outgrowth (oooh pun -- sorry) of a more practical type of headcovering -- for warmth say. There are so many examples of this culturally -- like wathces today --once used so you would know the time --now more of a fashion accessory.

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I thought those outlandish hairdo's on Disney witches were new? Guess they just looked in a history book to come up with the "forked" look.
Mind you, a glance in some upscale hair salon magazines makes one wonder about the sanity of women who would wear some of the avant garde dos shown there

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yikes! Headache here, too! Great post.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

So the women wore their hair in a low bun as a sort of shelf for the headdress? Still, it gives me a headache. I often get a headache from just a ponytail, but I guess you'd get tougher over time.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Frequently there are no extant examples of clothing to look at, esp when one starts getting into the Medieval eras and earlier. Trial and error and a sense of humor are all reenactors have. Follow this link to see one intrepid reenactor’s attempt to recreate the Butterfly Henin. I think she did a pretty good job (though it’s more likely, IMO, that some kind of bent reed or willow was used to hold up the veil, than a metal support).

3:50 PM  
Blogger Jessica Trapp said...

kalen: great link! HOLY FREAKIN' COW... It says they may have wore 'em up to two feet in height or more. I can just imagine the scene:
Blam! Blam!
Hero: "OUCH!
Heroine: "Oh, I'm sorry, Sir Knight, I didn't mean to poke out your eye with my headdress."

Mary: yes, they came from smaller more moderate styles into huge contraptions. I think about those shoulder pads in the 80s. Remember how they just grew, and Grew and GREW?

Janie: thanks!

Victoria: I'm not sure about a low bun as a shelf. hmmmm.... *thinks for a minute*...that sounds a little uncomfortable to me because it might cause a pull on the front of the scalp--some long hair has quite a bit of weight in and of itself. I don't have particularly thick hair, but I wrap mine around my head or pile it up on top to keep that dull achy headache away. Low buns are better than at the back of the head, but still not all that great at distributing weight. I guess that's why they used the Frontlet, but I can't imagine that even with it those tall, tall hats would be comfortable. Then again, I know women who wear pointy toed high heels every day, so my comfort factor may just be higher. :)

8:26 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

LOL, Jessica! Blows me away, too, when I see images of medieval women wearing those hat-contraptions while riding a horse!

9:02 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

The doorways were so much shorter then, I can't quite imagine adding twenty inches to your head. Unless you are looking for a little more humor in your life.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The doorways in common peoples' houses are short, but the doorways in castles and manses of the kind a woman wearing one of those hats lives in are not short. And you have to remember that many styles of hat are for outdoor use, and were not intended to be worn around the home.

I know in 15th and 16th century Germany (my Medieval specialty) the large veils that look like flying nun hats were specifically for church. During a woman’s regular day she wore a simple caul to cover her hair (kind of like a snood) and if she went out in the street she put a much simpler hat on over the caul.

So you frequently have to know the purpose/history of the item of clothing too.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

So now we know why fashion changes so rapidly. Someone comes up with a new style, usually exteme, everyone dives in to try it, and then they spend evey waking hour trying to come up with something new that means they can avoid the current form of torture.

7:24 PM  

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