The Burgeoning of the Headdress in Medieval and Renaissance Fashion
Throughout the history of clothing, the headdress has been part and parcel of proper attire. It was an essential accessory on one’s person ever since people began to develop a sense of clothing in medieval times going toward a more decorative trend in the duration of the Renaissance and even the next century after.
Perhaps wearing some sort of head covering emerged when mankind began declaring war on one another, primarily as a form of protection for the head. Eventually, when Christianity was introduced and spread throughout early medieval civilization, people, notably women, began to include some kind of head covering in their medieval clothing concerns.
Middle Ages Headgear
In the late High Middle Ages, the Western world began to dress in what can definitively be recognizable fashion. While it was acceptable for Italian women to have uncovered hair, women elsewhere in Europe wore a succession of headdresses, from the wimple to the barbet and fillet, a band passed under the chin and a headband to secure a linen cap or coif and a veil. As well, thick hairnets known as crespines confined the hair to the sides of the head. At this time, men were walking around in Tristan clothing with heads uncovered.
When the 15th century came in, it ushered in extremes and extravagances in the form of voluminous medieval dresses called houppelandes and saw increasing importance in headdresses that became more and more elaborate, jeweled and feathered. The crespine became a bejeweled mesh caul, which gathered the hair neatly to the back of the head. The most extravagant headdress was the hennin, a cone-shaped cap with a wired frame covered in fabric and topped with a veil. Men now wore doublets and hose characteristic of late medieval men’s clothes, displaying headdress extravagance with tall-crowned hats with short brim or without brim.
The Golden Era of the Headdress
When the Renaissance era dawned on Western civilization, headgear burgeoned into its elaborate best. As the different regions of the Old World began to develop their own styles of Renaissance clothing, a variety of headdresses thrived with their matching dresses. Unique to England was the gable hood, a wired headdress shaped like the gable of a house. It had embroidered lappets framing the face and a loose veil behind. The French hood concurrently became popular in France, arched in shape and placed further back of the head to show center-parted hair that were pinned and twisted beneath the veil.
Men, on the other hand, wore large pancake-shaped hats to complete their Tudor clothing as inspired by Henry VIII. The German barrett, with a turned-up brim, was particularly fashionable throughout the period. The trendsetting Henry VIII himself and his courtiers wore a similarly flat hat with a “halo” brim.
By the time Elizabeth I became a prominent fashion influence, headdresses were reduced to decorative accessories to complete Renaissance costumes. Cauls and coifs still endured in women’s fashion strictly to keep elaborate hairstyles in place, while men’s hats derived from the flat hat its gathered crown but eventually became taller. A bit later, the conical capotain became fashionable. Nevertheless, all hats were decorated with a jewel or a feather.
Brian Day writes articles related to renaissance costumes and medieval clothes.
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