Headgear: A brief introduction

By Lady Jehanne de Hugenin

This handout is intended as a general survey of some trends in medieval headgear; for more detailed and hands-on information you’ll have to do your own research. I’ve included a bibliography and a list of useful SCA internet sites.

This is also a fairly selective discussion, and there will be examples of headgear in various timeslots with which I have not dealt at all. I have, however, tried to cover the major ones.


The hat maketh the wo/man! It’s always a source of sadness to me how many people make magnificent SCA costumes and then fail to complete them with the relevant headgear. More than any other accessory, what you wear on your head completes the look of your clothing; it’s essential to the flavour of the majority of centuries in the medieval era.

More than this, the presence of headgear can be a matter of social usage as well as look. This is, of course, doubly true of women. Most early male personas can get away with no headgear, and even in later centuries the absence of a hat or hood is not a major social faux pas. When it comes to women, however, it is pretty generally the case that her head should be covered, and there are very few times and places where an uncovered head would be acceptable. (The late 14th century is one example of the feminine uncovered head).

Men’s headgear can be either the hat or the hood variety. .Generally, women wear veils of one kind or another, often attached to some kind of head-dress; I have given a rough outline of the trends below. The useful thing with a lot of women’s headdresses is that it’s easy to hide a short modern hairstyle underneath them!

NB the examples below are rather skewed towards England and France, as those are the main areas covered by the costume books in my possession.

including Saxons, Franks, Merovingians, etc.
Not a lot. By and large, they seemed to go bare-headed.The veil. Saxon and suchlike was a rectangular or oval, worn on top of the head with a head-rail, and with the hair plaited beneath it.
13th centuryI’ve found some examples of a weird little cap thing, possibly more lower than upper-class.The veil becomes more complicated, and the wimple makes its appearance - a second veil covering the neck.We also see the barbette, a band of linen worn under the chin, with either a filet around the temples or a stiffened band of linen that looks like a pill-box hat. Hair tends to be gathered into a net rather than simply plaited.
14th centuryThe caped hood makes its appearance. Later in the century this is extended into the liripipe, the long cock’s-comb extension to the hood part.The temporary disappearance of the veil! The hair is simply plaited into two vertical plaits which frame the face. Later in the century, a vertical frame is made from wire and the hair stuffed into it.
15th centuryThe liripipe hat: the hood is not worn over the face, but instead is wrapped around the head to create a hat effect, and the cockscomb bit allowed to dangle. Various types of hats also appear.Hat city! The henin (pointy cone hat, worn with a veil dangling from the tip); the butterfly head-dress(veil dangling from two stiff wires); the horned head-dress (padded horn shape covered with a veil); various sorts of turbans. An extravagant century.
16th centuryHats! The dashing little pork-pie variety, or the big squashy Henry VIIIth look.The gable head-dress (a stiff linen frame to the face, with a velvet bag encasing the hair at the back), or the French hood, a rather attractive jewelled circlet standing up on the head, with the veil behind.


Mary G. Houston. Medieval Costume in England and France. 1939. London: Black.
Francis M. Kelly and Randolphe Schwabe. A Short History of Costume and Armour, chiefly in England. 1931. London: Batsford.

Internet resources

How to wear a veil, or a veil and circlet (or just a circlet) gracefully, with photos. (1000-1300 or so)
Easy Men’s Hats - (1200-1470s; concentrated on the later range) Yup, even the men wore something on their heads. (class)
Women’s Rolled (stuffed) Hats (1390-1470)- and variations thereon. (class)
Men’s Rolled (stuffed) Hats (1390-1470)- and variations thereon. (class)
A 13th Century hat for women (the “coffee filter hat” sometimes called a “toque” or “fillet.”)
How to be a Hoodlum (1300-1470)- The medieval hood for men and women. (class)
Coifs (1200 onwards)- More specifics for men and women. (class)

Mistress Cori on Headrails
Also look at the page of links to research articles, there is a lot of useful stuff there!

How to make an English gable head-dress (Tudor).
Hope Greenberg's step-by-step instructions.

How to make a French hood.
Drea Leed's Elizabethan costuming site.

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