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COIFS

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Coifs

Throughout the medieval period, the coif remained one of the few items of headwear which remained unchanged by virtue of its simple design. It is best described as a close-fitting linen bonnet or cap, usually tied under the chin.

It was constantly used as a hair covering in bed, or under hats by the working classes and was the commonest daytime headwear worn by all classes of the community throughout Europe during the 13th century. Many early medieval illuminations show women wearing white coifs to hold their hear in place. Shown at right is a detail from the musical manuscript, the Cantiga St Maria from the 12th century.

Long after they were abandoned by women, men continued to wear the coif under other types of hat. Coifs were generally replaced by wimples and veils in the case of women.

Coifs were made of fine or coarse linen, the only difference between those worn by the upper and lower classes was the material from which they were made. Upper classes naturally opted for luxury fabrics such as silk or finer linens.

Shown here is an existing coif covered in blackwork embroidery dated to the 16th century in England. Clearly, it is a coif designed to be seen and not hidden under layers of other headdresses.

The detail at right from 1498 to 1499 of Anne De Bourbon shows an elaborate jeweled coif worn underneath a heavily-jeweled crown. This type of coif was not commonly worn, although some of the more fabulous headdresses of the 14th and 15th centuries may have had plain coifs as a base underneath them.

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