HAIRSTYLES - BRAIDS - CORNETTES - RAMSHORNS - EUROPEAN
FALSE HAIRPIECES & WIGS - HAIRNETS - EYEBROWS & HAIRLINE
Medieval movies have a great deal to answer for when it comes
to the accurate portrayal of women's hair styling during the Middle
Ages. Characters are usually shown with very long, flowing tresses
and nothing or little more that a metal circlet around the forehead.
Reality, however, was usually far from that. This page covers
hair styling and what to do about the hairline itself. To learn
more about hats, crowns, circlets etc, please visit the HEADDRESSES
Women's hair has long been associated
with sinfulness and temptation, and with medieval life centering
heavily around the church, it was the general opinion that the
less it was displayed, the better. Any decent, God-fearing woman
in England, France and some of Europe for the most part, went
to great pains to conceal her hair in public. Even the upper classes
and royalty restrained their hair. At right above is a detail
from the Luttrell Psalter from 14th century England which
shows women dressing their hair.
Flowing tresses can be seen in some
illuminations with some styles of costume, although it is more
usual for only unmarried, young women to have hair loose. Italian
women abandoned the veil considerably earlier than her other counterparts
and during the 14th and 15th centuries chose to adorn the hair
with elaborate plaits, beads and wound ribbons. Generally, during
the bulk of the medieval period, a married woman would have covered
her head with veils, wimples, cloths, barbettes, hairnets, veils,
hats, hoods or a combination of them to avoid her hair showing.
notable exception on this hair-covering trend is Italy, where
women usually tied their braids crisscrossed over the top of the
Elaborate hair dressing also gave
a woman the opportunity to show off her taste in hair accessories.
The images shown above are dated to 1365-1380 and show Jeanne
Burbonne who has a ribbon-encased hairstyle. It is interesting
to note in this case the entire fold of hair is not encased, only
the front section is tied before the remainder of the hair is
brought up behind and then upwards again.
Broadly speaking, only a woman of
very poor breeding or a prostitute did nothing with her hair and
even peasant women made an effort to appear modest and decent.
Only in some circumstances, like the marriage of a royal couple,
can the bride be seen depicted with her hair out. The Roman
de la Rose mentions sadly the advice of Friend, which talks
..women are so vain that they
bring shame upon themselves by not considering themselves well
rewarded by the beauty God has given them. Each one wears a
crown of gold or silk flowers on her head, and thus proudly
adorned, goes about town showing herself off... she is willing
t put something on her head that is lower and baser than she..
thus she searches for beauty in things that God has made much
baser in appearance, such as metals or flowers or other strange
Plaited and braided hairstyles were extremely popular during the
medieval period for women of all ages and all classes.
Shown at right is a detail from a
painting The Nativity dated around the 1400s. It shows
a young girl with a popular medieval hair style for workers- two
plaits brought from the nape of the neck and crossed over the
top of her head and tied together.
Not only was this style easy to dress
at home oneself without assistance, it looked pleasing to the
eye, was considered modest and kept the hair tied up and clean
when performing manual chores. Often these plaits were interwound
with ribbon for decoration and also for securing purposes. Very
often, these ribbon-encased plaits are mistaken for a padded roll
of some kind with ribbon woven around it, which was not the case.
Later in the later 15th century, some padded rolls attached to
heart shaped hennins did have decorative features, but they are
By the early decades of the 14th
century, fashionable women in England discarded the barbette and
fillet combination in favour of plaits worn in front of the ear
on each side of the face. The hairstyle originated in France before
the end of the 13th century.
The bust at left is dated between 1327 and 1341 is of Marie de
France and shows this hairstyle although worn with a fillet. This
style was adopted by both the lower classes and the upper classes
and can be seen in many illuminations and paintings of the period.
Cornettes were the name often given to the hairstyle where the
hair is either plaited or raised up onto the temples into horn-like
shapes. In the Townley Mysteries by the Surtees Society
in 1460 a woman's hair is described-
"she is hornyd like a kowe..
In 1350, Bishop Gilles li Muisis
was greatly displeased by the vanity of women who adopted these
hairstyles which he called cornes and headdresses of a
similar style known as hauchettes, and repeatedly sermonised
The Van Eyck painting known as the Aldolphini Wedding dated
at 1434 shows the young woman with her fashionable cow-like cornettes
under a veil with rows of pleats at the edges.
Around the end of the 13th century, a very popular form of hairstyle
was the ramshorn, which was created by parting the hair down the
centre and coiling the hair over the ears around into a scroll
like that of a ram's horn.
style became popular again in Europe in the later 15th century
with the addition of silks, ribbons and veils interwoven into
the side horns. Jeweled brooches were often included as part of
the dressing at the top of the head. Shown at left, a detail from
the Portrait of Battista Sforza from 1465-1466 by Francesca
showing the later ramshorn as it was worn by fashionable noble
ladies. This style of hairstyle was not suited to the working
classes, who would have found it most impractical.
Dressed European Style
While hair tended to be covered with veils and elaborate headdresses
throughout France and England, veils seem to be discarded in Italy
in favour of hair dressed with pearls, ribbons, beading and brooches.
As with the later ramshorn style, these hairstyles would have
been worn by the upper classes only as the time and effort required
to dress and finish off these hairstyles would not have suited
the lifestyles of the working classes.
at right is a detail from a painting from 1465, Pollaiulo's Portrait
of a Young Woman, showing a transparent veil containing some
of the hair, wrapped over the ears and secured with both cords
and beads with a decorative jeweled brooch at the top. Marian
Campbell, in her publication Medieval Jewellery in Europe 1100-1500,
discusses the number of 15th century paintings in Europe showing
young girls without veils and with elaborately-dressed hair-
In Italy, by contrast, numbers
of 15th century portraits survive showing women with their heads
barely covered and their hair artfully plaited and dressed,
and adorned with strings of pearls, coral, beads and jewels.
However many of these portraits, of sitters now unknown, may
have been painted specifically to show a bride in her special
finery and uncovered hair.
In a time where modesty and virtue were embraced and desired,
it seems unlikely that additional hair would be called for, but
it appears that wigs and false tresses were in vogue and the makers
of such were regulated and had a guild of their own. Hair extensions
have been found in archaeological digs dating from early times
although only one or two examples date to the medieval period
specifically. A plaited silk hairpiece attached to a silk fillet
which was probably jeweled, was found in London and dates to second
quarter of the 14th century.
None to surprisingly, the clergy tried to discourage the wearing
of false hair by women by denouncing false hair as the sin of
vanity. Gilles d'Orleans, a preacher from Paris in the 13th century
reminded his parishioners that the wigs they wore were likely
to be made from the shorn heads of those now suffering in hell
or purgatory. False tresses were known to be made of flax, wool,
cotton and silk. The Old Woman from the Roman de la Rose
offers this advice for a woman whose hair is lacking:
And if she sees that her beautiful
blond hair is falling out (a most mournful sight), or if it
has to be cropped as a result of a serious illness and her beauty
spoiled too soon, or if some angry roister should happen to
tear it out so that there is no way in which she can regain
her thick tresses, she should have the hair of some dead woman
brought to her, or pads of light coloured silk, and stuff it
all into false hairpieces. She should wear such horns above
her ears that no stag or goat or unicorn could surpass them,
not though their head were to burst with the effort..
Stella Mary Newton, in her book Fashion
In The Age Of The Black Prince, has this to say about the
wearing of false hair:
In 1310, the Bishop of Florence
gave orders that nobody of any class or standing whatsoever
was to indulge in fraud by wearing of the head, with intent
to deceive, any fluffed out false hair- long falling hairpieces
strands of hair or curls, although any woman whose own hair
was manifestly inadequate might wear plaits of flax or wool
or silk attached to her own hair, thus avoiding undue ornamentation
while appearing natural.
Hairnets were known and extensively used in medieval times as
the way of restraining a woman's hair. A hairnet could be used
in conjunction with many of the beautiful and strange medieval
headpieces. Hairnets were almost always worn under a veil of some
kind during the medieval period. During the renaissance, the hairnet
known as the snood was worn alone. The snood tended to be less
fine and often set with jewels.
Shown at right is a hairnet found
at a London dig, dated in the 1300s, which looks like the type
that is available today. Four examples of hairnets have been discovered
in London excavations- one made of silk from the late 13th century
and three knotted silk ones from the 14th century. These are all
the finer kind, hand knotted and with fingerloop braid around
the edges which were popularly worn before the heavier mesh cauls
became sturdier and jewels were attached.
During a large portion of the medieval period, the beautiful woman
emphasised her high, round forehead. If a woman was unfortunate
to have been naturally cursed with a low hairline, the correct
and fashionable look was artificially enhanced by the plucking
of the hairline back up towards the crown of the head. This look
was accentuated by reducing the eyebrows to a barely-there line.
though plucking the eyebrows and hairline at the top of the forehead
was commonplace for many women, the church was, as always, extremely
unhappy about this. In Confessionale, clergymen are encouraged
to ask those who came to confession:
If she has plucked hair from
her neck, or brows or beard for lavisciousness or to please
men... This is a mortal sin unless she does so to remedy severe
disfigurement or so as not to be looked down on by her husband.
Many books cite small tweezers made
from copper alloy or silver as part of medieval toiletry sets.
The tweezers above are dated from the 15th century and feature
brass tweezers, an earscoop and a nail pick, all hinged to fold
away when not in use.