A MEDIEVAL WOMAN'S LIFE - BIRTHS
- WEDDINGS - DIVORCE - DEATHS - MANNERS - EDUCATION - EMPLOYMENT - RECREATION
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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. The notable exception on this hair-covering trend is Italy, where women usually tied their braids criss-crossed over the top of the head.
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 of how:
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 entirely different.
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 of the period.
In 1350, Bishop Gilles li Muisis was greatly
displeased by the vanilty of women who adopted these hairstyles which
he called cornes and headdresses of a similar style known as
hauchettes, and repeatedly sermonised against them.
This style became popular again in Europe in the later 15th century with the addition of silks, ribbons and veils interwoven into the side horns. Jewelled 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 ot the working classes, who would have found it most impractical.
Dressed European Style
Shown 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 jewelled 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-
Stella Mary Newton, in her book Fashion In The Age Of The Black Prince, has this to say about the wearing of false hair:
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.
Even 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:
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.
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