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Medieval Women's Hoods

Medieval hoods were an item of clothing worn by both women and men in the working class, the upper and the lower classes.

Primarily used for warmth out of doors, both women's and men's hoods were essentially the same style and pattern, changing only a little over the course of the middle ages.

The shape of the hood
Early in the medieval period, hoods were purely functional with little or no ornamentation. This changed towards the fourteenth century when hoods became more of a fashion item.

The basic shape of the medieval hood was little more than a square for the head attached to a semicircle for the shoulder cowl. Variations on this basic shape gave the hood its definition over the next few centuries. The square shape of the head covering part of the hood became elongated at the front and a small gore was cut into the lower portion which was used for adding in as a gore over the shoulder to provide a rounded fit.

Many hoods were extremely practical and featured a cowl which came down to the elbows and pulled on over the head to maximise warmth.

The hood became yet another way for the wealthy to further display their status by adding unnecessary streamers called tippets or liripipes from the back of the hood.

These ranged from the very modest for the poorer person who could not afford to spend money on unnecessary expensive fabric, to the very long, showy extensions of the wealthy. In the earlier centuries, hoods were looser and larger, but into the 14th and 15th centuries, women's hoods became smaller, had shorter cowls and were tighter fitting around the face.

Hood Closures
Women's hoods previous to the 14th century were usually stitched together at the front, often with a long cowl like the traditional shape of a monk's hood. It provided much-needed warmth from winter chills, especially when traveling since most cloaks did not appear to have a hood attached at that time.

With the rising merchant middle classes having more disposable wealth available to them into the 14th and 15th centuries, women's hoods were often buttoned with either handmade buttons of cloth made to match the hood itself or round metal buttons spaced closely together.

A hood recovered from a deposit in London, England, show a the button-holes closely spaced at the front and set right at the very edge of the fabric.

Often hoods are depicted in manuscripts without buttons altogether and worn draped about the head. Hoods were generally constructed so that they might be folded back at the face showing off the contrasting lining or pulled over the face for traveling in bed weather.

In fine weather, they would be worn by women with the opening folded back as seen in the detail from the 1412-1416 illumination from the Limbourgh Brothers famous Duk du Berry's Livres de Heures for the month of February, shown right.

Hoods could be made from whatever material was available to the wearer, although wool was worn by all classes. Its warmth and resistance to water made it an ideal material for traveling or in poor weather. As with all other aspects of clothing, the wool used to make hoods for the lower classes differed in quality from the fine wools used to made hoods for the upper classes.

Silk and silk velvet were both fabrics which were unavailable to many and expensive for all. If one was wealthy but could not afford the enormous cost of a silk garment, one might be able to afford the much smaller amount of fabric required for a silk or velvet hood.

Consumers in the upper echelons of society might choose a fine, bright-coloured silk outer lined with wool for warmth.

As with most other items of medieval clothing, a hood was likely to be lined for a more wealthy wearer than for a poorer one. If a hood was lined at all, it was almost always lined in a contrasting colour but also with fur for cold weather wear.

Hood decoration
A large number of decorated hood in manuscripts are seen on men. There are a small number in the French manuscript, The Romance of Alexander.

Hoods might be daggued or have a small amount of decorative needlework as seen on the 14th century French, carved ivory mirrorcase, shown at right, and the illuminated manuscript at left.

Written accounts of the uppermost classes tells us that pearls and gold embroidery were used to decorate hoods and that they were quite expensive and a far cry from the ulititarian hood of the working classes.

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