Veils, Wimples and Gorgets
VEIL SHAPES & SIZES - VEIL FABRICS & COLOURS
- VEIL DECORATIVE FEATURES - THE GOFFERED VEIL - THE PLEATED OR
FRILLED VEIL - WIMPLES - WIMPLE & GORGET DIFFERENCE - WIMPLE
SHAPES & SIZES - WIMPLE FABRICS & COLOURS
The well-bred lady wore a veil in public for the most of the medieval
period. It was shocking a grown woman to display the hair- which
was seen as a lure to good men. The wimple and gorget were also
widely worn by women of good breeding and it was only later in
time that it was dropped for daily wear by the general populace
and retained by nuns and older women. Women in Italy abandoned
the veil considerably earlier than other parts of Europe and England
in favour of elaborate braids and beading which might also utilise
a small strip of gauzy veil around the ears. At right is a detail
from Lochner's Presentation of Christ in the Temple, 1447,
showing women with a variety of veiling and wimpling.
A law passed between 1162 and 1202,
in the municipal statues of Arles, which forbade prostitutes to
cover their hair with a veil lest they should be mistaken for
a woman of good virtue and encouraged good women to snatch the
veils from the heads of women of suspected ill-repute.
Many Middle Eastern countries of
the world today require that a woman's hair remain covered in
public. Discussions with many liberated women in these Muslim
countries show that they actively choose to continue to wear a
veil as a show of modesty and decency and not as a symbol of oppression
by the men of their society. It was only the Western society which
discontinued the wearing of the veil and wimple. In this respect,
wearing a veil was seen as a sign of good breeding and is no different
to the generation of our grandmothers who were firmly hatted,
stockinged and gloved whenever they left the house.
shapes and sizes
It appears there is no one standard size or shape to the veil
with many variations depicted in art and in memorial brasses.
It appears that veils could be long or short, rectangular or oval
in shape with no particular regulations or guidelines in regard
to social status. It also appears than more than one veil could
be worn at a time.
At some times during the Middle Ages,
veils worn by the wealthier and more fashionable were pinned in
many overlapping layers, as shown in the detail at left in the
1435 painting of A Man and a Woman by Robert Campin. It
is unclear why such a fashion developed.
Veil fabrics and colours
It seems that veils could be made from a variety of fabrics in
the middle ages- ranging from fine opaque linens to gauzy barely-there
silks. For the poorer woman, thick wool was both a practical and
warm option to provide protection from the elements. Fine Flemish
linens could have thread counts of between 60 and 200 per inch
and could cost thirty times as much as finely woven wools indicating
the good quality and desirability of the fabric.. Existing fragments
appear to be bleached and pressed. In 1410, Christine de Pisan
wrote of fine linens woven more more delicate than silk was made
in one piece without seam and in an entirely new way that was
Contemporary images and artifacts from the 14th century show that
white was the most overwhelmingly popular colour. It was harder
to keep white clean and therefore a status symbol to have fabric
kept very white. A poorer woman or country woman would often have
to be content with natural, unbleached colours as she possessed
neither the time for excessive laundering nor a second one to
wear while the bleaching process was being undertaken on the first.
At certain periods of the Middle
Ages a veil with two bands of blue around the border was required
by law to be worn by Jewish women as an identifying marker of
their faith. Coloured veils were not entirely unknown, but it
is certain that they were not the most popular.
features on veils
many veils were unadorned, it seems that embroidery and ruffles
as features were not unknown. The detail on the image at right
shows the Virgin from the painting Virgin and Child wearing
a veil not only with an edging completely worked with pearls but
also a gold band around the entire edge. It is dated at 1345-1350
A great deal of the artwork and statues
in Prague during the middle ages were shown to have quite a large
degree of decorative features- notably ruffles, beaded or pearl
edging and in some cases, gold embroidery around the edges.
Complaints came from many of the
clergy, including this from a 13th century preacher in Germany,
Berthold of Regensburg:
You busy yourselves with your
veils, you twitch them hither, you twitch them thither; you
gild them here and there with gold thread, and spend thereon
all your time and trouble. You will spend a good six-months
work on a single veil which is sinful great trevail- and all
that men may praise thy dress.
A French song of the 13th century
tells of a traveling merchant who sold kerchiefs with flowers
and birds embroidered on them, although most contemporary illustrations
of that time period show plain white of varying degrees of fineness
Goffered Veil or Nebule
This veil was mostly popular during the period of 1350 to 1380,
although there are examples of this style of veil both earlier
and later. It consisted of an intricate lattice or honeycomb effect
made from ruffles which formed a frame around the face. It was
usually held in place by a fillet. The goffered veil was still
worn by all levels of society. It was also known as the nebule.
Many illuminations, manuscripts,
brasses and effigies show this style of headdress. The detail
shown here at left is a statue dated at around 1370 to 1430 of
the Madonna and Child showing a veil which is ruffled on
the top and at the ends. Many English churches also show this
type of veiling. Lady Despencer wears the goffered veil in her
effigy at Tewkesbury Abbey, as does a brass of Margaret Torrington
in Great Berkhampstead Church, Hertfordshire.
or frilled veils
The painting at right by Van Eyck Portrait of Margareta Van Eyck,
dated 1433, shows a wonderful example of a ruffled veil worn in
The detail, at right, shows a close
up of the pleated ruffles which appear to have been pleated separately
and then sewn on to the main veil. This kind of pleating could
be either a single layer or many layers.
Do you want to keep your skin white? Might you have concerns about
freckles and damage from the sun and the elements? The medieval
woman had the answer.
The wimple or gorget was widely worn
by all medieval women of good breeding and it was only later in
time that it was dropped for daily wear by the general populace
and retained by nuns and holy women. It was not uncommon, although,
for a married woman to wear one if she so chose. Effigies and
paintings from the 13th century right through to the 15th century
show women wearing wimples.
difference between a wimple and a gorget
The difference between a wimple and a gorget, is that the wimple
encircles the entire head under the veil, whereas a gorget covers
the neck alone and was usually draped upwards and tucked into
either a headdress or styled hair.
The most modest way to wear a wimple was over the chin, not under
it, as is generally supposed. The image detail at left, Madonna,
painted in 1345 by Vitale Da Bologna, shows the correct positioning
of the wimple. Wimples were also usually worn by widows regardless
of their age.
shapes and sizes
It appears there is no one standard size or shape to the wimple
other than it passes under the chin and over the neck. It can
be a rectangular piece which wraps around the head and neck or
a circular piece with a hole cut for the face. There seems to
be no one correct way. Some
appear to be scanty and other quite voluminous depending on the
This detail at right is taken from
a brass memorial of Elizabeth de Northwood from 1335. She
is modestly wearing a gorget, as is expected of a married woman,
but still shows a deal of her carefully arranged hairstyle. It
is important to note that although we can see some of her hair,
it is dressed and not out or flowing in any way.
fabrics and colours
As with veils, wimples and gorgets could be made from a variety
of fabrics in the middle ages- ranging from fine opaque linens
to very fine silks. For
the poorer woman, thick wool or linen was both a practical and
warm option to provide protection from the elements- warmth in
winter and protection from the sun in summer.
The detail at right is from the Maciejowski Bible, Manoah and
his Wife Give Sacrifice. It shows an everyday woman wearing
an opaque wimple and veil. Contemporary images and artifacts from
the 14th century and earlier show that as with veils, white was
the most overwhelmingly popular colour. One contemporary writer,
Robert Mannyng complained about saffron coloured kerchiefs and
wimples, as they made it difficult for a man to tell if he was
looking at a yellow wimple or yellowed skin, so it must be concluded
that coloured veils and wimples were not entirely unknown.