HAIRSTYLES - BRAIDS - CORNETTES - RAMSHORNS - EUROPEAN
FALSE HAIRPIECES & WIGS - HAIRNETS - EYEBROWS & HAIRLINE
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.
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. 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
Elaborate hair dressing also
gave a woman the opportunity to show off her taste in hair accessories.
images shown at right are dated to 1365-1380 and show Jeanne Burbonne
who has a ribbon-encased hairstyle of folded braids. 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.
The Roman de la Rose
mentions sadly the advice of Friend, which talks of how:
..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
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.
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.
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.
Cornettes were the name often given to the hairstyle where the
hair is either plaited or raised up onto the temples into horn-like
In the Townley Mysteries by the Surtees Society in 1460
a woman's hair is described-
"she is hornyd
like a kowe.. for syn."
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 against them.
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
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.
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 ea.rs and secured with both cords
and beads with a decorative jeweled brooch at the top
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
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 left 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.
Hairpieces & Wigs
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.
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.
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.