Monday, March 18, 2013

15th Century Conical Headdresses

When I was a kid, I thought a conical hat was just part of the Medieval princess uniform.  My mother helped me make a a bright blue one that I wore to a Medieval fair at school.  As it turns out, those cone hats have a name.  And they weren't worn during the entire Middle Ages either.  A while back, I had to research them, and I had no idea what the heck they were called.  Googling 'Medieval cone hat' gave me a surprising amount of useless results - sorry to all the people selling cone hats with princess costumes.  As it turns out, the hats are called hennins.

 Maria Portinari of Bruges

These headdresses were especially popular in 15th century Burgundy, Flanders, and France, but noblewomen also wore them in England, Hungary, and Poland.  Women probably began to wear them in the 1430s and hennins became more noticeable after the 1450s.

Stylish women at the Flemish court wore hennins with veils at the top.  Flemish women plucked their hair and even their eyebrows for a desirable, high forehead.  Eyebrows were shaped into a slender line or totally removed.

A translucent or semi-translucent veil was often draped over the hennin and covered the wearer’s face.  Veils of various lengths could also start from the top of the hat and drape down over the shoulders.

 Mary, Duchess of Burgundy

By 1467 women had started to wear conical hats that sometimes measured at “half an ell” - an ancient measurement that changed over time. In the 15th century, the measurement of the ell differed with each country. In England it was the equivalent of 45 inches. In the Low Countries it was 27 inches. Therefore half an ell might be approximately a foot long. Some historians guess that the tallest hennins weren’t taller than two feet, though I’ve read that some could be as tall as 36 inches. The average hennin was probably between eleven and sixteen inches.

 It’s hard to figure out how exactly, the cones stayed on without sliding off. Some costumers make replicas with chin straps, but there don’t seem to be contemporary paintings showing a hennin with chin straps. Some conclude that because paintings of women wearing hennins show that their hair was drawn back very tightly, a forehead loop and an ear piece might have kept the hat in place.

During the 15th century, the hats were commonly referred to as “atours” or “tyres”, or another word that was used in a particular country. The word “hennin” was probably a French word used for an earlier headdress.

A variation on the hennin was the truncated hennin, which was flat at the top.

Truncated hennin

The hennin stopped being fashionable in the 1490s.

Constructing the Headdresses of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries by Marie Vibbert
Illuminating the Rennaissance


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