Fabulous French Hoods
Fabulous French Hoods
By Sarah Wydville (Sarah Lorraine)
Email: [email protected]
For further reading on this topic, please visit my website:
In defining the basic components of French Hoods, I have attempted to use standard
terms, beginning at the innermost layer, which would lie directly over the wearer’s hair,
and working outward. Variations in the number of layers and construction methods are
evident throughout the historical record, but for the most part are fairly consistent. The
only inconstancy is in the terminology itself, largely applied at a later date by costume
historian, but I have attempted to use the most common terms as correctly as possible.
French Hood Terms:
Coif – Made of linen, tied under the chin or possibly secured to the hair with
pins. Almost always white from the first quarter of the 16th century onward, there
was a fashion for early French Hoods to have red coifs prior to 1520.
Crepine – A pleated or gathered head covering made from fine linen or silk,
sometimes worn without a coif. Possibly the origin of the pleated frill seen at the
edge of the coif. Also possibly the bag-like attachment seen at the back of early
French Hoods, worn without a veil.
Paste – Worn over the coif/crepine. More than one in a contrasting color could
be worn at a time, possibly derives its name from the paste used to stiffen it, or
from the term passé meaning “border”, derived from the effect of a border of
contrasting color on the French Hood. (Linthicum)
Veil – The “hood” portion, almost always black. Could be made from wool, or
silk velvet or satin.
Billaments – Sometimes referred to as “upper” and “lower” billaments, these
formed the decorative border along the upper edge of the hood and the front edge
of the coif or paste. Wardrobe accounts of velvet and satin for the making of
billaments may refer to the base upon which the goldwork, jewels, and pearling
Cornet/Bongrace: A visor-like accessory that shaded the wearer’s eyes. Later in
the century, when the veil of the hood was flipped up on top of the wearer’s head
and pinned in place to shade the eyes, this was also apparently termed a
A Brief History of the French Hood:
This is just a brief overview of the development of the French Hood from 1500 to 1590.
For a more indepth breakdown of French Hood styles during the 16th century, I suggest
visiting Kimiko Small's French Hood Images.
1490s-1500s: The style popularized by Anne of Brittany makes its way into France and
the Low Lands. It is a softer, more draped arrangement.
1500s-1510s: The French Hood becomes more structured. The veil moves further back
on the head, and is pleated into a narrow drape from the crown of the head down past the
shoulders. It makes its first appearance in England around this time.
1510s-1520s: The French Hood shows a more slanted projection at the crown of the head,
suggesting that the hair beneath is being arranged across the top of the head to create the
distinctive angle. Otherwise, the French Hood remains largely unchanged from the
1520s-1540s: The billiments become more pronounced along the upper ridge of the
hood. The pleated edging at the front of the arrangement becomes less intrusive.
1540s-1550s: The French Hood is now firmly entrenched in the English court, though it
is starting to drop in popularity in France and elsewhere. The height and angle of the
French Hood is rather extreme as depicted in the portrait to the left—Most sculpture from
this period still show a fairly flat arrangement on the head.
1550-1560: A variant of the French Hood appears for a short time in England during the
reign of Mary I. It is essentially the same construction as previous, but the shape of the
hood is flat across the top. The hair begins to pouf outwards at the sides of the head.
1550-1560: This medal with a relief image of Mary I is one of the best primary sources
for the construction of a French Hood during this period. It shows a coif, with chinstrap,
a paste, billiments, and a bag under the veil, lending to the theory that the veil became
reduced to nothing more than a rectangular flap falling from the crown of the head.
1560-1570: The French Hood begins to move further back on the head, and the veil no
longer seems to come in contact with the nape of the neck. A center point on the coif is
becoming popular, and the French Hood is beginning to filter its way down into the lower
classes of society- wearing it is viewed as a mark of distinction among the middle class.
(Photo by Eric Hardy)
1570-1590: The French Hood becomes almost entirely obsolete among the upper classes,
but is carried on by the prosperous middle classes by the close of the 16th century. It
changes very little from the previous mid-century form, but for the arrangement of the
hair. (Photo Courtesy of Oxfordshire Church Photos)
A separate visor-like piece, matching the hood, that could be attached to the front of the
French Hood to shield the face from the sun. (Photo Courtesy of Pete Reed)
A linen example from the late 16th century, with blackwork and a metallic lace
edging. (Linthicum, pg. 225)
Constructing the Hood:
Essential to the wearing of the French Hood is the underlying hairstyle.
If you hair is long enough, part it in the center and put it in two braids. Wrap the braids
one over the other across the crown of your head and secure by one of two methods:
1) The Period Method: Using a large, blunt
needle, thread a 1” wide ribbon around the braids, catching the hair against your scalp.
The Modern Method: Simply bobby pin your hair in place.
NOTE: If your hair is not long enough, you can fake the hairstyle using a long weft of
fake hair, such as you can find for under $5 at Sally Beauty Supply. You can braid the
fake hair into your own hair, but this can get complicated if you are working on yourself.
The other option is to make a false braid that can be bobby pinned or taped in place at the
crown of your head.
Once your hair is taped in place, put the coif on:
Now add the paste:
NOTE: The paste can either be a strip of contrasting fabric secured over the coif, or a
separate piece of stiffened fabric, such as buckram, covered in a contrasting color.
And finally, add the veil.
For added security, pin the veil behind the billiments to the coif and braids beneath. This
will anchor the entire structure on your head.
The End Result:
Arnold, Janet, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d. W.S. Maney & Son Ltd., 2001
Byrne, Muriel St. Claire, The Lisle Letters. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981,
Cotgrave, Randle, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues.
New York: Da Capo Press, 1971.
Linthicum, M. Channing, Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare.
New York: Hacker Art Books, 1972.
Mikhaila, Ninya and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor Tailor.
London: Batsford, 2006.
On The Web:
A Perfectly Plausible French Hood by Sarah Lorraine
(my first attempt at recreating a period French Hood)
Plain Attyre Blog by Jane of Stockton
(Images of 16th century effigies culled from various Flickr accounts. Invaluable!)
French Hood Images by Kimiko Small
(A visual tour of French Hoods throughout the 16th century)
French Hood – Ninya Mikhaila
(Instructions on reproducing the French Hood featured in The Tudor Tailor)
French Hood – Drea Leed
(A brief essay on the history of the French Hood)
Patterns by Lynn McMasters
http://lynnmcmasters.com/Elizhoodpatcover.html - French Hood
http://lynnmcmasters.com/bigginspatcover.html - Coif
(Excellent patterns, the coif is the same pattern I used. The French Hood pattern is the
millinery method, but it works well)