Open Hoods

Some headdresses from the late Middle Ages are iconic, such as crespinettes and the hennin, and while these styles certainly made their mark on medieval fashion, they were fleeting trends. When we look beyond these icons, we can see that other styles were more popular, worn for a much longer period, and more influential in their long-term use.  The open hood is one such headdress.

Detail from the Albrecht Von Rapperswil page of the Manesse Codex (Cod. Pal. Germ. 848), c. 1320.
Though women had been depicted wearing hoods since the 13th century, the distinctive open hood did not appear until the early parts of the 14th century.  One of the first instances appears in the Manesse Codex, a German anthology of poetry produced around 1320 (left). In this example, we see a lady wearing a veil with an additional head piece placed over it. It appears to be a long, rectangular coif, and is completely open in the front. The edge has been folded back to reveal a fur lining, while the exterior is a bright red. The point of this piece, simple as it is, appears to be to provide an additional layer on the head without affecting the veil beneath it.

In the 1320's, hoods for both men and women were one of two versions. The first, and older version was closed in the front below the face opening, requiring it to the pulled on over the head. The second was a fitted version that buttoned closed in the front below the face opening, and was tight against the neck. While the buttoned hood lent itself well to pulling on over other headdress, it was not truly practical for such an application since it didn't leave any room for the extra bulk of a veil. The concept of treating a hood like a slip-on coif was seemingly born out of necessity. Nearly all of the earliest examples of open hoods are worn over veils.

Detail from fol 33r of the Luttrell Psalter (BL Add. MS 42130), c. 1330.
Since regular hoods at this time had already been subject to the fashionable trend of stylization and fitting, namely in the attempt to more closely match the shape of the head and neck, it's no surprise that these new open coif-style hoods would be subject to stylization of their own. The first development was the introduction of a small nub, or "tippet" at the crown. The tippet, best seen on the open hood worn by an older woman working a field in the margins of the Luttrell Psalter, circa 1330, stuck up and slightly forward.

To achieve the tippet, as well as a more graceful fit compared to the rectangular hood seen in the Manesse Codex, the hood can be cut as two identical pieces and sewn together over the top and back, around the tippet.

There is little evidence to suggest that the early tippet was anything more than a nub, which may have been stuffed to give it shape and lift, but it's easy to create unique and distinguishing curled tippets since the top of the hood is a seam and not a straight fold. A subtle curve in the back seam creates a fitted look. The length of the 14th century open hood appears to be just to or a few inches passed the shoulder.

Detail from fol. 117v of the Roman de la Rose (Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Ms 1126), mid-14th century.
Gradually, as the 14th century continued, the hood's tippet started to gain length. Regular hoods worn by men in the second half of the 1300's usually sported a long streamer from the crown, called a liripipe. As fashion trends after the 1350's included elements of elongation, the liripipe stretched further and further down, eventually requiring that it be tuck into the belt to control its length. As the liripipe grew longer, so too did the tippet on women's hood. Eventually, by the 1370's, the tippet was around 5" long and rested flat on the top of the head.

Detail from fol 29v of the Epistle of Othea (BnF MS French 606), very early 1400.
By the time this new, long tippet fashion occurs, the open hood had been abandoned by the noble classes and adopted exclusively by women in the laboring classes, seen often on older women, particularly midwives. They were also worn with their fronts folded back, similar to the style seen in the Manesse Codex.

After the 1390's, the tippet had grown long enough that it became impractical, and it was traded for the longer, more fashionable liripipe. For the working class, these longer liripipes could act as a turban-like band that, when wrapped around the head, held the hood in place more securely.  There may have been a few styles of liripipe that encased the wearer’s hair, (pulled into a braid at the crown of the head) but there are also several examples of a separate liripipe attached to the hood at the crown that would have made such a usage hard to achieve.

Detail from fol. 143 of the De claris mulieribus (BnF MS French 598), c. 1403.
The folded front edge also underwent a transformation by turning into a brim that could be worn folded back (which is seen most often) or left unfolded like a brim on a modern ball cap. The brim also sometimes appeared to be wired or stiffened to hold an outstretched “wing” shape.  The way in which a woman is represented wearing her hood brim is likely a matter of personal choice (or artistic whim), rather than symbolic of position or occupation.

Detail from the September page of the Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry (Musée de Condé Ms. 65), c. 1485
The open hood was the style of the lower class for matters of functionality first and foremost.  The hood was a practical garment.  For women working in the field or performing their daily outdoor tasks, the hood provided protection from the elements.  In the winter, the hood offered warmth, while in the summer, it offered protection from the sun.  By being open, it was easy to remove if it became a burden to wear, and was equally easy to put back on when needed.  The woman could wear a coif or veil to hide her hair, and the hood would not displace it. This practical use of the hood is seen in many illuminations, including the famous Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry, circa 1414 and completed circa 1489.

Detail from fol 211v of Le Decameron (Arsenal MS 5070, reserve), circa 1432.
In the 2nd quarter of the 15th century, women in the growing middle class would also wear the open hood in more social contexts.  This is probably an awkward practice started by poor middle class women who were unable to wear the more fashionable headdress of the wealthier classes, but who could wear the open hood.  For them, the context in which they wore it was the delineating factor between them and those poorer than them. Some great examples of women wearing hoods in a variety of secular, social contexts can be found in Le Decameron, produced circa 1432. Quickly, the open hood became a typical headdress style for nearly all women lower than the noble classes, and was so widely used that even lower-ranking ladies in waiting were often depicted wearing an open hood rather than the more formal veils or hats of the upper class.

Detail from Deposition by Rogier van der Weyden, circa. 1435
In some fictional, literary or biblical contexts, the hood was used to symbolize a supposed class of the wearer, when in fact no class truly existed for them.  In these situations, the hood acts as an equalizer- giving the wearer a "regular Jane" persona that would have made her accessible to any level of society. Often, such as in the works of Rogier van der Weyden and other Flemish painters, the hood is styled as a chaperone, possibly to be reminiscent of a middle eastern turban.

Since the liripipe could be cut either separate or along the fold, the 15th century hood has more in common in its construction with the regular hoods of the time. Using a folded piece of fabric, and orienting the center top to it, allowed the hood have only a single seam up the back. Additional gussets made have also been used at the shoulders. Since the later open hood sported a short flare at the base of the neck, partially covering the shoulders, gussets would have been the only way of creating the curve. The front of the hood, at the face opening, would have also required some extra length and shaping to achieve the wing-shaped brim.

Detail from fol. 37v of the Roman de la Rose (BL Harley 4425), c. 1490.
Toward the end of the 15th century, noble women were depicted wearing modified open hoods which may have developed with the introduction and eventual disappearance of the conical hennin. Some fine examples of this style are seen in the Roman de la Rose, circa 1490. Back in the 1460's, hennins started to sport long brims, called lappets, that did not appear to be part of the hennin itself, but rather as a piece worn under it. The shape of the new noblewoman's hood was remarkably close to the lappet, but with definite elements borrowed from the open hoods worn by lower class women. Rather than a liripipe, these later hoods had a flap, a cap-like shape, or looked like a cut off liripipes was tacked down on the top of the head. It's easy to suppose that these hoods had been borrowed from the peasant class, re-purposed under hennins, and eventually worn alone as the hood started to die out as a fashion worn by the lower classes.

Portrait of Elizabeth of York, c. 1500.
By the time the 16th century rolled in, and fashion everywhere was subject to the sweeping changes that came with the Renaissance, the hood had already enjoyed nearly 2 centuries of popularity. When upper class women started to develop new hat styles in the time of the War of the Roses, hoods seem to have offered inspiration, lending their general shape to structured headdresses such as the gabled hoods worn by the Tudors.

Hood color also bears mention.  By far, the most common color is red.  This may be simply because red was an easy pigment to procure, but more likely, red is so often shown because it truly was more often worn.  In the middle ages, the color red was said to ward off evil, and specifically for women, it was worn and used as protection against miscarriage.  Besides red, pink, blue (a vibrant royal blue), green and black are the next most popular colors.  Yellow is rarely seen. There is some indication in 14th Century English sumptuary law that prostitutes were required to wear yellow hoods in public. It is unclear if this statute was still in place during the height of the open hood's period, but the association certainly would have still been around. Yellow was also sometimes considered to be a sickly color, and was not popular eve for other garments. Color, same as style, appears to be a matter of choice rather than a dictate of occupation. The later hoods worn by nobles are almost exclusively black.

When it comes to material, it is hard to tell from the artwork which type of fabric was used.  Extant hood examples, though not of the open hood type, are made of wool.  Hoods are often depicted with an interior of the same color, though not always the case, so there is little to prove that all hoods were lined.  Given the use of wool, linen and silk in other garments of the era, it can be assumed that hoods would have used the same fabrics.  A linen hood is easier to wear in summer, but wool offers more of the structure and weight seen in the artwork.  This would appear to be, for recreation purposes, a matter of personal preference.

Detail from fol. 186r of Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles (MS Hunter 252), c.1500.
A cap or veil worn below can proved areas to pin the hood into place, and if you’ve chosen a long liripipe, tucking it into your belt will prevent you from sitting on it.  They are also extremely versatile, working in both hot and cold weather. They are also perfect for those times when you don’t have anything else to put on your head, helping to round out your medieval look.

For a more in-depth look at the 15th century "winged" hoods, please check out my post here
For the pattern, measurements and construction notes for my first two hoods, download the PDF.
For the walk-through of my red wool open hood, see this post.
For the walk-through of my red and blue transitional hood (and a hood timeline), go here.


  1. This is fascinating! I love all the illustrations, too. Very nice work. :-)

  2. 1) I have been skimming through here and love the way you present your research. The manuscript pictures are so helpful!
    2) The link to you your hood pattern above gave me an error. Is that pattern still available?

    Thank you for all your work in research, sewing and sharing!

    1. Thank you. Thanks for letting me know about that broken link too. It should work now. Let me know if it still doesn't!