This is the webpage of a group whose aim is to improve the kit and clothes of a UK seventeenth century Civil War reenactment group, using the most up to date references and research. Feel free to comment on any of the subjects raised here and return often as I want to keep the discussion lively and ongoing.

Please look at the extra tabs on the right hand side. The newbie section is the place for basic kit if you're just beginning to reenact the 1640s. Haberdashery has lots of detail about colours, buttons, tapes etc.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Coifs and Cross Cloths

Unless you were rich and had someone to dress your hair fashionably, as a woman in the 1640s it was normal to cover your head, possibly with a hat but almost always with linen, even if you wore a hat on top. There were probably thousands of ways to achieve this, from a simple knotted piece of cloth to a lace edged cap, in fact images show a variety of weird and wonderful concoctions, although surviving examples are few and far between, especially from this period. Several earlier decorated coifs survive in museums but as we get close to the 1640s there aren’t as many, possibly because embroidery became less fashionable and a plain cap could be recycled more easily. Even if it was lace edged you could remove that and you were left with a useful rag. This picture, Visiting Grandmother by the le Nain brothers has a row of four female heads of varying ages wearing different coverings and illustrates perfectly how different fashions would have been worn simultaneously. The girl left, has a shaped coif, possibly over a flappy-eared coif, Grandmother has an old-fashioned fitted coif showing its pointed flaps by her ears but seems to be wearing a cap over her coif, the baby is wearing a close-fitting coif, tied on and the mother, right, is wearing a cap of the kind which is typically 1640s 
However, comparing contemporary images with what survives in museums we can produce at least a few reasonably accurate reproductions. This one for example is in the costume collection at the Museum of Manchester. Most of the actual examples like this one are made from a flat piece of linen cut to a recognisable shape, hemmed and fitted with a drawstring along one edge. The side edges would be whipped together and hey presto you have a coif to cover your head. The new book on Women’s Dress Patterns from the V&A has a particularly nice example from just before our period. However this now presents a few problems, there are flappy bits around your ears that seem a bit odd, the coif can tend to slip around and not be particularly comfortable and what do you do with the strings?
Perhaps part of the answer comes when you notice that many coifs are exhibited with triangular forehead cloths that are obviously embroidered to match. Also several coifs come up in wills and inventories in connection with cloths or “crosse cloths”. It’s obvious that these cloths were worn somehow in conjunction with the coif and that in just wearing the coif without the crossecloth you are missing something. Extreme Costuming has an interesting article about fitting a coif and forehead cloth that is very interesting, if a bit too early for 1640s but to summarise it seems that the triangular cloth can be secured using the tapes around a bun (if you have enough hair). That’s what the strings are for and that the coif will then sit comfortably on top without slipping. It still doesn’t solve the flappy ears, but if you look at pictures from the period, they all had that problem! It doesn’t help if you don’t have enough hair to make a bun at the back of your head either!
Various images seem to show that the cloth could be worn under or over the coif and also with the point facing forwards and backwards. Maybe there was some significance to the different orientations, perhaps different fashions. Sadly we just don’t know. In fact the fashion suggestion is not too far fetched. A theory has been advanced that he coif was such a small easily made item that it could have been remade several times, maybe to copy some rich lady that may have passed through from London. Maybe this explains why there are so many different shapes and patterns in the surviving pictures.
So, we have one actual coif, even if it’s a bit early that can be worn for 1640s, it would be perfect for the older, less fashionable woman. There are more contemporary styles, as I’ve mentioned before. It does seem that a more shaped cap was beginning to come in by the 1640s. There is a nice example in the V&A of such a cap and a portrait of Hester Tradescant wearing one from 1645. I took the photo on the right during a visit to the museum. The cap is dated  1600-25 but does look later.
Other easily made versions include this Dutch example from 1650s, which could be constructed from a rectangular piece of linen hemmed with a drawstring at the back. Pull the drawstring tight and you have a covering that will sit nicely on your head with a turn back front to frame your face, possibly pinned to your hair.

I did say that there were some weird examples. We still don't know what this woman is wearing on her head, or why. It's not the only one in the woodcuts either!

1 comment:

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