Updated: Aug 14
In honor of National Hair Day, let’s take a peek at popular hairstyles for Elizabethan women!
Length of Hair
An unmarried woman kept her hair long and showed off its fullness in public. However, once married, she would always arrange her hair in an updo.
Queen Elizabeth I had naturally red hair. To honor her, countless English nobles matched the red hue. Besides wearing wigs, affluent ladies often dyed their hair yellow with a mixture of saffron, cumin seed, celandine and oil!
Fun Fact: Some historians believe red hair was used to denote allyship within Protestant England against European Catholics who typically had darker hair.
For blonde hair (also popular), the bleaching process included applying chamomile and lemon juice before sitting in the sunlight. If you try this out, let us know how it goes!
Sumptuary laws from 1568 to 1574 declared, “all Citizens wives in generall were constrayned to weare white knit Caps of woolen yarne, unlesse their husbands were good value in the Queenes booke, or could prove themselves Gentlemen by descent.” Go figure.
Women were expected to adorn their heads with a coif, veil, hat, and/or caul. Whichever head covering the lady chose that day dictated her hairstyle. Below are some of the era’s most popular ones!
The coif was a close-fitting cap worn by both children and adults.
The gentry often wore coifs underneath elaborate hats and veils.
Those who could not afford fancy head garments wore their coifs exposed.
Shakespeare Quote: In Henry IV Part II, Northumberland says,
“And hence, thou sickly coif.
Thou art a guard too wanton for the head
Which princes, fleshed with conquest, aim to hit.”
According to everybody’s favorite Sparknotes, this means “Away from me, you invalid’s cap! You are too fanciful a helmet for this head which is now the target of kings, grown arrogant with their victories.” How charming...
Fun Fact: Headwear fashion throughout this era shifted from fully covering the hair to exposing it more and more. Consequently, wearing a coif without an additional headpiece (such as a hat) covering it became quite the fashionable choice! As such, coif design went from unadorned white linen to Blackwood embroidery with lace edging - a beautiful upgrade!
Coif - Unadorned & White Coif - Black Embroidery with Lace Edging
The caul was a swell-looking hair net!
It resembled the Italins’ balzo and the Spanish’s cofia.
Caul - England Balzo - Italy Cofia - Spain
French Hood VS English Hood
The French hood provides a rounded facial shaping and frontal exposure of hair. A black veil is attached to the back of the hood.
An angular shape characterizes the English hood. This shape resembles a house gable, hence its nickname: gable hood.
The gable hood was by far the more popular, especially in England. That said, some English women wore French hoods to advertise their French leanings.
Fun Fact: The French hood is thought to have been brought to England by Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s wife & Queen Elizabeth I’s mommy! Interestingly, despite Anne’s well-known French taste, she chose to wear the gable hood for her execution. Perhaps she did this to show she considered herself the lawful queen and her daughter a legitimate heir to the English throne.
Anne Boleyn - French Hood Jane Seymour- English/Gable Hood
This is similar to the French hood but has a heart-shaped crescent at the forehead. Mary Queen of Scots loved a good white atifet!
Here she is with her precious atifet! Doesn’t she look fabulous?!
This hat style has survived the centuries! Glance at the pictures below - how much has really changed?
Elizabethan / Duchess of Kent - 1960s / Princess Diana - 1986 / Queen Elizabeth - 2002
Below is Queen Elizabeth I! Can you guess what she’s wearing atop her head?
Written by Mariela Rivero
Edited by Laura Yumi Snell
Cover Photo: Helen Mirren in Elizabeth I (2005)