Medieval Veil

I received a few questions about the St. Birgitta cap, veils, wimples, and hairstyles, so I made a video showing one way I use these to get dressed! “Water Flowers” Silk Veil Medieval head and hair covering. You could spend forever here: mottled sunlight reaches through the willows as ripples of water lap against the riverbank in a gentle rhythm. You would give anything for more quiet afternoons together, to spend your life with her airy smile and musical laugh.


There are 368 medieval veil for sale on Etsy, and they cost $32.31 on average. The most common medieval veil material is metal. The most popular color?

Medieval Veil

Maria Giuseppian Muzzarelli
University of Bologna

The veil that today makes Islamic women recognizable and in some cases arouses fears is part of the Mediterranean tradition and therefore of the Christian tradition. Indeed, the Christian veil was a legacy. One thing is clear: the tradition of the veil is not derived from the Koran and is not specifically related to Islam.

Continuing with an ancient use Christianity based on religious foundations the prescription of covering the head to make it an element of “publicity” for the new religion: a symbol of modesty and submission of women to men. Saint Paul, “inventor of Christianity,” inaugurated a new order thus expressing himself in the famous passage of the first letter to the Corinthians (11:2-16)

….. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man…every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

It is a fact that documentary and iconographic evidence proves that women between the High and Mid-Middle Ages were regularly covered. To show herself different from Eve, who showed that she was unable to withstand temptation and who was a temptress, women had to be perceived as a model of virtue. For this purpose the covering of the head was also functional. By covering their heads and faces women should have avoided turning into dangerous bait and honored their men.

It can be stated that fashion was born in the Middle Ages, in particular between the 13th and 14th centuries. There are four reasons for this: 1) the evident differetiation in dress between men and women, as well as old and young, 2) the great number of artisan workshops dedicated to the production of garments, 3) the attention paid to fashion in city laws (what clothes could be worn, who could wear them, what their value was, etc.) and 4) the attention preachers paid to vanity.

So it can be noted that at the end of the Middle Ages when fashion was born and affirmed, women covered their heads, but when possible not with small simple headgear, but with precious crowns or delicate bands that framed the face with highly decorative effect. Sumptuary laws testify to a woman’s obligation to cover her head, preachers dedicated entire sermons to the same subject and iconographical sources confirm it for females of all social conditions.

In 1279, Cardinal Latino Malabranca formulated a series of rules, one of which reiterated the obligation for married women who were over 18-years-old to wear the veil. This prescription produced the effect, testified to by the “chronical” of Friar Minor Salimbene de Adam (1221-90), of the “agitation” of women and in particular that it “infuriated the ladies of Bologna”. Salimbene therefore testifies to a feminine reactivity, resistance, and proactive ability, particularly where he reports that women learned to use the veil prescription to become ten times more beautiful and to attract even more attention, by wearing veils made of silk, byssus and woven gold. They then converted the veil’s obligation of modesty to a form of visibility and even of luxurious display.

Starting from the 14th century, fine and decorated veils appear on the heads of the Madonna and Saints and more in general we can see elaborate and sleek headdresses. Hundreds of pearls or peacock feathers appear, complex structures often appear to be huge. Evidently, this headgear did not indicate modesty and submission. What remained was the idea of covering the head as an emblem of honor so that knocking off a woman’s headgear was a crime punishable by law and many judicial proceedings are illuminating in the matter, as can be seen from the numerous trial records which have come down to us.

Veils were therefore at the center of many projects and expectations, norms and preaching, but were also at the center of intense productive and commercial activity in which women were involved. Women produced and traded veils on a large scale.

One type production that appears to be typical, if not exclusively feminine, was that of making hoods, highly appreciated and widespread headgear worn by women of all ages. Documents confirm not only that women were experienced in this type of production but also that they gained fame due to their ability and that they profited well from it. This contrasts with the male project of keeping women, including craftswomen, subordinate and little involved in public life.

Paradoxically, those same women who were supposed to be covered as a sign of modesty and subordination, sent a completely different message wearing precious and shiny headgear or specializing in the production of well-appreciated and well-payed for hoods. If you look closely, the story of the veil is full of paradoxes: it is an inanimate thing that continues to produce highly animated reactions; it’s light by definition but it‘s burdened by a number of elements that have loaded it with symbolic meanings.

In order to fully grasp the meaning and the true value of female headgear, a series of iconographic and documentary sources must be interlaced. These include sumptuary rules, juridical records, sermons, memoirs and the sources of women’s economic activities. From the interweaving of all these sources it is clear that the women who had to keep their heads covered for modesty and subordination were able to send a lot of other messages thanks to fashion. Wearing delicious and often glossy headdresses attracted others’ gaze instead of hiding women, and by specializing in the production and trade of the veils they gained doses of autonomy and visibility. When, at the end of the Middle Ages, the names of tailors or accessories manufacturers are not, or almost not, known we do know the identity of the famous headgear and female headgear manufacturers.

In the last centuries of the Middle Ages, fashion put in the hands of women an instrument of resilience by offering some, though not all of them, the possibility to interpret imaginatively the obligation to cover their heads and give the opportunity to skilled workers to show what they were capable of doing. An object thought to limit them had the opposite effect, giving rise to the different outcomes previously mentioned.

In the Medieval West, also thanks to the role played by fashion, the veil or better the headcovering, inspired a sort of resilience: women agreed to remain covered but the cover made them visible and in some cases made them protagonists. Many centuries later many women are still grappling with the veil. Can Fashion today, as in the last centuries of the Middle Ages, offer a similar solution? Would it help them to manifest their fantasy and taste by giving them doses of freedom? Certainly this would be a narrow path that could only be carried out by a few and only in limited areas. Yet, the hypothesis seems interesting to me. This is a hypothesis closely linked to the very nature, ambiguous and paradoxical, of this object whose symbolic, material and economic history is much richer and varied than it is commonly thought.

A wimple as shown in Portrait of a Woman, circa 1430-1435, by Robert Campin (1375/1379–1444), National Gallery, London. The cloth is 4-ply and the pins holding it in place are visible at the top of the head.
Medieval Veil
Monumental brass of Margaret, Lady Camoys (d.1310), St George's Church, Trotton, West Sussex. This is the earliest surviving brass of a female figure in England.[1] She wears around her neck a wimple (or gorget) which hides the chin and sides of the face. This style of dress continued in fashion until the end of the reign of King Edward III (1327-1377).[2]
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A wimple is a medieval form of female headdress, formed of a large piece of cloth worn around the neck and chin, and covering the top of the head. Its use developed in early medieval Europe. At many stages of medieval Christian culture it was unseemly for a married woman to show her hair. A wimple might be elaborately starched, and creased and folded in prescribed ways, and later elaborated versions were supported on wire or wicker framing, such as the cornette.

Italian women abandoned their head cloths in the 15th century, or replaced them with transparent gauze, and showed their elaborate braids. Both elaborate braiding and elaborately laundered clothes demonstrated status, in that such grooming was being performed by others. Today the wimple is worn by certain nuns who retain a traditional habit.[3]

In literature[edit]

The Wife of Bath and the Prioress are depicted wearing wimples in the Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343–1400).

The King James Version of the Bible explicitly lists wimples in Isaiah 3:22 as one of a list of female fineries; however, the Hebrew word 'miṭpaḥoth' (מִטְפָּחוֹת) means 'kerchief'.

See also[edit]

  • Hijab, the Islamic head covering worn by Muslim women

Medieval Veil For Sale


Medieval Wimple And Veil

  1. ^Macklin, Herbert Walter & Page-Phillips, John, (Eds.), 1969, p.68[1]
  2. ^Macklin, Herbert Walter & Page-Phillips, John, (Eds.), 1969, p.69
  3. ^Heron, Lynford (January 18, 2003). 'Woman, Prayer & Head Covering'. Centurion Ministry. Archived from the original on 2010-03-18.
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