13th and 14th centuries: men’s hats

Men’s hats in the 14th century flourished, with some rather odd quirks that persisted into the next century. Men still wore the linen coif, the close-fitting cap that now most resembles a traditional baby’s cap. (Of course the baby’s cap is a holdover of the medieval coif.) The coif went under armor and even under other hats. But there were two new hat styles, in addition to some profession-specific ones.

The bycocket is a hat you’ve seen on Disney’s Robin Hood fox, and also on Dr. Seuss’s Bartholomew Cubbins, the boy who couldn’t take off his hat to the King because it kept replicating itself. It had a fairly tall peak on top of the head, but the real feature was a brim that stuck out like a point at the front. The bycocket had a brim all the way around the hat, but it was turned up close at the head. It only stuck out for a sunshade in front. Like the hat of Bartholomew Cubbins, bycockets could be plain for ordinary work, or fancy for aristocrats with tablet-woven braids, gold thread, or feathers.

But the really odd hat fad was the hood and liripipe. You’ll remember how the original hood was cone-shaped, but its tailoring was improved to fit the head better while keeping the cone’s point and, in fact, exaggerating it by making it trail off longer in a tube. The long tube, which hung down at back, was called a liripipe. Its length was a matter of personal style and decade-dependent fashion in the 13th century. But in the 14th century, someone in the upper classes decided to wear it with the face hole as a hat brim. Maybe they wanted to imitate a Turkish turban?

When the liripipe hat is turned this way, its long cone top or liripipe tub sticks out at the side, let’s say, over the left ear. Over the right ear is the floppy part that was supposed to cover the man’s neck and shoulders. The innovator who first turned a hood on its side wound the liripipe around the hat and pinned it, so that it was now a brim. Then he tucked the floppy part into the liripipe so that it stuck up and out like a giant broad feather. A new hat style was born: the chaperon. As odd as it sounds, this hat became the norm for men well into the 15th century. It lost all its practicality but, as so often happens, once it served no earthly purpose, it became indispensable. A role of fabric formed a brim and the liripipe could be tossed over the shoulder or draped across the front like a scarf. Here we see it on a bust of Lorenzo de Medici.

Certain professions and groups of men wore distinctive hats. Jews had to wear pointy yellow hats in many places; we find images of these hats in illustrations of the Bible, where Abraham or another Bible hero is pictured as a contemporary Jew in a weird yellow beanie. (Of course he’s also surrounded by men in coifs and liripipes, such was their idea of eternal fashion.) Scholars and doctors wore old-fashioned hoods, and as they went into the 15th century, they also wore bag-shaped silk caps. The modern graduating student’s cap is based on these hats, especially at the PhD level where silk caps and hoods are still common. Mummers began wearing caps with pointy “horns” that drooped or sloped down. Especially when made in parti-color silk, this hat developed into the “jester’s cap” we think of today.

Basic round hats and caps were also coming into use in lower working professions. One form had a brim all around for sunshade; we use many variants of this hat. Another was close-fitting with a turned-up brim. It sometimes had a “beanie” on top, which at the time was a practical feature: it was a little loop of fabric to use as a handle for removing the hat. Maybe that’s what Bartholomew Cubbins needed.

This entry was posted in Clothing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply