ladies hair covering

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ladies hair covering

Postby elastic » Sat Feb 21, 2015 12:48 am

I am aware that ladies were/are expected to cover their hair, but does that simply mean wear a suitable head dress, or does it mean completely hide any trace of hair?

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Brother Ranulf
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Re: ladies hair covering

Postby Brother Ranulf » Sat Feb 21, 2015 9:55 am

This is by no means a simple question.

In today’s mainly non-religious society it is difficult for many people to appreciate the influence of religion in the lives of medieval people and how important were the views of the Church. Imagine a time when the local parish priest was a figure of huge authority and the words of the Bible were used as a yardstick for morality and correct behaviour. In 1 Corinthians 11 4-16 we read the following passage:

Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil. A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God.

The gist of this is that women should have their hair covered when at prayer since their hair was seen as somehow a source of lust and therefore sinful. This was extended to women being seen in public; in contemporary images of Eve at the Fall of Man her hair is usually shown as uncovered to emphasise this idea. (See Representations of Eve in Antiquity and the English Middle Ages here: ... navlinks_s)

This premise that female hair was somehow equated with original sin was not always applied, however, and the facts are far more complex. We read of women in mourning or supplication with their hair uncovered, of female children with their hair uncovered and brides being married “in their hair”, meaning without a veil. The mothers shown in pictures of the Slaughter of the Innocents are almost always unveiled as a symbol of their distress.

Fashion also played an important part and clearly fashions changed hugely between 1100 and 1500. The universal style in the 12th century was for women to have very long hair, parted in the middle and dressed in two plaits. Clearly the veil would not cover plaits which could almost reach the feet, so some hair would always be visible. The well-known image of a Norman aristoctratic lady in the Fecamp Psalter of about 1175 shows her (unusually) wearing her hair up and covered in a crespine of orphreys (a net of gold threads) - her hair is therefore "covered" but still visible.
fecamp lady.jpg

This anticipates the hair fashions of the 13th and 14th centuries among the nobility, who aimed to follow fashion, have at least some hair covered, while at the same time allowing ringlets and other elements of the hair to be visible.

This figure represents Ecclesia (The Church) in the Hunterian or York Psalter of about 1170; the very long plaits are conspicuous:
hunt church1.jpg

Nuns, who strove to attain the ultimate state of grace, would have every part of the hair covered; ordinary women would be less rigorous but still subject to religious criticism and censure.

Brother Ranulf

"Patres nostri et nos hanc insulam in brevi edomuimus in brevi nostris subdidimus legibus, nostris obsequiis mancipavimus" - Walter Espec 1138

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