The steeple headdress, which became popular among women in France and then throughout Europe in the fourteenth century, was one of the most distinctive forms of headwear worn in human history. The steeple headdress began simply as a stiff cone whose wide end sat on the crown of the head, with the point jutting up and slightly back. The first steeple headdresses were covered with black velvet or silk.
From its modest beginnings the steeple headdress grew to great heights. Over time the length of the cone got longer and longer, reaching heights of up to four feet. Patterned fabric covered the cone, or strips of fabric were used as decoration. Often a sheer veil was attached to the point of the steeple, and the veil either hung down from the back or was draped to cover the woman's shoulders.
Keeping the steeple headdress on the head was no easy matter. At first it was pinned to a simple cloth cap that tied beneath the chin. But as the steeples grew taller, women developed more substantial undercaps with sturdy anchors. It soon became fashionable to show no hair beneath the steeple headdress, so women plucked their hair up to the line of the headdress. This and other bulky, pointed hats like the ram's horn headdress were called hennin.
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
[ See also Volume 2, Europe in the Middle Ages: Ram's Horn Headdress ]