During the late Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500) and early Renaissance, a married woman was generally not considered properly dressed without a head covering of some sort. There were many types of head coverings and other accessories that covered not only a woman's head and hair, but also modestly draped her ears and neck so that only her face was visible. One of these accessories, which was popular during the 1300s and early 1400s, was the barbe, a more formal version of the wimple, another form of neck drapery. Named after the French word for "beard," the barbe was a piece of cloth that fit directly under a woman's chin and hung down to cover her chest, somewhat like a man's beard. Most barbes were made of simple white linen fabric, and many were pleated with tiny folds ironed into the cloth. The sides of the barbe were brought up on either side of the head, covering the ears, and pinned on top of the head. A veil or other head covering was usually worn with the barbe.
A variation of the barbe was the simpler barbette, or "little beard." The barbette was a strip of linen fabric, which passed under the chin, over the ears, and around the top of the head. The barbette did not provide quite as much coverage as the barbe but was a very common part of women's headgear. Barbes were very modest garments and were often worn by widows or other women in mourning.
Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2002.
[ See also Volume 2, Europe in the Middle Ages: Wimple ]