Like many of the fashion trends of the fifteenth century, the headwear worn during the fifteenth century underwent a shift after about the 1470s. In the first part of the century, headwear and hairstyles generally followed the conventions of the late Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500). Men tended to wear their hair in a bowl cut, although Italian men tended to prefer longer, curlier hair. Men were generally clean shaven. In fact, an English law from 1447 made it a crime for a man to grow a mustache. Men could wear a variety of hats, from the common hood, a staple of the Middle Ages, to the turban and a wide variety of other hats. One of the more popular hats of the early fifteenth century was the sugar-loaf hat, a felt or wool hat that was worn close to the head at the top and back and had a large bulge, shaped like an oval loaf of sugar (sugar was packaged at the time in these large loaves), sticking off the back top of the head.
Women's hair was obscured in most tapestries and paintings of the period, following the custom of having married women cover their hair. Before marriage, however, women wore their hair very long, often braided and piled on top of the head. For wealthy women, the headdress was an essential part of the wardrobe. Much time and energy was spent plucking or shaving hair from the forehead and the back of the neck to keep hair from appearing from below the rim of the elaborate hats that were worn. Along with the steeple and ram's horn headdresses of the fourteenth century, women added a variety of headwear that towered over or elongated the profile of the head. Decorative veils were hung from various parts of the headwear, not for modesty but to add decoration and bulk. Many women used a bourrelet, a thick padded roll, to add bulk to their headwear. The bourrelet could be worn at the top or the back of the head and was held in place with straps or pins. This heavy headwear was most likely very uncomfortable and surely restricted movement. Both men and women of the lower classes continued to wear simpler headwear such as a coif, a small cloth tied around the head beneath the chin, or a simple beret. Out of modesty, women covered their necks with a wimple or a barbe, simple pieces of fabric that covered the chin and neck.
Later in the fifteenth century men's hairstyles began to show some real changes. Perhaps following the conventions of Italian men—among the richest and best-dressed in all of Europe—men throughout Europe began to wear their hair longer, sometimes to shoulder length. Men generally did not wear beards and mustaches, but facial hair did become popular for brief periods of time in each of the European states. Hat styles remained similar, though more ornament was added. Feathers especially became popular late in the century.
Women continued to wear tall, cone-shaped headdresses into the 1480s and to raise their foreheads by shaving and plucking. After the 1480s, however, the tall projections disappeared from headwear, replaced by much smaller headdresses that framed the face. These fabric headdresses might be richly adorned with jewels or embroidery. As headwear styles grew simpler, hairstyles grew more complex. Hair was braided and woven into ornate buns and decorated with ribbons, jewels, and strings of pearls. False hair was used to add to a hairstyle, and many of the richest women wore wigs to avoid having to spend so much time having their hair styled. Hair dying was most common in Italy, where blonde was the favorite color, as it had been since the time of the Roman Republic (509–27 B.C.E. ).
Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.
Cosgrave, Bronwyn. The Complete History of Costume and Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.