One of the major trends of the late sixteenth century was for women to expose more of their hair and to wear more elaborate hairstyles. Borrowing from the tradition of creating massive shaped hats with the use of wire cages, such as the steeple and ram's horn headdresses of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, women began to use stiff wire to give structure to their hair. These wire structures were called palisades after the word for a fence of stakes used for defensive purposes in war. The term palisades was probably not coined by women who liked the fancy hairstyles, but rather by those who thought the styles were excessive and silly.

Women and their servants could use palisades in a number of ways. A common use of wire was to create a kind of dome above the forehead and to attach a linen cloth that flowed over the back of the head, revealing the hair beneath. Women might also braid their hair around a wire framework. The wires allowed the hair to take a variety of shapes that would be impossible without the underlying structure. Wire was also used with pads to give extra volume to the hairstyles and as an anchor for the strings of jewels and ribbons used to create the elaborate hairstyles of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.

Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Trasko, Mary. Daring Do's: A History of Extraordinary Hair. New York: Flammarion, 1994.

[ See also Volume 2, Europe in the Middle Ages: Ram's Horn Headdress ; Volume 2, Europe in the Middle Ages: Steeple Headdress ]

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