Sixteenth-Century Headwear

As in the preceding several centuries, the hairstyles worn during the sixteenth century were driven by the tastes of kings, queens, and their courts. During the early part of the century, for example, French king Francis I (1494–1547) wore his hair in a long bob and many in France followed his example. In 1521 an accident led to a portion of Francis's hair catching fire, and the king was forced to cut his hair short. Again, his court and many other Frenchmen followed suit. Henry VIII (1491–1547), the king of England, liked the new French style and cut his hair short. In fact, he liked his short hair so much that in 1535 he commanded everyone in his court to cut their hair as short as his. The trend toward short hair for men, usually worn no longer than the bottom of the ears, continued for the better part of the century. It was only very late in the century that men began to grow their hair long, and they would keep it long for nearly two centuries.

The same kings who liked short hair also preferred beards, and there were a great variety of beard styles worn throughout the century. Only older men and poor men wore long, poorly trimmed beards. Upper-class men and those who wanted to be fashionable trimmed their beards and mustaches neatly. Some of the most popular styles were the pique devant, a narrow beard that came to a point, and the spade, which was shaped like a slightly rounded shovel. Some men cut their beard off square and others were even known to wear a forked beard.

Men also wore a variety of hats. Early in the century simple bonnets or caps, low, soft hats with narrow brims, were most popular. After about the 1570s, however, larger hats became more popular. Hats could be made of felt, leather, or even fur. The copotain, a tall, round-crowned hat with a medium brim, was one of the most popular hats. Hats could be worn very simply, or they might be adorned with feathers, jewels, or decorative headbands.

Bobbed hair and beards, as seen here on Sir Francis Bacon, were very popular on men in the sixteenth century. Courtesy of the .

Women continued to wear the large hats and headdresses of the previous century, but only in the earliest part of the sixteenth century. The custom that kept mature or married women from showing any of their hair in public was fading, and hat styles began to allow more of the hair to show. By midcentury hats and veiled headdresses, called lappets, and French hoods stood away from the forehead and temples to reveal rows of artfully curved hair. Very late in the century, and especially among royal women such as Queen Elizabeth (1533–1603) of England, small coronets (crowns) or jeweled hairpieces replaced the hat and allowed a nearly complete display of the hair. Elizabeth had dramatic red hair, but she was known to possess eighty wigs of varying color and style.

Women continued to wear their hair as they had during the fifteenth century: long and straight and styled with a variety of braids, curls, rolls, and other forms of wrapping. Metal hairpins were first used to keep hair in place in 1545, and by the end of the century women were using wire hair frames called palisades to give structure to their elaborately braided and styled hair. It was very common for women to add strings of jewels or flowers to their hair, or to string ribbons through their braids. Wigs or sections of false hair were also used when the woman's own hair was too thin or not long enough for the desired style. Also, many women used dyes or other methods to color their hair, with blond and red being favorite colors.


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.

Hair Coloring

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