Elizabethan Coifs!

So.  Coifs.  Those damned things that I almost never see anyone wearing, and if I do, they are just sitting on the lady’s head.  Staying on….how?  Pinned to the hair or relying on a tight hat over it to keep the coif on usually.  There has to be a better way right?  There’s no doubt that they are period.  There are dozens of them on various museum websites, and the Arnold “Patterns of Fashion 4” book.  And some more here: www.elizabethancostume.net/headwear/coifpics.html.  Many of the highly decorated coifs survived, allowing us recreationists/costumers to study the real thing.  Now, the problem comes when we try to look for evidence of these coifs in paintings and woodcuts.  Well, there’s only sort of a problem.  I have yet to see any pictures of the coif just plopped on top of the head.  But, the lovely Attack Laurel wrote on her website (www.extremecostuming.com/articles/howtowearthecoif.html) about these coifs could have possibly been worn by ladies in the 1500’s.  Go look.  I loved this article when I first saw it a few years ago!  Thought it was the most awesome thing ever.  I have seen many pictures since then that seem to show something very similar. 

But when I tried to do it myself, I had problems.  This made me sad.  Sad sad sad.  It was a few years ago and hard to remember, but I think I didn’t understand the construction, particularly the gathering part  in the middle of the top edge.  So I had a pointy coif lol.  It looked silly, and not at all rounded out like some of the extant ones.  Booooo.  And I tried to put my hair into a bun, put the pointy coif on, then wrap the tie around the bun.  It looked stupid.  I didn’t like it at all.

Flash forward a few years.  I understood the gathered part of the coif now.  And I want hair coverings.  And I keep seeing those coifs made of two or three pieces of fabric, which the Tudor Tailor book provides the pattern and construction method for.  I was looking at Kentwell Hall pictures, and noticed that most of the ladies there wore the two/three piece coif, with the gathered circle in the back.  The cute girl here is wearing one if you don’t know what I mean http://www.flickr.com/photos/43657367@N04/5686542039/.  They are super cute, and I get how they came about that type of construction, but I wanted to make the Elizabethan one piece pattern work.

Sooo, I wanted to make coifs, and try to make them look like what I have seen in some of the paintings/woodcuts I’ve seen.

Coif with a high bun

Behold, a coif!

From left to right:
1.  Uncovered hair, using modern hairties/rubberbands
2. Coif, just sitting on my head, looking goofy.  You can see here that it is still a little ‘pointy’ looking in back.  I only gathered 1/3 of the coif, and after looking at the Janet Arnold research, I think it should have been closer to 1/2 of the coif gathered into the back.  But really, it works all the same.
3. Tied the ribbon around my head.  Kinda sloppy and ugly looking.  This is part of why I was so frustrated with the experimental coif I made years ago.  Although, with a little adjustment, I think this is almost how the flemish coifs in Aertsen and Beuchelaer paintings look.
4. You sometimes see a triangular cloth paired with the coif.  I was in a rush (impatient me) to see what it would look like with a ‘forehead cloth’ so I grabbed a red star covered bandana to use as a temporary stand in.  The existing examples of forehead cloths would have been a little smaller than my bandana.
5. Much better!
6. Pushed the bandana back a little, still pretty sweet.

Coif measurements are 25×45 cm, which seems to be about average for the extant ones, although there are definately both larger and smaller ones (hmm, which I guess makes sense if this is the ‘average’ size lol).


Coif with a Low Bun

I felt like the bun was a little too high in my first attempt, so I tried a lower one.  Also, I wanted to see if I could avoid rubber/elastic hairbands, and use ribbon ties instead.  Seems to have worked out alright.

1. Uncovered hair, so you can see where the bun is.
2. Red bandana over it, acting as the forehead cloth.
3. Tieing the ribbon across the top of my head.  Makes a goofy poof  where there’s no hair.  Dont like it.
4. Wrapped the ribbon around the bun.  It looks nicer, and seems works well enough, but the reference images of what I think are women wearing coifs show the ‘bump’ at the back of the head to be a little higher.
Middle Height Coif

And another try! Hopefully not too high, or too low. Using the ribbon again, and also wrapped it in a ‘hairtaping’ style.

Pretty pleased with how it came out.

The bandana did interesting things.  It kept the bottom half of the coif lower, where the bandana ties behind my head.  It also smoothed out the bun, preventing the ties from digging too much into the bun and making it bunch up funny.

I’d like to experiment a bit with wireing the front edge of the coif, to create some of the ‘open’ styles I’ve seen.  But later.  For now I am going to make a few of these to wear at Pennsic.  Trying them on in the bathroom for a few minutes is one thing, but wearing them all day might prove different.  We’ll see :)

Favorite reference links: larsdatter.com/rencoifs.htm

Related Projects