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What Is a Hennin?

Hennins appear in many medieval illuminated manuscripts.
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  • Written By: Kristen Osborne
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  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
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A hennin is a tall, medieval European headress worn by aristocratic and noble women. Hennins were made in three basic shapes: tall and cone-shaped, known as the steeple hennin; truncated with a flat end, known as the flower-pot or beehive hennin; and divided, or heart-shaped hennin. The hennin would be worn at an angle, pointing backward slightly. Often, a veil was attached to the top and allowed to flow to the wearer's shoulders, or even to the ground. A hennin was usually tied under the chin, using an extension of the veil or other thick cloth wrapped around the headdress or attached to its base.

Hennins were at the height of their popularity in the middle to late 15th century, particularly in France and Burgundy. Burdungy was a medieval feudal territory in what is now western France. Hennins also were worn in Eastern Europe, including Poland and Hungary. They were not as common in England and Italy, although there is some record of them being worn there as well.

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Not much is known about the construction of hennins, but it is believed that they were made from a light fabric or cloth, such as starched linen, possibly wrapped around a card or wire mesh material to help keep them stiff. They came in a variety of colors and were sometimes lavishly decorated with such items as pearls, silks, velvets and silver or gold cords. Women often pulled their hair into a tight bun that was hidden underneath the headdress. Some women would pluck their necks and brow-line so that none of their hair would be visible. Others would show their hair, either in braids or loosely hanging down. On average, a hennin would have been between 12 and 18 inches (about 30 and 45 cm) high, although some of the steeple versions worn by royalty might have been much higher.

Hennins appear in many medieval illuminated manuscripts and paintings, particularly those from France, including Tristan de Léonois Augustine, La Cité de Dieu and Histoires de Troye. Historical women who appear in portraits wearing a hennin include Isabella of Portugal, Mary of Burgundy and Margaret of York.

In popular culture, the hennin has become a trademark headpiece of a fairy tale princess. In Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the antagonist Malificent wears a what appears to be divided hennin that resembles devil horns. Disney also plays on the idea of the divided hennin with its depiction of Maid Marion as a fox in Robin Hood.

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jennythelib
Post 2

@dfoster85 - They are super easy. I actually did one for myself for a Halloween costume last year. You can look it up in Google and find a bunch of different sets of directions.

Basically, you use poster board for the hat itself. You can cover the poster board with fabric if you want to get fancy, but you don't really have to. You can decorate it with felt, fabric, or just plain construction paper, and you can get some tulle for a veil at a fabric store.

I used a ribbon tie under the chin for mine, but for a little girl, you probably want to use elastic. You can make the whole thing with glue or even staples - no need to sew anything. I'm sure your little girl will love it!

dfoster85
Post 1

Little girls *love* these! One summer in college, I worked in a shop that sold these at an amusement park (most kid's stuff in the shop, like stuffed animals and little fairy statuettes and so forth). We didn't sell many of the hennins because they were more money than most of the kids had with them. (We did, however, sell a lot of those ridiculous plush hats that the older kids like, the giant top hat-shaped ones.)

But the little girls liked to put them on and look in the mirror. Now I want to make one for my little girl for a costume. (Yes, she wants to be a princess. Sigh.) Are they hard to make? Has anyone done it?

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