What is a French Hood?

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  • Written By: Janis Adams
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
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  • Last Modified Date: 22 January 2020
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First seen in 1490, the French hood became a popular type of women's headdress of the 16th century. The French hood is round in shape and was traditionally worn with a long black veil attached at its back. A specific hairstyle — a center part and two separate braids fastened at the nape of the neck — matched the hood. The hood was placed over the hair, covering the ears with the black veil obscuring the view of the braids.

Different from what is today considered a hood, which is attached to the body of a garment, the French hood is an entirely separate head piece. The hood is worn over a white linen or cotton piece called a coif. The coif, a tight fitting half cap, was always kept pristine and secured to the head under the chin with ties or attached to the head with hair pins. While the coif was worn by both the peasants and the aristocrats, the addition of the French hood was largely favored by the wealthier woman of the time.

Worn over the coif to add color and create contrast, the paste is worn to add structure. The term paste was derived by the process by which the material was stiffened using paste or a thick starch. Often, more than one paste would be worn at a time providing more color variation.


It is said to be Anne Boleyn, who spent her formative years in France, that introduced the French hood to the women and styles of England. At this time, the head piece was simple and unadorned. However, as with much of the evolution of women's fashion pieces through time subtle changes occurred. Billaments were added to the French hood creating an edging that was often pleated. Jewels of many colors and gold workings were attached featuring matching colors to the gown being worn.

As it gained popularity, the hood changed in shape and style. Originally, the French hood sat farther back on the head exposing the center part but as time passed the front was extended forward to shade the wearer's skin from the harmful rays of the sun. This bill or visor is called a bongrace or a cornet. Today, French hoods are worn as part of Tudor or Elizabethan costuming.


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