Women using bands 1260-1280Simple Steps to Look Great in a Veil, or Veil-and-Circlet, with photos.Medieval drawing (not by CV)

by Cynthia du Pré Argent
© 2000-2004 Cynthia Virtue

It is not difficult at all to look really nice in a veil, (see details below for men) and be freed from the worry of it coming off, inching up, or blowing around too much in the wind. Try using the bands of fabric method.  (Some other methods are also described herein.)

The things you need are:

Author and daughterThe ideal shape of the top of the veil should be as if it were just lying on your head like a tablecloth -- with apparently natural folds and ripples from around the temples downward.  There shouldn't be a lot of angularity above the veil, nor should it be perfectly smooth and tensioned across the top and back, showing your skull's shape.

If you like, you can also wear a circlet, but the circlet is not how the veil is kept on your head, so you don't need to cram it down.   If you attach this well, you can do anything and everything in your veil and bands, from walking in a strong wind to doing kitchen work, to hanging upside down, and your veil will not come off.

Keep in mind that some SCA kingdoms have sumptuary customs that say metal circlets are reserved, and most kingdoms reserve the fancier "coronets" for folks of certain stations.  If you like the circlet look, yet are not eligible for one, you can make one out of stiffened ribbon or trim.  Use of a stuffed roll about 1" across, as seen at many renaissance faires, is not supported by any medieval or renaissance image.

The coronet pictured below is my Court Baroness coronet, but any coronet follows the same aestheics for wearing, whether for men or women.  Men, of course, would not wear a veil and bands, but should wear the circlet as pictured, level, at the hairline, and not dropping back along the back of your head.men with crowns

Note that although you can see the chin band in some medieval paintings and statues, the horizontal band is by its nature, invisible, and thus its use is somewhat open to argument.  I am hoping to find more medieval illustrations or solid documentation (such as a household account, diary, sumptuary mention) of the horizontal band; if you have seen one, please drop me a note.  I am indebted to Eilis of Eisental, who found the top left image in the Murthly Hours, which clearly shows forehead and chin bands on two women.

I am quite convinced of its accuracy, but that doesn't mean you have to be.  The folks that first showed me this method probably got it from Calthrops English Costume.

It should be noted that this page is entirely for headwear prior to about 1300; after that, some "rules" changed, most notably, even complex headdresses seem to be mostly without chin bands of any sort, although it is a mystery how they stayed on.

Let's get started.  First, some terminology for the purposes of this page.

Map of the head

Note that the styrofoam head is very small relative to most real people.  The chin band here is about an inch wide; yours should not cover your whole chin-to-neck distance. 
Side View
Front View
first step The first step: Fastening the bands.

Both bands should be snug, but not uncomfortably tight. 

The first band is the chin-strap, sometimes called "the barbette" (little beard).  This wraps under the chin and reaches back, covering the ears, and is pinned at the top of the head, slightly back from the place you'd balance a book on your head.
The second band across the forehead, rests just below your hairline, and wraps back to be pinned at the back of your head. 
These two are then pinned together where they cross on each side of the head. 

Alternate position: Some folks report good results with the chin-band going behind the head, as if it were fastened like a kerchief that you put on over the head, then pull up above your face.  If you think your sources don't use a chin band, this is a way to get the invisible support for the veil -- if you have the right shape for the back of your head.  A braid can help keep this anchored if needed.

(The bands overlap more on the dummy's head than they do on my own head.  It's a tiny styrofoam head!)

First step
Second step Second step: putting on the veil.

Center the veil on your head, with the front edge just over the lower edge of the forehead band.  Pin in the center of the forehead band.
At the sides, pin the veil an inch or two above the intersection of the two bands.  This picture is inaccurate; it shows the pinning of the veil at the intersection.  This will not give as good a drape.

Sometimes I pin in the center back on the horizontal band.

Once it is pinned on, you (or a friend) can go back and pin it again, making a small pleat of fabric.  This pleat will help the edge of the veil that frames your face fall in a pretty ripple fashion.
This is all you need do if you want the veil to stay on during the day.

You can stop at this step if you don't want to wear a circlet.

Second step
Third step If you want to wear a circlet, it goes on last.

Circlets and coronets look best if they are only doing their job of being ornamental; since your veil is already held securely by the bands, they just sit on your head and look good.
If you try to keep your veil on with your circlet, by cramming it down over your head, you will soon get either the muffin-head look, or the egg-head look, and your veil will tend to come off when you don't want it to.
Circlets and coronets are worn roughly parallel to the ground: In front, the circlet should rest no farther back than your hairline, and no farther forward than half-way down your forehead.
In back, it should not be any lower than the back point of your head.

Third step
How not to wear a coronet These are photos of how not to wear a circlet. 

Notice that the circlet in front is about two inches behind or above the hairline, and in back, it is so low that you can see the curve of the back of her head. 
This is not an elegant way to wear any hat, be it circlet or cowboy hat.  It is, alas, the way many women wear  hats when they are not used to doing so -- you can see this a lot at school graduations, partly because the hats are poorly designed.
Don't spoil the effect of your splendor by wearing your circlet, coronet or crown gracelessly!

How not to wear a coronet

Queen EleanorOther methods of keeping your veil on which work and might be period:

I plan to post a few pictures of medieval women wearing crowns here, for corroboration, but until I do that, please refer to the other early-period garb pages that I have, for pictures.

If anyone reading these pages has a medieval example of women wearing their crowns in the way that I tell you not to do it, please drop me a note.  I'm fairly certain that you won't find any, but would like to know if I'm wrong.  I belive these methods and opinions are accurate for most Northern European cultures that wore veils and crowns.

One contrary artist's examples have been brought to my attention -- check out the crowns at the French Library; I'm not sure if this is only an artistic convention, or reliable documentation of a true counter-example, but some of them have the fronts at the bangs and the backs of the crowns very far back on their heads.  I still think that someone will look awkward to do otherwise than keep the crown on a strictly horizontal orientation.
All material © 2000 Cynthia Virtue Email Author with comments
Back to Virtue Ventures Main Page Back to Article Index

Visit my CafePress store!