Detail of Triptych of Jan des Trompes, 1505, Gerard David.

The iconic and most easily identifiable item of female Netherlandish clothing is the heart shaped structured veil, or hovetcleet, seen in many paintings of the time. Most especially in the works of Gerard David and Joos van Cleve.

I’ve been looking at these for years. I made a version back in 2004, and I am in the process of making taking photos of a better version (for the second challenge in the Historical Sew Fortnightly-HSF).

This article is a short introduction to hovetcleets and oorijzers ahead of my HSF#2:Innovation post. I have a pinterest board dedicated to this style of headwear, and will post a much longer research paper with a number of images later this week.

In short

Hovetcleets appear around 1480 as a folded (probably rectangular) linen (or possibly silk) veil worn over a truncated hennin. They go through a few decades of being a structured (possibly starched) hood shape worn over a headband (and cap/net), held in place by oorijzers (ear irons), before transitioning into the attifet in the 1550s, an item familiar to Elizabethan costumers. Many of Breugel’s peasant women wear softer, unstructured versions of this garment.

The style seems to have been worn by married women as it’s most commonly seen on donors and women at work or contemplation. Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands and a widow, was depicted wearing one in her later life, with a double-layer pleated wimple.

My working theory is that if I see a heart-shaped hovetcleet in an image then it represents a Dutch or Flemish woman, and I am yet to find one that isn’t*.


Hovetcleet is an Old Dutch word meaning “head cloth”. I forget where I first came across the term. The modern Dutch word for this item is sluierkap. Within the English speaking world of costuming I have seen it referred to as a “white Flemish hood”. I have also referred to it as a “White Netherlandish Veil” as I think this is the most correct English description.

History and Development

Veils were worn throughout the middle ages, and the hovetcleet is one of the last vestiges of that item of clothing, before caps and cauls become the basic headwear of choice. Van Buren Weick’s master work on the evolution of fashion in Medieval France and the Netherlands (see end of article for reference) demonstrates quite clearly that this is an evolution from the diaphanous white veil covering a towering hennin that was fashionable in the mid 15th century. Slowly over time it transitioned into a veil covering a coloured hennin.


Romance of the Rose, c. 1490-c. 1500, Bruges, Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun

An image from the Romance of the Rose shows the 3 layers that comprise the hovetcleet: Van Buren theorises that this particular style arose in the early 1490s, as the earliest example she came across is in Maximilian of Austria’s 1493 prayerbook. Here are some other images from the 1493 painting “The Festival of Archery”, supporting this as the date of the emergence of this style.


Over time the shape changed to align with the shape of the hoods and bonnets which came into fashion in the French and Netherlandish courts. It became less elongated and closer to the crown of the head and the height of the veil against the jawline reduced. These images from the 1500s shows the next stage in development. A more defined heart-shape with a shoulder-length veil:

Detail of the Marriage at Cana, Gerard David, circa 1500

Whereas by the 1520s the veil is lighter and shorter, reaching the jaw line:

image 4: unknown

Portrait by Joos van Cleve.

Oorijzers (literally: ear irons)

Sometime in the late 1400s or early 1500s, a piece of wire was incorporated into Burgundian headwear to give shape to veils and potentially to keep the high padded caul headdresses balanced. This wire then develops into the oorijzers that appear in the archaelogical record from the early 1500s.

There are 5 extant oorijzers from the 16thC in the Boijmans database.

After the existence of this item was pointed out to me on the Elizabethan Costuming Group on Facebook I took a closer look at some hovetcleets and I agree with Louise Pass’s findings that these items were likely worn with the hovetcleet, helping to create and maintain the very sharp corner near the cheek that you see in some images, and the shaping around the face.

The research paper I’ll be posting later this week has some close-up images of a portrait at the Art Gallery of New South Wales which show shadow lines under the veil corresponding with the conjectured position of the oorijzer.

Stay Tuned for Part 2: The Quest for the Perfect Hovetcleet (my project for Historical Sew Fortnightly#2) and Part 3: The Research Paper


Anne Van Buren,  Roger Wieck, Illuminating Fashion: Study of Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the NetherlandsNew York : The Morgan Library & Museum ; London : in association with D Giles Ltd., 2011

*With the exception of a painting on wikimedia commons titled “Anne Stafford“, which is allegedly a portrait of the Countess of the Countess of Huntingdon. I have my doubts on the veracity of this portrait attribution. The dress is so similar to so many outfits seen in the Low Countries, and not like anything I’ve seen in the 1530s Tudor court. Also, Anne Stafford (Hastings), Countess of Huntingdon would have been in her 50s at the time this portait was painted. This painting is NOT of a 50 year old woman.