Recreating “Flemish” Caps and Veils: Part One – Style Overview

Margaret in various caps and veils.

Margaret in various caps and veils.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Netherlandish clothing are the hats. It’s probably the whole reason that I’m drawn to the style. While the ladies of England and France were wearing the ubiquitous “French” hood, woman of all classes in the Low Countries adorned their heads with linen veils and caps. The exciting thing about that for me is that it means that I can wear some crazy hats without actually having to learn traditional millinery skills. Very little special equipment is involved. The patterns for the caps are very simple, and the veil is just a rectangle. It’s all pleasantly straightforward.

That said, getting the cap or veil into the shape you want requires a few other tools. The first of those is your own hair. It needs to be braided and put up securely because everything hangs off of it. Next is the oorijzer, or “ear iron”. This is a metal wire which runs around the back of your head and over your ears and provides a secure base to pin the cap to. Finally, the cap or veil has to be starched stiff and then pinned into place.

This series of articles will cover how I have made caps and veils, and how I dress my hair and wear the oorijzers to achieve the styles seen in artworks of the time.

First of all, though, it’s a good idea to get a quick overview of the evolution and variety of styles worn by women.

For a thorough history of the veil, or hovetcleet, in the first half of the 1500s, please be sure to read Karinne’s research paper. Here’s my quick summary: the hovetcleet is first seen in the Burgundian/Flemish paintings of the 1480s as a veil over a truncated hennin. As the first half of the Sixteenth Century goes on, the hovetcleet looses the extra height of the hennin, and begins to conform more to the shape of the head. Then the veil portion gradually shrinks in size.

The veil continues to be worn throughout the 1560-1580s.

From top left: Pieter Janz. Pourbus, Joachim Beuckelaer, Anthonis Mor, and Willem Key.

Paintings by (From top left): Pieter Janz. PourbusJoachim Beuckelaer, Anthonis Mor, and Willem Key.

Gradually the veil began to be replaced by plain white caps. Sometimes they become so large that the starch can no longer hold them out in a smooth shape. In the bottom two of these paintings you can see the fabric starting to droop and settle into folds. The next step was to begin to sew darts, triangular folds, into the brim of the cap to control the fullness.

From top left: Jan Claesz, portrait of Dame Bridget Meade, Frans Pourbus, and Adriaen Thomasz. Key.

Paintings by (From top left): Jan Claesz, portrait of Dame Bridget Meade, Frans Pourbus, and Adriaen Thomasz. Key.

At first the pleated caps continue to face forward.

Frans Pourbus and Jacob Willemsz. Delff.

Paintings by: Frans Pourbus and Jacob Willemsz. Delff.

Eventually, the brim turned up and out into the halo shape which starts to appear by the late 1590s. The brim continued to increase in size, and by the 1620s was folded back across the head.

Looking for the rest of the series? You can find them here: