Ostentation in the 15th Century was not restricted to the outrageously ornate Houppelande, it applied to the millinery too. ‘Where too much is barely enough’ as Lady Acacia says, fifteenth century western Europe was home to headwear which ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous – in my opinion, both the chaperon and the headroll straddles both these attributes.
The chaperon is basically a donut of fabric covered filling worn on the head. ‘A period source mentions the "hair of dead women," but since that's in fairly short supply these days…A friend recalls seeing a round cork shape in a museum which was made to be rolled up inside a hood to give the stuffed effect, but I do not have any source material on this option.’ (Cynthia Virtue aka Cynthia du Pré Argent, Women's Roll Hats)
The chaperon appears to have developed out of dagged hoods with long points at the back. This point, in reality a long tube of fabric, is then wound around the head with the dagging falling over one side. As with many fashions, over time it appears that the headroll or chaperon replaced the hood as headwear in its own right.
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1412-1416 http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/rh/.
The chaperon and headroll was worn with a number of garments, most notably the Houppelande. Both men and women wore a variety of headrolls in different shapes, round, dipped at the front, square shaped. It appears more common for men to wear plain and heavily dagged chaperon, but women wore them too. This can be seen in the above detail representing April from the Calender section in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry a medieval book of hours painted approximately 1412-1416
I fell in love with the Houppelande when I was lucky enough to wear it at a fashion parade during the Abbey Medieval Fayre in 2011. Although I have been re-enacting in non-SCA groups for some years, I had never encountered this particular style of medieval garb and was instantly hooked. I decided, with huge amounts of help from Baroness Acacia, to make my own Houppelande. Of course, one is never enough.
In March 2015, made a pea-green wool Houppelande with scalloped dagging and decided to make a chaperon to complete the outfit. I had lusted after Baron Drake’s chaperon for some time and he kindly allowed me to examine how he had approached making it. Using this and a variety of secondary sources (paintings from the period) I came up with a pattern.
My Construction Methods
The construction for headrolls are surprisingly quick – between 4 to 20 hours depending on the complexity of the dagging.
By using fully felled wool for dagging, I did not need to finish any edges and it gave a clean, crisp result.
When I made my original headroll I stuffed it with cloth, but this was far too heavy to wear for more than an hour. This green chaperon is stuffed with polyfill. The purple and cream double dagged headroll used lambswool and I am delighted with the result. It is lighter and softer than polyfil and has given the best look so far.
Chaperons 3 and 4 were for other people and completed later in 2015. Both were filled with carded lambs' wool. They were packed more firmly than Chaperon 2.
For more firmly shaped headrolls I am still trying to source artist’s Styrofoam of sufficient size for a future project. Stiff foam cut into shape may also be a reasonable substitute for the more historically accurate, but no longer available, cork.
Author: Nicola de Coventre (nee Nicola Boyd). Images and text copyright 2020.
Dr. Nicola Boyd
I have been creating historical clothing for over twenty years, but in the last decade, since I joined the SCA, that I have gained confidence in my research and practice.