In most historical fiction set in the European Middle Ages, the female characters wear coifs.
But what exactly was a coif?
Coifs were various styles of close-fitting caps that covered the top, back, and sides of the head, holding the hair in place and away from the face.
In the Thirteenth Century coifs were worn by everyone, but they slowly fell out of fashion for men. Women and children, however, continued using them well into the Seventeenth Century. Not only were they a practical item for additional warmth in winter, they also provided a level of respectability for women and could be turned into a decorative status symbol for the nobility.
Up until the Tudor era, coifs were made from unadorned white linen and tied under the chin. In Elizabethan and Jacobean times the hoods of the wealthy were made from silk. They were often embroidered with elaborate Blackwork stitches. Many had fancy lace edges.
Noble women’s coifs were usually wired to fit discretely under the current head fashions of the day. They gradually became smaller to allow curls to flow down the back of the lady’s gown.
Workers and servants wore large, plain practical wraps that completely covered their hair.