Medieval Hairstyles for Men and Women: Guest Post By Regan Walker

Today, bestselling historical author Regan Walker brings us a guest post on Medieval hairstyles for men and women!

Detail of Illustration form an Italian breviary showing women's figured silk gowns and a saint. Bilbliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1380.

Detail of Illustration form an Italian breviary, Bilbliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1380.

The Medieval Era spanned the 5th to the 15th century.  For my Medieval Warriors series, I did considerable research on the hairstyles of men and women during the Medieval Era, though my particular interest was the 11th century.  For my newest book in the series, Rebel Warrior, I also needed to know how the hairstyles might have differed in Scotland.

Lagertha from Vikings.

Lagertha from Vikings.

The hairstyles and head coverings for men and women changed over the centuries, of course, but let’s begin with the early Medieval Era when the Vikings set out to plunder and conquer England and other places.

In the Viking period, the hair was long and blonde was the preferred color for both men and women.  The Northmen and women would bleach their hair with strong soap to lighten it.  Both the men and women might plait (braid) their hair as a practical matter, the men so that in raids their hair would be kept from their face.  Only the thralls or slaves had short hair to denote their low status.

Viking man with plaited hair.

Viking man with plaited hair.

During the 11th century and for some time thereafter, how you wore your hair in England depended on who you were.  The invading Normans, for the most part, kept their hair short and part of their head might even be shaved.  However, William II aka William Rufus, who became King of England upon his father’s death in September 1087, was said to wear his blond hair long (as did many men at his court) and parted in the middle with his forehead bare.  Generally, the Normans wore bangs and no beards, though they might have a mustache.

This image from the Bayeux Tapestry illustrates the general style.

Bayeux Tapestry, Harold Coronation.

Bayeux Tapestry, Harold Coronation.

Saxons, like Hereward the Wake, who fought William the Conqueror would wear their hair long and they would have facial hair, most likely a beard as well as a mustache.  In places like York, once the capital of the Danelaw, the styles might have resembled their Viking forefathers.

Hereward the Wake.

Hereward the Wake.

In England, the English women wore their hair long and, if married, covered. Christianity called for modesty in dress and a married woman’s hair—considered an enticement—covered.

Woman and Children.

Woman and Children.

Women of the aristocracy would wear their hair in two long lengths plaited with ribands (ribbon), or the loose lengths bound with ribands.  Sometimes they extended the braids to the ground by weaving in false hair.

The head cloth married women wore might be kept in place by a circlet, or if the woman was a royal, a crown.  Young girls would wear their hair loose, those of highborn families adding a wreath or chaplet of flowers.

Three Medieval Women with Head Coverings.

Three Medieval Women with Head Coverings.

In the image below of Queen Margaret of Scotland taken from the stained glass window in the chapel dedicated to her in Edinburgh Castle, you can see she wears lengths of hair wrapped with ribands, a head cloth and a crown.  Though the chapel was constructed after her death in the 11th century and the windows after that, they still suggest the hair of the time.

Queen Margaret of Scotland from the Chapel at Edinburgh Castle.

Queen Margaret of Scotland from the Chapel at Edinburgh Castle.

As the medieval era wore on, women’s head coverings took on greater proportions, and the wimple and veil emerged.  Upon the head women wore a wimple and about the throat an item called “the gorget.”  The wimple encircled the entire head under a veil, while the gorget covered the neck alone and was usually draped upwards and tucked into either a headdress or styled hair.

Queen Eleanor's wimple in Robin Hood.

Queen Eleanor’s wimple in Robin Hood.

The arrangement of the hair with the wimple and gorget was new, plaited in two tails, and these brought down straight on either side of the face.  Even married servant women would wear a wimple.

Servant woman in wimple milking cow,

Servant woman in wimple milking cow,

In the second half of the 13th century, noble women wore a veil with a broad piece of cloth underneath the chin.  Hairnets called crispinettes were at first worn only by noble women, but the style was later adopted by the other classes.

The nets held rolls of hair and plaits and were themselves held in place by a barbette and fillet.  The crispinette was an important part of women’s hairstyles and headdresses until the late 15th century.  To me, it looks like a lot of work and I’m sure the common women did not go to such trouble.

Woman in Crispinette (or Caul).

Woman in Crispinette (or Caul).

As far as I could tell from my research, except for the Normans, men of medieval England and Scotland wore their hair long, at least to the chin and perhaps to the shoulders.  Facial hair, even beards, abounded.

Robert I King of Scotland de Bruce and Malcolm Canmore King of Scots.

Robert I King of Scotland de Bruce and Malcolm Canmore King of Scots.

In the later medieval period, the beards became shorter, more controlled and sometimes not worn at all.  But during the time of my novel, Rebel Warrior, all the Scots wore their hair long and on their faces you would see at least the semblance of a beard.


When your destiny lies far from where you began …

Scotland 1072

The Norman Conqueror robbed Steinar of Talisand of his noble father and his lands, forcing him to flee to Scotland while still recovering from a devastating wound.  At the royal court, Steinar becomes scribe to the unlettered King of Scots while secretly regaining his skill with a sword.

The first time Steinar glimpses the flame-haired maiden, Catrìona of the Vale of Leven, he is drawn to her spirited beauty.  She does not fit among the ladies who serve the devout queen.  Not pious, not obedient and not given to stitchery, the firebrand flies a falcon!  Though Catrìona captures Steinar’s attention, he is only a scribe and she is promised to another.

Catrìona has come to Malcolm’s court wounded in spirit from the vicious attack on her home by Northmen who slayed her parents and her people.  But that is not all she will suffer. The man she thought to wed will soon betray her.

When all is lost, what hope is there for love?  Can a broken heart be mended?  Can a damaged soul be healed?

Praise for Rebel Warrior

“Master storytelling transports you to medieval Scotland!”
Paula Quinn, NY Times Bestselling Author

About the Author

Regan Walker is an award winning, bestselling author of Regency, Georgian and Medieval romance novels.  She has been a featured author on USA TODAY’s HEA blog three times and twice nominated for the prestigious RONE award (her novel, The Red Wolf’s Prize won the RONE for Best Historical Novel in the medieval category in 2015).

Regan writes historically authentic novels, weaving into her stories real history and real historic figures.  She wants her readers to experience history, adventure, and love.

Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, who she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.

Rebel Warrior on Amazon (United States)

Rebel Warrior on Amazon (United Kingdom)

Rebel Warrior on Goodreads

Regan Walker’s website

Regan Walker Facebook

© 2015-2016 Mimi Matthews

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10 thoughts on “Medieval Hairstyles for Men and Women: Guest Post By Regan Walker

  1. Regan Walker says:

    Jane, he had long blond hair and possibly a short red beard. He was called “Rufus” for his red face: “[William’s] complexion was florid; his hair yellow; of open countenance; eyes of changeable color, varying with certain glittering specks; of astonishing strength, though not very tall; and his belly rather projecting; of no eloquence, but remarkable for a hesitation of speech, especially when angry.” From the Gesta Regum Anglorum of William of Malmesbury (c.1080-1143).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Regan Walker says:

    Thanks, Mimi, for having me on your wonderful blog. Hairstyles is such a fun topic but for my Medieval Warriors series, I wanted to get them right so I did the work to find out… and it’s great to be able to share it with your followers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pam Shropshire says:

    No comment on the hairstyles, but I do want to say that I have very much enjoyed Ms. Walker’s medieval series so far – haven’t yet read Rebel Warrior but I do have it downloaded and waiting on my TBR. I have mourned the lack of medieval HRs since their popularity waned in the 1990s/2000s.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Angelyn says:

    HI, Regan! Wonderful post–the eleventh century is of particular interest to me. I’ve read somewhere, probably in Vitalis’ history, that the Church frowned on Rufus’ court in part because of the long hair and beards the Normans were adopting. In any case, the atmosphere seems to have resembled a frat party.

    Your book sports a sexy cover!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Regan Walker says:

      Angelyn, you are right! The Church did frown on his court for that. William Rufus had long hair and some said he sported a short red beard. But the Church, including Archbishop Anselm, condemned him for much more: for his hunting and gambling and his homosexual lifestyle. He will be a main character in King’s Knight, my next novel due out in the fall.


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