The Truth About Head Necklaces

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Our tendency to eye-roll head necklaces seems to have struck a nerve in some of our readers. If reading any teeny bit of criticism for an otherwise enjoyable show is too much for you, stop reading now. Go watch The Tudors or read a Philippa Gregory novel, because you’re clearly not our target demographic. And if you’re still here and wondering why we are such haterz, familiarize yourself with our FAQ first before you start throwing tantrums in the comments.

And now, with that out of the way…

 

Why do head necklaces irritate us so much?

If you haven’t seen Trystan’s video on the subject from Snark Week 2017, here it is again:

Apparently this hasn’t sufficiently addressed our irritation with the so-called head necklace because we’ve been getting comments recently to the effect of “I don’t understand why you assholes hate head necklaces so much since they’re totes period.”

Well, hypothetical commenter, the reason we are so anti-head necklace is that very few people understand how and when to properly wear one.

Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait, La belle ferronnière, c.1490. The title was a 17th-century invention, a fanciful effort to connect the sitter of the portrait to the wife of an ironmonger (ferronnier) who was supposedly the secret mistress of Francis I of France. It’s all probably bullshit, but it is a pretty portrait, and it’s where the term ferronnière originates.

I would like you all to take note of the following:

  1. This is not a necklace plopped on the head;
  2. This is late-15th-century Italy.

Proper ferronnières are usually a single thong of leather or a thin strip of metal with at most three jewels strung/set into the center — later, a strand of pearls with a pendant of some form in the center became fashionable. They were really only a fashion in Italy (and parts of Spain) in the late-15th-century, and then came back into vogue in the first half of the 19th century before pretty much disappearing entirely.

While there was a fashion for forehead jewelry that persisted on and off throughout the next couple of centuries, we’re talking things like this:

Portrait of Elizabeth Brydges, c. 1589. She’s got jewelry in her hair, but none of it is in any way a necklace.

Moving forward in time, let’s discuss some period examples from the 19th century, shall we? Victoria (2017) is one of the recent shows to get the whole concept of a ferronnière wrong.

AND LET ME BE PERFECTLY CLEAR: I ACTUALLY LIKE VICTORIA.

(I am putting that in shouty-caps because I feel like some people miss the fact that just because we point out historical inaccuracies in shows, doesn’t mean we don’t like the show. This is apparently hard for some people to grasp.)

Anyway, disregard what Wikipedia has to say on the matter, in the early-to-mid-19th century the ferronnière was a fashionable formal wear accessory. A woman would not have worn one during the day, or out shooting archery, or riding, or for an afternoon stroll. The only possible exception to this rule that I’ve been able to find is this portrait of Empress Maria-Anna of Savoy, who looks dressed in day wear, but is sporting an epic head-ruffle and straw hat combo in addition to a pearl drop ferronnière.

John Ender, Empress Maria-Anna of Savoy, 1820s.

So yes, exceptions do exist; but they aren’t the rule by far. Certainly by the time Victoria took the throne, the ferronnière was virtually never seen unless it was paired with a formal gown.

Sir George Hayter, Portrait of the Duchess of Kent, c. 1835.

Karl Joseph Stieler, Portrait of Lady Jane Eskine, 1836.

Pimen Nikitich Orlov, Madame Panina, 1840s.

Queen Victoria, 1837. Artist unknown.

John Partridge, Queen Victoria, 1840. Via The Royal Collection.

Extant ferronnière, c. 1837 Netherlands. Does this look anything like a necklace to you?

So, when the head necklace shows up in a historical flick, it is liable to get a strong side-eye from The Original Broadway Recording Cast for the following reasons:

Inappropriate Period

Like I stated above, the ferronnière was fashionable in two distinct periods, separated by 300 years; first in late-15th-century Italy, and then in early-19th-century Europe in general. Any time you see a ferronnière outside of those two periods, chances are pretty good that it’s not supposed to be there.

This is from the series Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth (2012). It is supposedly set in early-13th-century France.

 

Elizabeth Taylor wearing a freaking fabulous ferronnière in Taming of the Shrew (1967), but its still not period for the 1530s.

 

Tamzin Merchant as Katherine Howard in The Tudors. Not appropriate for 1540s England.

 

Reign (2013-) is a frequent offender. To be fair, though, 99% of the stuff on this show is in no way historically accurate for anything other than whatever’s in the current issue of Vogue.

 

Inappropriate Situations

Even when the era is correct, frequently the head necklace appears in inappropriate situations. I refer you to what I wrote above: Ninety-nine times out of 100, a ferronnière was worn with formal wear.

VICTORIA (2017)

Not while doing sporty stuff as seen in Victoria (2017).

 

Or rendezvousing in a garden with your secret boyfriend during what is obviously the middle of the day and outdoors… Victoria (2017).

 

Literally a necklace worn on the head

Can’t we cut just a little slack when it’s the appropriate era to wear a ferronnière?

Nope, not when it’s literally a necklace worn on the head.

Another offender from Victoria (2017). Ferronnières are historically accurate for the early part of Victoria’s reign, but they’re not a necklace from Claire’s plonked on the head.

 

One of the biggest offenders, Da Vinci’s Demons (2013-2015) featured some outstanding examples of actual necklaces worn on actress’ heads.

 

War & Peace (2016) actually features the same head necklace as the one above. And while you could argue that ferronnières would have just been coming into vogue in the early 1800s, they’re still not necklaces worn on the head.

So what are some examples of when movies get it right? Well…

Half-right

Even though it looks an awful lot like a necklace, at least the Duchess of Whatever is wearing it in an appropriate context — during an evening piano performance by the Queen. Victoria (2017).

Completely Right

Giulia Farnese gets to wear this lovely little ferronnière multiple times throughout The Borgiaswhich takes place in the 1490s.

Notice how it isn’t just a necklace worn on the head? It’s more like a jeweled strap.

So, in closing, ferronnières are indeed period … FOR VERY SPECIFIC AND VERY NARROW PERIODS OF TIME. I hope I have helped shed some light on the subject, but as always, please feel free to have a meltdown in the comments about all the ways I am wrong and/or a huge bitch for hating on head necklaces.

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Website

Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

45 Responses

  1. Susan Pola

    I love the snark. Or should I use all caps when referring to the wonders of SNARK? Hmm, inquiring minds want to know…*snicker*.

    I agree that the Duchess of Sutherland should not be wearing her ferronniere playing at being Katniss Everdeen rendezvous with Ernst and that Victoria overdid the head necklaces. (I too love the show) But it looks like the powers that be (production office) thought that if one ferronniere was nice, buy in bulk at Claire’s.

    Reply
  2. Liutgard

    Ah… forehead necklaces. :-) Sarah, have I told you how much I love you?

    They’re a frequent offender at SCA events too, mostly among newer members. All I can say there is educationeducationeducation…

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Eh, if it’s on a n00b, I’ll let it go. If it’s on a triple Peer who has been in the SCA since A.S. Rocks Were Soft and who has a Viking persona…? Then we have problems.

      SHOW ME THE DOCUMENTATION BITCHES. ;)

      Reply
  3. Susan Pola

    Wonder when the Borgia era ferronniere became a sideways headband looking item? Had to be in the !800s. But I prefer incorrect ferronnieres over derpy flower head garlands.

    Reply
    • Renee Schmutz-Sowards

      I would buy that shirt! lol (considering I’ve had a love affair with sticking necklaces on my head since I was a child, and to be honest..I’m probably not gonna stop anytime soon. Even though I really do know better. ;) )

      Reply
  4. Raven

    Hooray, thanks for this! Loved the rundown. Also, I am just offended by the complete impracticality of plonking a literal necklace onto the head. It gets super tangled in hair! Not worth it!

    Reply
  5. picasso Manu

    Snark foreva!

    And the head necklace is a costume trope. I just have no idea where and when it started, and when the “ladies have necklaces on head, it must be late medieval/renaissance period” became a thing.

    I was thinking Marina Vlady in “La princesse de Clèves” was the culprit, but I can’t find her sporting one.
    Although I’m sure I remember seing some on TV as a child…Argh, it’s not easy being an old!

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      Yeah, I’m not sure when the head necklace came into existence as a trope, but it’s firmly entrenched now, unfortunately. :P

      If you’re late-Gen-X, early-Millennial, one of the seminal examples of a head necklace is the Princess in “The Never Ending Story.” I think a lot of my irritation with head necklaces probably stems from that character since I *haaaaated* her as a kid. So ineffectual and pointless! WTF was she even there for??? AND THAT DUMB HEAD NECKLACE — just added insult to injury.

      Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I doubt it will really help, unfortunately. We usually get the irate commenters during Snark Week when our posts tend to get shared more widely, thus appearing on people’s FB and Twitter feeds who wouldn’t normally be here. Non-SW posts like this one are mostly just you regulars, who get it.

      But either way, I’ve learned that even with the eighty million disclaimers and warnings and explanations and links to the FAQ, people aren’t going to pay any attention to any of it if they’re just determined to be shitty. :P

      Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I *think* the lenza is the Italian term for ferronnière… I’m not so great with my Italian-French-English terminology, unfortunately, but 5 minutes of Googling makes me think it’s the same thing. ;)

      Reply
  6. Frannie Germeshausen

    I’m thinking the correctly-worn item is the Mother of the Flapper Bandeau. Which is also not a repurposed necklace on my head.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I was tempted to include the 1920s bandeaus but ultimately decided to just keep it focused on pre-20th century since that’s what I’m most familiar with. But you’re definitely spot-on — the bandeau routinely gets “head-necklace’d” in modern films based in the 1920s.

      Reply
      • Katherine Wise

        I was wondering why the 20s were skipped. Generally, beaded headpiece s of the twenties were almost cap-like, having strands of beads running from front to back. Or they were wide pieces of stiffened fabric covered in beads, some of them almost crown-like. Very few have center pendants, most have two larger gems at the side. My big pet peeve of faux twenties head gear is the stretch sequin band with feathers and junk glued at one side. Not even close people

        Reply
  7. Rose

    The Kate Mosse Labyrinth story is actually set in 1209. It was specifically set during the crusade against and removal of the Cathars from the Carcassonne city. So they’re costumes are way off.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      D’OH! You’re right! For some weird reason I had it stuck in my head that it was late-13th-century, not early13th-century despite the fact that the Albigensian Crusade was 1209-1229. Imma change that right now.

      Reply
  8. Susan Pola

    One of the things I hope to see in season 2 of Victoria is the ball where V&A dressed as Edward III & Philippa of Hainault. And of course, bye bye to Lehzen. And you?

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      I would love it if they include the Edward III/Philippa of Hainault costumes… I’m not optimistic, though. They’re definitely on the side of “impression” not “accuracy”. :P

      Reply
      • Susan Pola

        True, but at least the costumes are semi-accurate, in a sort of way. The corset scenes look about 88-90% right. And compared to Reign ….And they almost had the wedding gown.

        Reply
  9. Jen in Oz

    I was going to comment about how men on Krypton wrote bands on their foreheads in the classic Superman comics and in the 80s Supergirl did too, fighting the fight for equality, but then I decided to simply mention the
    time that Princess Diana actually wore an actual necklace on her forehead. (Sorry I don’t have photos but I recall it being mentioned in at least one book iIown about the queen’s jewellery)

    Reply
  10. Daniel Milford-Cottam

    Been having fun looking up ferroniere images, and actually, there are a few very necklacey-looking ones out there…. I just found some that I thought were really interesting.

    Russian Tsarina rocking the head necklace (the size of that centre pearl!) ANNNND then topping it off with a tiara! (should I even be giving the Flippies* IDEAS?) Actually, this looks really early based on her dress, the very, very high waist and smaller fancy sleeves looks 1815-1820-ish, so that’s interesting to me, it’s quite early for the look, and SORT of gives some justification for War and Peace, but not for the W&P execution of it.

    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elizaveta_Alexeevna_by_anonymous_%2819_c.,_Pavlovsk_museum%29.jpg

    More ferronnieres with day dresses here – seems to have been quite a Russian “thing” actually.

    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Karl_Brullov_38.jpg
    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Luisa_Golitsyna_Baranova_Sokolov.jpg

    I really want to see a bigger reproduction of this one as she does look a little more like a relatively normal lady rather than a princess/aristocrat, and it is definitely day wear: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lady_in_green_by_Vasily_Tropinin_%281838,_Altay_museum%29.jpg

    Josef Karl Stieler also seems to have painted quite a few ladies wearing head-necklaces in the 1820s and 1830s… they really do look more like head-necklaces than ferronnieres, especially the blingy chain and gems worn by Amalie von Schintling:

    http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/173456349

    and “Charlotte” being all historical-revivally (but of course it is worn very high on the head, rather than around the forehead….)

    http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/587489258

    Cornelia Vetterlein with what does rather look like a pearl necklace on her head.
    http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/173456344

    Marchesa Marianna Florenzi totally looks like she’s wearing a head necklace too…
    http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/173456350

    And sorry to go off topic, but while looking at all the Stieler portraits – I’m loving Nanette Kaula for having the most fabulous gold filigree arrow shot through her hairdo. Sure it ain’t a ferronniere or a head necklace, but I love it, and wouldn’t have seen it if not for doing this picture research! (http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/173456345 )

    But yes, it’s amazing how many ways there are to get it so very wrong….!

    * Philippa Barnes fans. Would “pipsqueaks” be too unkind?

    Reply
    • Daniel Milford-Cottam

      Oh god, I meant Phiiippa Gregory. Apologies to Philippa Barnes, whoever she is, but who I am sure is a very lovely person, and I have no idea why I put “Barnes” when I meant “Gregory.” My brain doth work in peculiar ways.

      Reply
  11. Misty Smith

    Always wonder why you had a problem with head necklaces. Now I know & totally understand, Thank you x

    Reply
  12. Lin

    I got so mad while watching Victoria! An otherwise excellent costuming job ruined by ye old renaissance accesorizing :(

    Reply
  13. Lorien Fletcher

    I read somewhere that a famous actress/style setter in the 1920’s was in a hurry before an interview at home and quickly slapped a necklace on her head before the interview for the photos.
    Clara Bow, Coco Chanel? Can’t find the reference now, darn it.

    May have been a story told by Marion Boyce, the Miss Fisher costume designer. That may have been the reference for Miss Fisher to wear one.

    Reply

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