Why Biggins Are Always “Unfortunate Bigginses”



a. A child’s cap. Obs.  ‘Byggen for a chyldes heed, beguyne’ (1530).

2. A cap, a hood, esp. a nightcap (now hist. and rare). ‘ Wyth roses, and vineger, and rewe stamped together, and put in forred clothe or biggen, applied vnto the temples of the heade or forehead, do seace greuous paynes in the head’ (1558).

3. = caul. Obs. rare. ‘called by some Midwiues, the Coyfe, or Biggin of the child; by others, the childs shirt’ (1611).

– Oxford English Dictionary.


Most people won’t have noticed my comment in the Helena Bonham Carter guide that “At least there’s no Unfortunate Biggins!” In Kendra-speak, taken from the mostly-learned-orally Renaissance faire term whereby a singular biggin received an S, because that’s how I heard the term, an Unfortunate Biggins is a coif — fitted to the head, no fancy poufs, no decorative edges, just a simple 16th century-style coif. But more specifically, an Unfortunate Biggins is one that is worn on its own, without any other headwear over it.


Well, many years ago I was watching The Virgin Queen with friends, when the character of Robert Cecil appeared. His character was a little bit slow, a little bit lame, a little bit DERP-y. And I realized that this was all encompassed by the fact that he only ever wore a coif, aka caul, aka biggin, all on its sad lonesome.

The Virgin Queen (2005)
Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 1.58.47 PM

“Why do you listen to all these other councilors when I am clearly rocking the Unfortunate Biggins?!” The Virgin Queen.

And since that time, all biggins/coifs worn on their own have become Unfortunate Biggins to me, and all their wearers look just a little bit soft. To wit:

1972 The Canterbury Tales

“Do I not look like I am a little bit touched?” The Canterbury Tales.


“I may be brilliant, but I am also clearly cooky, as you can tell by my Unfortunate Biggins” – Leonardo da Vinci. Ever After.




Now, this doesn’t apply to cute little caps with some fullness, or an interesting face shape.

Elizabeth R (1971)

Elizabeth R (1971)

1972 Henry VIII and His Six Wives

“I may be about to lose my head, but at least I look cute with my slightly gathered coif.” – Catherine Howard. Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972).

2007-10 The Tudors

“I look cute too!” – Anne Boleyn. The Tudors.


Nor does it apply to a hat worn over a biggin:

2005 Elizabeth I

“Your Majesty, by the simple expediency of wearing not one but TWO hats, I have escaped Derp-face and continue to be worthy of serving you.” – Lord Burghley. Elizabeth I.


About the only people who can get away with it are children:

The Mists of Avalon (2001)

“See? I’m cute!” – Morgaine. The Mists of Avalon.

Lady Jane (1986)

“I can pull this off, because I look 12. NOBODY IN THIS FAMILY UNDERSTANDS ME.” – Jane Grey. Lady Jane.


The More You Know



About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

9 Responses

  1. Lynn253

    You can thank unfortunate biggins for bringing me to your site in the first place. I was googling to try to find out what the heck the Freys from Game of Thrones were wearing on their heads, and surprise!, here you are. The discovery was not unfortunate for me, I’ve learned a lot from your site since then (and yes, donated and bought swag). :-)

  2. Carolyn

    I hesitate to quibble with the queens of snark (and costumey know-how), but weren’t coifs quite commonly worn as indoor hats? I mean, they weren’t always just under-hats, as it were?

  3. Liz

    This reminds me that the ENTIRE Frey family in Game of Thrones wears these caps and they all look stupid- on purpose of course.

  4. florenceandthai

    Nick Offerman rocks a shaggy bob wig and biggin in The Little Hours. I don’t even have to watch the rest of the movie – my week is made!