The Real Deal on French Hoods in Film & TV

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Many times over the years, we’ve snarked TV shows and films for their wildly inaccurate takes on the iconic 16th-century head covering, the French hood. This was an item worn by upper-class women in Europe from about 1510 up to 1600, although it was most popular at the French and English courts around the 1520s to 1550s. This headgear is often associated with Anne Boleyn, who supposedly brought the fashion to England — that’s probably not true, though she may have made it fashionable. While I don’t know that an actual version of this headgear survives, there are TONS of portraits and images from the 16th century. The French hood appears as one of the most common types of head covering for upper-class women and even more middling-class women later in the century. But movies and TV have a really hard time reproducing it!

Instead of getting a sleek, flattened crown shape trimmed in jewels and with a dark fabric veil that covers the hair, we end up seeing sparkly headbands, sticky-uppy visors, and so much free-flowing hair. This Renaissance head covering is not the easiest thing to make but it’s not the hardest either, especially with all the visual evidence. So let’s take a deep-dive into what the real deal looked like and how movies and TV get it wrong and, sometimes, right.

 

French Hoods: Some Historical Background

The basics are that it’s a hat worn midway back on a woman’s head, with only the very front of her hair showing, and the rest of her hair is covered by the “hood” portion. This hood extends into a fabric veil that hangs down to the woman’s back. The part of the hat on top of her head is typically built up of several layers that may or may not be permanently attached to each other (there’s much conjecture among academics and reenactors, and I’m just going to side-step the entire issue because it’s not useful for film and TV). Not every French hood has every single layer — it seems to have changed over time, plus different women’s hats could be as elaborate as they wanted. After all, this is a style worn by countless people over most of a century! And in portraiture from later in the century, few layers can be seen.

Another key feature is the trim. Because this is high fashion, upper-class women had this headgear trimmed with one or more lines of jewels that could be removed, and these were thought of as a separate item of jewelry called “billaments.” Later in the century, when French hoods began to be worn by the middling class, they tend to be plain black and unjeweled.

Here’s our most popular French-hood-wearer, Anne Boleyn. Note the placement of the hood midway back her head and how it lies relatively flat to her head. There’s a front pleated layer, topped by a dark layer that has two rows of pearl trim.

Anne Boleyn, late 16th-century copy of a lost original of c. 1533-1536. National Portrait Gallery.

Now here’s a broad overview of the fashion and its evolution. At the start of the 16th century, a style of head covering worn by women in European courts is the type of hood on Juana I de Castilla. It’s often layered over another hood and / or a cap. The front edges could be elaborately decorated. This is the precursor to the French hood as we know it. Note the long “hood” at the back covering the hair (which would be styled and pinned up underneath; if not for modesty, just because it gives you something to better pin all that stuff into, yes, I’ve worn it, it works!).

1500 - Juana I de Castilla by the Master of Affligem via Wikimedia Commons

1500 – Juana I de Castilla by the Master of Affligem via Wikimedia Commons.

These hoods continue to be worn in the 1510s, around Spain, France, and the low countries. This next portrait, widely thought to be of Catherine of Aragon as a young girl, shows her wearing a black velvet hood edged in gold trim and layered over a red hood edged in a different gold trim with a gold pleated frill peeking out from below that. (Note: the round gold outline is part of the portrait but not part of the headdress; I’ve outlined where the hood is — that’s visible when lightened.)

1514 - Catherine of Aragon by Michel Sittow via Wikimedia Commons

1514 – Catherine of Aragon by Michel Sittow via Wikimedia Commons.

Starting in 1520s France, we can see the classic “French hood” shape coming into being, where the top edge is rounder and closer to the head, but also a bit farther back off the face and tucked up close to the ears. But check out all those layers on Marie d”Assigny’s hood, including a very delicate, sheer, innermost layer. That’s evidence of the origins of the style.

1525 Marie d' Assigny, Madame de Canaples by Jean Clouet via Wikimedia Commons.

1525 Marie d’ Assigny, Madame de Canaples by Jean Clouet via Wikimedia Commons.

I thought this 1530s English portrait was notable for the height of Lady Audley’s hood, which is accentuated by the thick upper billament. We snark the sticky-uppy French hoods that look like visors plopped backwards on a lady’s head, and while that’s not accurate either, there are certainly period images showing hoods that don’t just lay down flat on the head. Height can vary a bit.

1538 - Lady Audley by Hans Holbein the Younger via Wikimedia Commons.

1538 – Lady Audley by Hans Holbein the Younger via Wikimedia Commons.

This 1540s English portrait of Margaret Wyatt is a good example of the layers that can be added to a French hood. All about the customization, yo’. Lots of variations can be found.

1540 - Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee, from the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger via Wikimedia Commons.

1540 – Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee, from the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger via Wikimedia Commons.

Even before she was QEI, Elizabeth brought the bling — see how that upper billament dangles off of her hood? Talk about royal excess.

1546 - Elizabeth I when she was princess

1546 – Elizabeth I when she was princess via Wikimedia Commons.

This style of headwear would be seen less in portraiture after the 1550s in France, and below is the dowager queen with a last gasp at the fashion both in pink and with pearls on the main crescent part of the hat, in addition to elaborate billaments.

1555 - Catherine d'Medici via Wikimedia Commons.

1555 – Catherine d’Medici via Wikimedia Commons.

The fashion continued strong in England through the 1560s and even included pretty pointed styles (also in pink, matching her gown).

1565 - Mary (Browne) Wriothesley, Countess of Southampton, by Hans Eworth via Wikimedia Commons.

1565 – Mary (Browne) Wriothesley, Countess of Southampton, by Hans Eworth via Wikimedia Commons.

And heights continued to vary, as this 1570s English portrait by George Gower shows. It was fashionable for the hair in front of the hood to be curled or styled over pads, and that bit of puffy height means you’d want your hat — and the jewels on top of it — to be a little higher to be seen. It’s all part of the look!

1574 - Portrait of a lady by George Gower via Wikimedia Commons.

1574 – Portrait of a lady by George Gower via Wikimedia Commons.

Films and TV shows have plenty to work with for historical references and styles, and as you can see, they don’t have to make all their French hoods look identical because there was variety within geographic areas and over time. Even if a costume drama mixed and matched headgear over the 16th century, I’d be fine with it because that’d be 10x better than what we usually see!

And while I alluded to historical construction techniques, aw hell no, I’m not expecting that from movies and TV. I won’t bother with that myself — I’ve gotten amazingly good results from the theatrical-but-well-researched patterns designed by The Tudor Tailor. Any costume shop could use those designs and turn out French hoods that bear a striking resemblance to the portraits above. But instead we get so much shit like…

 

French Hood Failures on Film & TV

Let me catalog the ways! We’ve mentioned some of these before, but not all and not in one place. Plus, now that you’ve seen what French hoods should look like, you may understand our disgust better :)

 

French Hoods as Headbands

This is the lowest bar, where a production forgets that a “hood” is part of a French hood. There should be some kind of fabric veil hanging down behind the hat part and covering the hair. It’s not just a crescent that sits on top of the head — that’s a tiara or something!

Reign - tiara - headband

You might as well go full Reign. (Never go full Reign.)

No, a French hood is not a headband, and if you want a tiara, wear a frickin’ tiara!

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

While The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) is not particularly historically accurate, the back of that lady-in-waiting’s head makes it glaringly obvious she’s just wearing a headband instead of a proper French hood.

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969

Just a little jeweled headband for Anne of the Thousand Days (1969).

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Now, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970) has some great costumes for the time, but here’s Anne Boleyn with a pearl-edged headband. *sad trombone*

Henri IV (2010)

Marguerite de Valois gave up & just wears a headband for her wedding in Henri IV (2010).

Wolf Hall, Mary Boleyn

Wolf Hall (2015) had gorgeous & historically accurate costumes, so I was pretty annoyed by their lame excuses for headgear. The sheer veil on Mary Boleyn’s headband does not qualify for a hood IMO.

Wolf Hall, Jane Seymour

And Jane Seymour in Wolf Hall looks tragic with her sad little headband & scarf combo.

 

 

Loose Flowing Hair & French Hoods

This is another side-effect of not having an actual hood on your French hood — we see a lot of women’s hair. We shouldn’t though.

Gossip Girl - you can go now

Refer back to the historical portraiture above. Notice there are no long locks of hair hanging free. Newp!

Anne of the Thousand Days, French Hood

Genevieve Bujold is gorgeous, yes, but in Anne Boleyn would have covered her hair in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969).

It’s a docu-drama, but this Six Wives of Henry VIII (2001) managed to give Jane Seymour a decent dress, just couldn’t manage to tuck her hair away.

The Other Boleyn Girl

The headgear in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) is all over the map & most of it lets the hair hang free.

OK, we don’t expect much of The Tudors (2007), but I had to include it.

2019 The Spanish Princess episode 4

Likewise, The Spanish Princess (2019) has low standards, & here we see Princess Margaret in a so-called French hood with long hair with random pincurls.

 

 

French Hoods That Stick Straight Up

This may be the worst or maybe funniest offender in filmed French hoods. Yet it’s also somewhat arbitrary. Only sometimes is it sticking straight up — sometimes it’s just too high or sticking out too far. It’s just big and weird. Like art or porn, you know it when you see it. We often say it’s like a visor worn backwards on your head:

Beyonce

And while Beyonce can make that fashion, AFAIK she still doesn’t have the power to go back in time and make this historically accurate for the 16th century. Thus, French hoods that stick up are wrongity-wrong in our book.

1933 The Private Life of Henry VIII

The faux-pas starts early, as on Jane Seymour in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933).

Tudor Rose / Nine Days a Queen (1936)

Lady Jane Grey gets a sticky-uppy French hood in Tudor Rose / Nine Days a Queen (1936).

Hamlet (1948)

Ophelia in Hamlet (1948) is wearing some kind of veiled hood, not really sure what it is, but it sure does stick up!

My hood is my halo, St. Anne of a Thousand Visors.

Oh & here’s Anne again! Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) gives her a halo effect.

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) - Snark Week

C’mon, you were thinking it too!

Helena Bonham Carter in Lady Jane (1986)

Helena Bonham Carter gets a bedazzled halo in Lady Jane (1986).

That is the very essence of the ‘backwards visor plopped on her head’ look in Mad Love aka Juana la loca (2001).

2008 The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) rocks the loose hair *and* the visor fashion!

16thc flashback

And a side view of The Other Boleyn Girl‘s matching sister visors.

Wolf Hall, Jane Rochford

Wolf Hall (2015) had a plethora of annoying headgear. Here Jane Rochford wears a sticky-uppy visor-y French hood.

Is it a crown? Is it a French hood? WTFrock is this towering craft project from The White Princess (2017)?

2019 The Spanish Princess

There is no excuse for Margaret Beaufort wearing this hideous thing in The Spanish Princess (2019). It’s not accurate for her character or the period & it’s just ugly

2019 The Spanish Princess episode 6

And yet someone put her in a variety of shitty headdresses just like that throughout The Spanish Princess.

 

 

Crazy Sizes of French Hoods

This doesn’t happen too much, but it’s worth noting that size matters. A hat should not overpower the wearer’s face or head, and that goes for a French hood as well.

RuPaul - proportionize

Gotta get the proportions right! Every now and then, a French hood is too small:

THE TUDORS

What is that even supposed to be in The Tudors (2007-2010)?

But more often, they’re too freakin’ big!

2015 Carlos Rey Emperador

Looks like her head is stuck in a bucket in Carlos Rey Emperador (2015).

The Tudors

Yeah, The Tudors is low-hanging fruit, but it has to be said.

The White Princess (2017)

There are so many horrible headdresses for Margaret Beaufort in The White Princess (2017) that she fits in multiple categories!

The White Princess (2017)

It’s a ridiculous shape, yes, but it’s also ridiculously oversized.

 

 

Just WTF French Hoods

Sometimes, movies and TV shows just have no clue how to interpret historical headgear. And it shows up very poorly onscreen.

The 1550s costumes in The La Princesse de Clèves (1961) are quite lovely & historically accurate. The women should be wearing French hoods, but I have no idea what they ended up with.

La Princesse de Clèves — I’m baffled.

The Tudors

The Tudors (2007) really did Catherine of Aragon wrong.

These last few are from documentaries, and they still haunt me.

Elizabeth: Killer Queen (2013)

Elizabeth: Killer Queen (2013) seemed to have no budget for headgear, but I guess I should be happy her hair is up & covered?

World's Most Evil: Bloody Mary (2001)

World’s Most Evil: Bloody Mary (2001) is so shitty.

World's Most Evil: Bloody Mary (2001)

And yet, World’s Most Evil: Bloody Mary gets even shittier!

 

 

Historically Accurate French Hoods in Film & TV

Now, for the big question: do historically accurate French hoods exist onscreen? Well … kinda sorta, not quite completely. The sticking-upness is always going to be a judgement call, so these are my picks for least egregious on that count. What I’m mostly looking for is a moderate height, not angled too sharply up, with a nod towards layered creation, and a fabric veil/hood covering the hair.

doge - wow such try

Unfortunately, sometimes when I found accurate headgear, it was not paired with accurate clothing (or makeup). Few productions get everything right!

Ignore the princess-seamed gowns in Young Bess (1953) & focus on her nice little French hood with a dark veil down the back.

Diane (1956)

The movie Diane (1956) has some fabulous & pretty accurate costumes, which includes the headgear. Here you can see the green velvet hood that’s actually sewn into a hood, not just a veil!

A Man for All Seasons (1966)

A Man for All Seasons (1966) does NOT have the best French hoods (rather sticky-uppy), but I like how they *tried* to show all the layers that historically went into the item.

1969 Anne of the Thousand Days

While Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) has some of baddies on this list, they managed to give Catherine of Aragon an OK-looking French hood with a full veil.

Ditto Jane Seymour in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969). Guess it was just Anne that suffered from Leading Lady Syndrome.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Aside from the missteps with Anne Boleyn above, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970) does better with French hoods later in the series.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

OK so some of Katherine Howard’s hair is escaping her hood (it should be pinned up!), the style & shape of the headgear is nice in The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Then Katherine Howard gets all serious in The Six Wives of Henry VIII, still with good headgear.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

The final wife in The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970), Catherine Parr, has a decent French hood too.

The Prince and the Pauper (1996)

The 1996 The Prince and the Pauper was well-costumed, right up to the French hood.

2011-14 Isabel

While I question the costume itself, the headgear in Isabel (2011-14) looks spot-on.

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

And while so much in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) looked bad, this one French hood looks fantastic.

It’s sad that with so many 16th-century costume dramas having been made over the years, so few have gotten this typical item of women’s headgear correct. I guess part of the problem is that early productions made historically inaccurate versions, and those bad French hoods were recycled endlessly. But I’d hope that some bigger budget films or TV shows over the years would have splashed out for a few new and more historically researched French hoods! Especially when you look at what great quality gowns have been made, the headgear doesn’t always match. Oh well!

 

Does historically inaccurate headgear bug you too?

10 Responses

  1. Shashwat

    I have not subscribed to your Patreon(I don’t earn,and scholarships go to savings),so it means another twelve months for me.Meanwhile,movies and TV shows will taint the screen with dozens of visor-bonnet-minnie -mouse-hat monstrosities and make me wish you could somehow add and snark those with this article when non-Patreon supporters are able to view it.
    (I don’t think I can praise Sarah’s interpretation of a French hood enough.I think it could work very well for the earlier looser styles as well the particular tight profile seen in the french portraits.I always felt something was off with the most commonly accepted “accurate” single rigid piece interpretation,particularly the side profile and attachment of crescent to the band which causes a bit of the base to show near the ears,something completely inaccurate.After the dismissal of Mode Historique,it was terribly difficult to find your research article.)

  2. Van

    A friend of mine in the SCA… I think… saw and handled a few surviving French Hoods at either the BM or the V&A. She was in London, anyway

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Not a lot of clothing items from the 16th century still survive, & I’ve yet to hear of an actual French hood. Plenty of coifs from the late 16th century exist & are at the V&A & other museums.

  3. LondonKdS

    I thought when I saw the title that this post would be about historical French gangster films. Was Borsalino made long enough after the events it depicted to qualify to appear here?

  4. Roxana

    I have never understood why television makes such a mess out of sixteenth century women’s headgear. It’s not like there aren’t plentiful images available!

    • Trystan L. Bass

      Exactly! There’s so many images & even a lot of variety within those images — & they don’t look like what’s usually onscreen, unfortunately.

    • Trystan L. Bass

      I don’t expect movies or TV shows to construct historically accurate French hoods — that’s not practical for a lot of reasons. But it is easy to create a French hood that looks historically accurate using theatrical methods, as I note in this full article.

    • Shashwat

      There is a french hood tutorial on cardinal creations.She tried to copy the silhouette of the layered french hoods from the period paintings,but sewed the various components together along the edges while keeping the accurate structure in mind.It looks like a perfect,layered hood and is easy to wear too.
      They fail to make a convincing french hood in one piece because they are simply not clear about the structure.As has been mentioned on this site a gazillion times,the hood goes back not up.The hood goes above the paste or atleast at the very edge of it,but placing the paste above renders it as ugly as a visor.

  5. Roxana

    There seems to be a tendency to confuse French hoods with kokoshniks, which can be heavily decorated with long transparent veils.