Top 5 Hennins in Historical Costume Movies & TV Shows

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I’m not our resident medievalist — that honor goes to Sarah — but there’s one particular aspect of medieval fashion that I love, even if I don’t know enough about it: the hennin headdress. Hennins were a 15th-century fashion, particularly in Burgundy and France from the 1430s through the 1490s. It’s the classic, pointy, princess hat, frequently with a veil, that adorns medieval maidens of yore.

Most of what I know about hennins is pretty limited, but this blog post from the British Costume Society has a good overview. Marella Alves Dos Reis writes,

“[The hennin]  is the tall conical headdress and veil worn by noblewomen of the late Middle Ages, which was worn at an angle at the back of the head… it was the height that primarily influenced the headdresses of the latter part of the century. It was in this period that the hennin was popularised, and although there were a variety of tall headdresses around Europe during this time, it was the hennin that came to be the most emblematic of the period.”

There were different variations, including hennins with flat tops and ones with pointed tops, and some people include styles like the swoopy escoffion under the term. But here’s the classics:

Young Woman with a Pink by Hans Memling, c. 1485-90, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The classic, pointy hennin | Young Woman with a Pink by Hans Memling, c. 1485-90, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Petrus Christus, Portrait of a Young Woman, circa 1470. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

The flat-topped version | Petrus Christus, Portrait of a Young Woman, circa 1470. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

Petrus Christus, Detail from the Triptych of the Crucifixion aka A Goldsmith in his Shop, 1449. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The double-pointed hennin | Petrus Christus, Detail from the Triptych of the Crucifixion aka A Goldsmith in his Shop, 1449. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

With that background, let’s look at five solid instances of hennins on screen! Are any of these historically accurate? I sure doubt it, but medievalists, let us know in the comments!

In chronological order:

 

Richard III (1955)

In the Laurence Olivier adaptation of the Shakespeare play, Claire Bloom as Anne Neville rocks all KINDS of pointy/veily goodness:

Richard-III 1955 Richard III (1955)
Richard-III 1955

(Photo by Thurston Hopkins/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Richard-III 1955

 

Cinderella (1965)

The TV movie adaptation of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical features the step-sisters in double-pointed hennins, while mom rocks an escoffion:

1965 Cinderella
1965 Cinderella

(Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

1965 Cinderella

(Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

 

Ever After (1998)

Angelica Huston gets all kind of over-the-top headwear as the evil step-mother in this relatively-historically-accurate adaptation of the Cinderella story. But at the final ball, she rocks a sheer, double-pointed hennin with metallic veil — no doubt to increase her evil appearance.

1998 Ever After Angelica Huston & Megan Dodds in "Ever After" (1998).

 

The White Queen (2013)

I had a lot of problems with this Philippa Fucking Gregory adaptation about Elizabeth Woodville, but one thing I liked was the fact that her mother (played by Janet McTeer) wore some lovely hennins with dramatic veils.

2013 The White Queen 2013 The White Queen

 

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (2016)

The BBC’s series of Shakespeare adaptations always went historical, even if not everything was specifically accurate. Sophie Okonedo plays Margaret of Anjou in three of them (Henry VI part 1, Henry VI part 2, and Richard III), and wears this gold hennin, while her court ladies also wear the style.

2016 The Hollow Crown- The Wars of the Roses 2016 The Hollow Crown- The Wars of the Roses

 

Special Bonus: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

If I’m going to be honest, the Disney animated movie is my platonic ideal of “medieval.” I’m constantly drawn to the beautiful costumes on the background characters, many of whom wear varieties of hennins!

1959 Sleeping Beauty 1959 Sleeping Beauty 1959 Sleeping Beauty 1959 Sleeping Beauty 1959 Sleeping Beauty 1959 Sleeping Beauty

 

Alright, those who know: are any of these hennins vaguely historically accurate? Can you recommend any films/TV series that do feature historically accurate hennins?

47 Responses

  1. Aleko

    The big problem with the hennins you show here from The White Queen and The Hollow Crown is not the hennins in themselves (though the little flowerpot Janet McTeer is wearing is far too small, so it can only sit on the top of her head – take the butterfly veil off and it would be a fez): it’s the hair. I’ve never, ever seen a contemporary depiction of any kind of hennin that allows a glimpse of any more than the hairline, with all the hair ferociously scraped back and hidden.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Claire Bloom’s Anne Neville has it right. (It takes someone as lovely as Bloom to get away with that stripped-down look.) Thanks for the photos of McTeer; I tried watching one episode of TWQ, and she was the only reason I could discern for sticking it out.

      Reply
    • Roxana

      My thought exactly. Sophie Okonedo is incredibly cool but the flowing hair beneath her Henning is all kinds of wrong.

      Reply
  2. Lily Rose

    I dunno if I’m an expert, but I do make and wear henins and reconstructed 15th century clothing of all sorts.

    The Richard III henins are SO, SO good. (I think there are several, based on those pics.) So good. Her hair is invisible, the angle is right, even the crown over the henin shows up in period art. The wiring on the first veil is a thing you see in period art.

    The Cinderella hats are … too shiny, but the shapes are plausible. I can’t even with that veil on Angelica Houston, and the construction is very weird (and it seems like the points are too thin) but again for fairy-tale stories, not bad at all.

    The White Queen and The Hollow Crown … um, no. Too much hair, some of the henins are too small, others are sitting wrong on the head. Just no. Also the dresses are … marginal.

    The Sleeping Beauty hat shapes are good, but the little scarf dripping from the tip of the cone is right out.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Interesting! So what’s going on with that first Petrus Christus painting, where it looks like the veil is attached to the point of the hennin? :)

      Reply
      • Fran in NYC

        I think in that instance that the veil is draped over the entire upper part of the hennin, not coming out of the point of it.

        Reply
      • Lily Rose

        Memling is always tricky, b/c there are sometimes multiple versions, but I too believe that the (sheer) veil is draped over the whole length.

        Reply
  3. Constance

    That version of Cinderella is it for me, nothing else compares. I watch it every few years at least…the step-sisters are the best…

    Reply
    • Martina

      Agree! I couldn’t tell you how many times my sisters and I put that show on in the backyard wearing hand me down wedding and bridesmaid gowns.

      Reply
    • MoHub

      Cinderella was originally written for television. It was not an adaptation.

      Reply
  4. Monabel

    In the Richard III shots, the first two are Pamela Browne in a non speaking role as King Edwards’s mistress, Jane Shore.

    Reply
    • Melanie Clark

      Yes, I noticed Pamela Brown, as well. Claire Bloom doesn’t have those cheekbones!

      Reply
  5. Allison

    I love hennins. They’re so distinctive for this era. The ones from Olivier’s Richard III are excellent. Hair all tucked in, high foreheads, good draping with the veils. Roger Furse did the costume design for Olivier’s Richard III and Henry V, and he seems to have understood the fashions of the fifteenth century well. 1965’s Cinderella’s costumes are surprisingly good for a fantasy. I think the stepmother has a little too much hair showing, but other than that, it’s good. Hennins had gone out of fashion when Ever After is supposed to take place, but the costumes borrow more from the Italian Renaissance than early sixteenth-century France. It’s a masquerade, so we’ll put it down as the Baroness being extravagant. Like Aleko pointed out above, the hennins in The White Queen and The Hollow Crown are shaped fine, but they’re way too small. Hair should not be hanging down loose with a hennin. The King also did this. Sleeping Beauty took a lot of inspiration from Northern Renaissance art. They might be too late for when Sleeping Beauty is supposed to be set (Philip says, “This is the fourteenth century”), but they show the care and detail the animators put into the film.

    Speaking of Sleeping Beauty, I’ve seen some artists and fashion historians (Clare Hummel and Nicole Rudolph) make Maleficent’s horns into a hennin when doing their historical interpretations of her.

    Reply
    • Al Don

      The costumes from Olivier’s Richard III are generally quite good. I especially love the folds on the men’s tunics. I do question some of the way in which they’re used, but overall commendable job.

      That said, the less said about the armour, the better. Olivier’s Henry V did a simply brilliant job; Richard III, well…

      Reply
    • Laura

      Just made my 14th century inspired Maleficent double horn hennin. Pain in the butt, but turned out nice.

      Reply
  6. EA Gorman

    Until this blog, I never realized a) that style of “princess hat” had an actual name and b) that it was authentic to the medieval period, or at least part of it. Thank you for expanding my knowledge!

    Reply
  7. hsc

    I’m glad you included SLEEPING BEAUTY, because I read years ago a comment from someone who worked on the film that Maleficent’s iconic “horned” headdress was based on a period image of “a religious lady.”

    However, I’ve never been able to locate or identify what that image might’ve been, nor have I seen any examples of a hennin that looked quite like that.

    Has anybody seen evidence of something like that actually worn historically, either with or without a veil?

    I have seen a number of images of early drafts of the Maleficent design that had more subtle, period-accurate designs, so perhaps the quote was referring only to those– but it seemed like it was speaking of the final design, not early drafts.

    (And at a very early stage, the fairies were all going to have sort of insect-like qualities with antennae, with Maleficent being a sort of cartoony, “witchy” bug– mean-looking but not particularly scary.

    Also, Maila “Vampira” Nurmi claimed to have given some sketches she did to Disney when she was brought in for a day’s worth of some sort of reference modeling; she said she thought Maleficent should have cat-like features with pointed ears.)

    Reply
    • Katie Dooley

      Look up silk and buckram on YouTube. She did a historically accurate Maleficent costume, which included a double henning, and talks about her research

      Reply
  8. Alexander Sanderson

    I really do love the aesthetics of this style/period of headwear; even though I must admit it is not really my bag. Educationally and construction experience wise I’m far more a 15th/16th Century type boy – but I have always wondered how the tall hennins’ were secured onto the head at such an interesting and precarious looking angle. It perplexes me and is something that I have often considered. You would surely need to be very careful of excessive head movements! I must also say that when I think of Medieval sartorial style my mind also always races straight to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. A jewel coloured pallet of loveliness, which is certainly one of my happy places. Something we all need in the present world.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      You see those loops on the foreheads of the first two images of historic Henning? Those are called frontlets and I believe they helped secure the headdress by gripping the forehead. Doesn’t seem like enough to counterbalance the weight of the cone and tug of the veil though does it? Maybe they used hatpins? I just don’t know.

      Reply
  9. Carla

    Karinska designed some gorgeous ones for Joan of Arc. Slow movie, but beautiful costumes.

    Reply
  10. Kevin Roche

    I always loved the hennins worn by Antoinette (Miguelito Loveless’ bard/paramour) in “The Night of The Green Terror” episode of Wild, Wild West.

    They were unabashedly Hollywood romantic impressions of the headwear, but were very fun. Tully chose one of those designs as her costume when we did the “They Went Thataway!” Event at Roaring Camp.

    Reply
  11. Rochelle

    Sorry to stray a little off topic, but it sure would be great to see a Janet McTeer WCW…

    Reply
  12. Roxana

    I’ve always been partial to the wired butterfly veil, apparently so are many costume designers.

    Reply
  13. Roxana

    And why are the girls behind Jacquetta dressed like they’re from early renaissance Italy? It’s a nice tough though, showing her plethora of lovely blond daughters.

    Reply
  14. ktkittentoes

    Prior Attire has a new vid from the 1460s today, and she’s got a nice hennin. You can see the filet, and you get a better glimpse of the veiling, if you are like me and can’t really get your brain to understand the structure

    Reply
  15. EllaNyx

    While not a movie, if you love hennins you should check out Janet and Anne Graham Jonstone’s illustrations. Their Sleeping beauty especially has some lovely hennins, and despite being fantasy, you can clearly see the historical inspiration, just slightly exaggerated.

    Reply
  16. MoHub

    Wish you had included a few reference pictures from the Très Riches Heures.

    Reply
  17. SarahV

    I seem to recall Faye Dunaway looking all sorts of amazing in The Messenger (with Milla Jovovich as Joan of Arc) . Faye’s French Queen was also sorts of imposing regal chic but with a very weird hairline. .

    Reply
  18. Kelly

    And I think that’s Pat Carroll (aka Ursula the Sea Witch) as the blue-clad stepsister in Cinderella–she has a lot of real estate in Disney Meanies!

    Reply
      • hsc

        Carroll had just come off a 4-year recurring role on THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW when she got cast as Prunella.

        She used to pop up locally about every year or so in the stage play NUNSENSE, which was a thing for a long time here. Unfortunately, I never got to see her.

        Reply
  19. hsc

    There was an extremely short-lived (only 8 episodes!) CBS series in 1983, WIZARDS AND WARRIORS, which was a cash-in on the early ’80s “heroic fantasy” boom (EXCALIBUR, DRAGONSLAYER, KRULL, the CONAN movies).

    The show featured a running sight gag with Julia Duffy as a petite blonde princess wearing a series of ridiculously huge headdresses– most frequently, a huge triple veiled hennin with two side-cones sprouting out of the main cone. (Even though the producers denied it was a parody, a lot of the costuming was way OTT.)

    The “hodge-podge of Ye Olde-y Time-y” costumes were (hopefully, deliberately) rendered cheesy by the use of glitzy disco fabrics for the upper-class characters– lurex glitter-knits, liquid lame and poly satin heavily used in an obvious way– but designer Theadora van Runkle seemed to be having a good time with them.

    And after getting nominated for three Best Costume Oscars for “serious” period work (BONNIE AND CLYDE, THE GODFATHER, PART II and PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED) without a win, she actually won an “Outstanding Costumes for a Series” Primetime Emmy for these! (1983 must’ve been a slow year.)

    If you’re curious, the whole series is available in low-tech (but watchable) form on the Internet Archive– but since this is probably a bootleg, I’m not linking it (easy to find with a Google search).

    Reply
    • SarahV

      There was an extremely short-lived (only 8 episodes!) CBS series in 1983, WIZARDS AND WARRIORS, which was a cash-in on the early ’80s “heroic fantasy” boom (EXCALIBUR, DRAGONSLAYER, KRULL, the CONAN movies).

      OMG yes!!!! What a deep cut that is – it also featured super hunky Duncan Regehr at his smoldering charming smarmiest. I will never forget that Julia Duffy’s Princess to end all Princesses rode a unicorn when everyone else had regular ole horses.

      Reply
  20. Roxana

    I loved Wizards and Warriors, but of course Duncan Regehr had female viewers rooting for the baddie! He was true Man candy!

    Reply
  21. Susan

    To show how ubiquitous the hennin/veil look was, when my younger sister and her best friend wanted to play princess, they tore holes in a bunch of my translucent scarves so they could bobby-pin them in their hair. They ran around with their “veils” floating in the breeze. I’ve more or less forgiven them, since they were eight or so at the time.

    Reply
  22. Gill

    I attended a lecture at the Shakespeare Institute a few years ago, in which the speaker argued that Sophie Okonedo’s loose, ultra-curly hair was a nod to the actress’s two heritages (African and Jewish) but also signifies that she is as yet uncontrolled. Later, as Queen, she wears a more accurate head-dress which signifies how life at the English Court has constrained her. By the end of Richard III her hair is cut roughly short, is grey, and there is no attempt to dress it in a period fashion, as she has been almost drained of humanity.

    I quite liked the argument. YMMV, but the loose hair does make her seem young and innocent. It would have been nice to have something more accurate, but that wasn’t a priority in the series at all.

    Reply
  23. Steven Flanagan

    Forgive me if someone else has already mentioned it, but the first couple of photos from Richard III are not of Claire Bloom, but of Pamela Brown.

    Reply

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