What is a coif?


A coif is a close-fitting head covering, worn alone or under other headwear. Made of linen or wool with decorative stitches. Although caps and ‘coifs’ had been worn throughout the Middle Ages, by the late 16th and early 17th Centuries, when Lady Anne Clifford was young and fashionable, these were sometimes highly decorated.

Elaborate coifs were often embellished with embroidery in Blackwork, Silk embroidery, spangles, pearls and jewels often within coiling stems in complex braid stitches in gold and silver threads.

An early seventeenth-century coif with blackwork and gilt thread embroidered flowers, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Coifs were both practical, keeping the hair tidy and providing warmth, and symbolic. They conveyed modesty and status and an embroidered coif was worn with pride. The wearing of a coif appears to have been a requirement for married women and reflected their superior status; married women were householders, and managers of household production; important and well-respected members of society. Coifs were worn high upon the head, with one or two inches of hair visible. An additional forehead cloth or a ‘cross cloth’ was often worn.

Some fine examples of embroidered coifs are held by the Victoria & Albert Museum (see here) and further examples can be found in Liz Arthur’s book “Embroidery 1600-1700 at the Burrell Collection“.

We look forward to making our very own designs inspired the original coifs, during Lady Anne’s Needlework January 2022 Festival.

3 Responses

  1. This is lovely to know of such thing; that married women were cherished above all; and that this worn coif was one of status and not simply to keep hair tidy and not to get into the food being prepared. Pardon me!
    I’ve seen Coif worn on the TV show: Little House on the Prairie…
    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Judith Roberts says:

    I found your elucidation of Elizabethan coifs most instructive and inspirational. The examples shown make me want to get on a plane to see the V & A collection, amongst others. Who would have thought that a standard item of women’s attire could be so fascinating and beautiful. Thank you for your thoughtful presentation.

  3. Honestmitten says:

    Wonderful – thank you for introducing me to coifs! Intrigued, I am now looking further at the V&A’s amazing collection of coif’s online via their website …. https://collections.vam.ac.uk (free access to all)

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