attack_laurel (attack_laurel) wrote,


One more post for the road...

The jacket picture was from The Art of Dress, by Jane Ashelford. I do recommend this and The Embroiderer's Story; they have different slants, but both have interesting information and amazingly lovely pictures.

But this post? Is about attifets, for lo, they came up in the comments section.  I was asked about them, and I said that the thing costumers call an attifet is no such thing, and furthermore, that Herbert Norris in Tudor Costume and Fashion wasn't even referring to the headdress, but the wire in the front of the headdress that shaped it.  I was a bit broad in my reply, and probably wasn't specific enough when I said Norris had simply applied the wrong term to the coif, thereby confusing   jillwheezul  (sorry!  That was my fault, not yours!), who came back with some great references for the term, both in Italian and French (I had said the term was French for "headdress", basically).  She clarified that it seems that the attifet could well be wired, and possibly the term for a widow's headdress, or something that widows would wear. Possibly something like this

What I meant was that Norris was wrong when he said it was just the wire; worse,costumers got it more wrong when they thought he was referring to an actual headdress that looked like the ones he illustrated in his book.  In short, everyone was wrong.  The attifet is a real headdress, but it's not a French hood, and it's not a mutant cousin of the coif.

(Go read her comment; it's about halfway down the comments section, and you will all learn some good, good stuff.)

She also found an Italian reference, and I found you guys a couple of pictures that definitely seem to show something of the sort that she referenced. Again, they don't look anything like our teardrop attifet.

Why would this happen? How could a period term (for France and Italy; I can't find an English refernce for it, though the style of arched veil/hood is quite common in England at the time) be mutated into something that never quite looks right, and never seems to stay on properly?

Well, we have to go back to the days when all the wonderful books that fill your library weren't around. Back to when Herbert Norris, Braun and Schneider, and Elizabethan Costuming for the years 1550-1580 were the only references your average SCAdian costumer had. And Herbert Norris was the best of them.

Now, I'm not really knocking Norris; he kept us going for a long time. But he had a slight tendency to give the wrong name to things (this is how we get the "Spanish Surcoat"). Add to this the occasional tendency of people to look at the pictures a wee bit more than they read the text, and in the case of the attifet, you have a mutation waiting to happen.

Norris, when referring to an attifet, was only referring to the wire put in the front of the headdress. I quote:

"Shortly after the middle of the century a contrivance called an ATTIFET came into vogue (see fig. 546). This was a wire of brass inserted in the edge of the front part of the hood or headdress [emphasis mine] and formed a curve on each side of the temples with a point on the forehead - in fact, it gave a bow or top-of-a-heart shape to the front. Fig. 546 illustrates the use of the attifet with the French Hood". (pp.542-3)

And, fig. 546 does indeed show a shaped front French hood, but the title of the illustration just says "An Attifet". Looking through my pictures, it seems to be a heavily victorianized and romanticized version of a Limoges enamel of Marguerite d' Angouleme, Queen of Navarre. She is wearing a heart-shaped French hood, and she might well have referred to the whole headdress as an attifet (especially since, being French, she'd seem like an idiot calling it a "French" hood).

(She is also a lot more interesting and less blandly pretty looking than the Norris picture - dig that nose, baby!)

But this doesn't look like our mutant attifet - where did the damn thing come from? Further reading of Norris starts to show - almost every other reference to the "attifet" has an illustration of a wired coif. However, since they're re-drawn, and as we determined yesterday, many of them are only seen from the front, all you can tell from Norris is that it's a wired thing, and he keeps calling it an attifet.  

Here's where the poor research skills come into play. Most of the times he refers to it, he desn't say "attifet", he says "headdress with an attifet front" [emphasis mine] . An attifet front - which if we go back to pages 542-3, we can read again as the wire that shapes the headdress. No teardrop-shaped thing appears or is mentioned anywhere - but as you can see from the views of my wired coif, it looks just like the "headdresses" he describes as having an attifet front (that aren't French hoods):

From the front, it looks like what costumers call an attifet; from the side, you can clearly see it is simply a coif with a wired front. 

Mind you, Norris is still wrong.  The historic references seem pretty clear that they're talking about the whole headdress, not the wire that goes into it.  So, every time he refers to an attifet front, he's compounding his mistake, and reinforcing the mistaken costuming idea that an attifet is that damned teardrop.  The illustrations most responsible (in my humble but brilliant opinion *cough*) for this idea are figs. 875, 879, 822, and 727.

Modern costumers have a tendency to use modern skills and knowledge to solve costuming problems; given a pointed front and nothing much else to go on, they will create something that looks like the picture, without any real understanding of the period evidence (or, in this case, physics).  Given that we have a bunch of embroidered and plain coifs still in existence, and that they all have roughly the same shape (and are put together the same way), it seems silly to try and reinvent the wheel, especially if you end up with something that not only doesn't look like any of the extant headwear, it looks wrong when you put it on - kind of like a weird Juliet cap crossbred with a hooded cobra.

If you're wanting to make a coif like the classic English wired heart-shaped, lace edged, sitting on the hair like a perfect frame coif, make a coif and put a wire in the front.  Not only will it stay on without combs or pins, it will look more like the original, since the curved "cheeks" of the traditional coif pattern are what create that perfect heart shape.

We'll pick this conversation back up when I come back from Pennsic - I have a migraine (thank you, poor air quality and shops that have too many perfumed products!), and I still need to do a few things.  In the meantime, go and read your Norris again.  :)

Thank you, jillwheezul, for the references, and for giving me new stuff to write about.  You rock. 
Tags: coifs, comments rock, research
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