Posted by: Lucrece | March 13, 2011

Hennin: Excuse me, but does this hat make me look damned?

My friend Helena and I were discussing the naming of clothing articles, the red herrings and misunderstandings that have occurred over the years resulting from the broad application and lack of specificity of such names.

Hennin is surely one of these.  To the best of my knowledge the first occurring reference to hennin in historical text is from 1428.  The Carmelite friar Thomas Conecte urged street urchins to shame and pester ladies wearing extravagant headwear by chasing after them shouting “au hennin” “au hennin” (google Thomas Conecte if you’d like to know more about this).

1428 is too early to be referring to the cone-shaped headdress most often called hennin.  During this time the “heart-shaped hennin” and horned headdresses would have been the fashion.

“Au”, according to my english french dictionary can mean “at the” “to the” “in the”  or “on the”.

If “hennin” means a type of hat, that would leave the boys shouting something like  “to (at, in, on)  hat!, to hat!”.  What message would that convey to the ladies?  Talk about stating the obvious.  Yes. It’s a hat.

Helena also pointed out that hennin sounds a bit like “Gehenna”.  In latin, roughly, hell or hellfire.

Perhaps “au hennin” is something closer to “to hell! to hell!”.  An admonishment of the ladies’ vanity indeed.

When one considers it in that context, it makes a “hell” of a lot more sense!

Coventry Doom Fresco  – Holy Trinity Church, Coventry
Alewives, accused of watering the ale, are ushered into hell.
Naked but wearing “heart shaped hennins”

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