The wimple, also spelled whimple, was a very common head covering for women of the Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500). Popular from the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries, wimples were light veils, usually made of linen or silk, which were fastened all the way around the neck, up to the chin. Sometimes the bottom edge of the wimple was tucked into the collar of the dress. The wimple provided both protection from the weather and modesty. A wimple was often worn with a veil called a couvrechef, which covered the top of the head and flowed down over the shoulders.
In the Europe of the Middle Ages, it was customary for married women to cover their hair as a sign of modesty. The wimple and veil combination was an excellent headdress for demonstrating modest respectability, since it covered everything except a woman's face. However, wealthy women sometimes used the wimple to display their riches as well, by attaching jewels to the cloth before placing it on their heads. Sometimes a circle of fabric or metal was placed on the head like a crown to hold the wimple in place.
The modesty and plainness of the wimple made it a popular choice for nuns, female members of Catholic religious orders. Nuns choose lives of religious service and usually live and dress simply. During the Middle Ages many nuns adopted the wimple as part of their uniform dress, and many nuns continue to wear the wimple in the twenty-first century.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Dawson, Imogen. Clothes and Crafts in the Middle Ages. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 2000.
MacDonald, Fiona. Women in Medieval Times. Columbus, OH: Peter Bedrick Books, 2000.
wim·ple / ˈwimpəl/ • n. a cloth headdress covering the head, the neck, and the sides of the face, formerly worn by women and still worn by some nuns. DERIVATIVES: wim·pled adj.