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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada





Report H F 16 E

Fortress of Louisbourg



The list of items concerned with headgear shows that this part of a woman's attire was at the same time quite varied and quite uniform. The coiffe (cap) seems to have been the only form of head cover; it was frequently mentioned in the documents, as were the parts composing it. Inasmuch as the quality, quantity, prices and models are concerned, they ranged from the simplest attire to the most complicated one; the types varied according to taste or financial means, but its use was general. On the other hand, women's wigs were never mentioned in the documents. However, women did arrange their hair since they used "curling irons"[105] and '"curling pins". [106]

A. COIFFE (CAP): and its parts

The coiffe was made of a quilted bonnet to which was pinned the caul of the coiffe; its edge was then decorated with one or several rows of fabric or lace of varying widths and shapes. [107] Among the coiffes worn at Louisbourg, some were mounted in that fashion, since their parts were mentioned in relation to one another in the documents consulted. In order to avoid all possible confusion, the term "coiffe" will be used here to refer to this type of head-dress. This precision is necessary because of the imprecise terminology used at that time. The two terms "coiffe" and "head-dress" were used to refer to the same item, for example "two coiffes of common gauze ... five other head-dresses of common gauze ... [108]


The documents mentioned quilted bonnets [109] without specifying if they could be worn alone or with something else; as for the bonnets for coiffes, [110] they probably were the ones used as a base on which the coiffe was mounted. In this way, it perhaps was easier to keep the coiffes clean and make them last longer, since this made it necessary to wash only the bonnet more frequently, i.e. the part directly worn over the hair; or to wash separately the linen or the laces on top, which had to be starched.


The context in which the term "caul" was used in the documents, i.e. associated with either coiffe or bonnet, clearly indicates that it was a part of the coiffe; for example, there were "coiffe cauls", [111] one "bonnet with its caul", [112]"twenty batiste coiffes decorated with lace with six cauls", [113] "three coiffes with one caul". [114] In others, references were found to '"toquets with lace but no caul" [115] which could mean one of two things: a coiffe to which the caul was not attached when the inventory was done, which is in accordance with the way a cap was usually mounted; but it could also be a different style of coiffe, i.e. one with the back of the head uncovered, thus showing the bonnet underneath.


The pleated frill sewn around the bonnet followed the contours of the face, and in order to give it a permanent shape, it was stiffened with a wire which was carefully concealed with ribbon. The use of that. piece called "coiffe wire" was known in Louisbourg, since the records of the time showed three dozen coiffe wires, estimated at a total of 1 livre 5 sols, [116] and twenty dozens of coiffe wires, [117] in the merchant's shops. Judging by the quantity available and the price of the item, it must have been commonly used and cheap. In order to conclude that the coiffe wire was used throughout the history of Louisbourg, it would be necessary to have references other than the two mentioned, dating from 1756.


With the aid of fabrics and trimmings, in the case of a trimmed coiffe, and the various styles identified by specific names, it is possible to describe the coiffe as a complete head-dress. A list of such information will exemplify the existing variety much better than meaningless generalizations.


- plain coarse linen coiffes trimmed with muslin...
- plain coarse linen coiffes trimmed with lace [118]
- coiffes trimmes with lace [119]
- black taffeta coiffe [120]
- night coiffe trimmed with coarse lace...
- fine gauze coiffe trimmed with linen lace...
- coarse gauze coiffes ...
- coarse gauze coiffes [121]
- light-coloured coiffes [122]
- "black" (moire?) coiffes with flower motif...
- "black" (moire?) coiffes, plain [123]
- coiffes trimmed with lace...
- coiffe with wide lace...
- lace coiffe
- coiffes with their laces...
- night coiffes with their laces...
- broché black gauze coiffes [124]
- night coiffes of dimity as well as of muslin...
- coiffes trimmed with batiste...
- batiste coiffes trimmed with lace [125]
- dimity colffes [126]


- black satin "baignolette" lined with pale yellow satin...
- Cotton or muslin "baignolette" [128]

- béguin "used by women" [130]

 - colinette of muslin [132]

- some head-dresses among which were cornets [134]
- night cornet [135]

- one fontange [137]
- blonde lace coiffe mounted with its fontange ribbon...
- lace trimmed coiffe mounted with fontage ribbon...
- blonde lace coiffe mounted with a gold and silver motif fontange ribbon [138]

Before going any further, we feel it is necessary to explain the term "blonde" which, in this context, does not have anything to do with the colour of hair. It "is a white silk pillow lace or bobbin lace made the same way as lace, which it very much resembles, the only difference between the fine blonde and lace being the threads used". [139]

- miramion of muslin
- cotton miramion [141]
- white taffeta miramion [142 ]
- linen miramion [143]

- toquets with their lace without a caul...
- toquets with their lace...
- night toquets with their cauls..
- a toquet without a caul.. [145]
- "troquet" [146]

Consequently, there were plain coiffes and trimmed ones. Apart from lace which was not too scarce, some silk fabrics (taffeta, blonde lace) and a large quantity of linens and cottons were used. Various terms such as "muslin" and "dimity" for cotton, "batiste" and "gauze" or "fine", "coarse" or "plain coarse linen" indicate that there were several grades of duality.

Although, for the purpose of this study, it was necessary to use fairly rigid classifications, one should always remember that the imprecise terms found in the documents may mean that there was no conventional and strict fashion with which every woman had to comply to. A few quotations
from the sources will confirm that various headgear parts were commonly used and, furthermore, will give the impression that it was normal to have a large number of those items:

- "the rest of the trimmed and plain head clothes... 21.10" [147]

- "a bundle of coiffes ... containing thirty pieces ... 7 [148]

- "twenty-nine headgear pieces, cornets, bonnets as well as coiffes and cauls". [149]

- "twelve trimmed and plain coiffes, very old'" [150]

There were no special occasions or reasons ,justifying the wear of a head-dress, i.e. "all that is used to cover women's head in the undress, semi-undress or tight-fitting attire".. [151] Some night caps were included in the examples quoted above; the fact that there were only a few of them does not mean that they were uncommon, for they might simply have been implicitly included under the general term "head-dress" or in the "bundle of coiffes".

Indoor day coiffes were worn sometimes under another coiffe "made of a black taffeta piece cut square at the front, slanted on each side with a pleated back covering the back of the head..." and which was tied or fastened under the chin with a black ribbon. [152]

As for outdoor wear, it is quite possible that coiffes of taffeta or of some fabric heavier than cotton were used. Finally, as we have seen above, the cape and mantelet sometimes had a hood which was meant to cover the head.