Cap thumbnail 1
Cap thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery

Cap

16th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This cap was discovered in an old house in Worship Street, East London. It is knitted with thick, reddish brown wool in stocking stitch. It has been felted, cut and re-sewn to make two overlapping brims, and blocked into its finished form.

Excavations of late medieval and Renaissance artefacts have revealed a large number of similar caps. They were an important item of everyday clothing and are mentioned in a law called the Cappers Act of 1571. This decreed the type of headgear that every English resident over the age of six and below the rank of 'gentleman' should wear on Sundays and holidays. It specified ‘a cap of wool, thickened and dressed in England, made within this realm and only dressed and finished by some of the trade of cappers, upon pain to forfeit for every day of not wearing 3s. 4d’. The aim of this Act of Parliament was to protect the trade of cap-making.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Cap (Headgear)
  • Lining
Materials and Techniques
Knitted and felted wool
Brief Description
Wool, knitted and fulled, with layered brims, English, 1500s
Physical Description
Felted cap knitted in thick reddish brown wool with two overlapping brims.
Dimensions
  • Diameter: 10.75in
Gallery Label
9. CAP Hand-knitted wool English, 16th century This cap was partly knitted to shape, then heavily felted, cut, sewn and blocked. One of the earliest mentions of such a cap is in an Act of 1488 which fixed the price of felted wool hats at 1s.8d and of knitted wool caps at 2s.8d. By the Capper's Act of 1571 it was laid down that everyone over the age of six (excepting 'maids, ladies, gentlewomen, noble personages, and every Lord, Knight, and gentleman of twenty marks land') should wear on Sundays and holidays 'a cap of wool, thicked and dressed in England, made within this realm, and only dressed and finished by some of the trade of cappers, upon pain to forfeit for every day of not wearing 3s 4d.' 1562-1901
Summary
This cap was discovered in an old house in Worship Street, East London. It is knitted with thick, reddish brown wool in stocking stitch. It has been felted, cut and re-sewn to make two overlapping brims, and blocked into its finished form.



Excavations of late medieval and Renaissance artefacts have revealed a large number of similar caps. They were an important item of everyday clothing and are mentioned in a law called the Cappers Act of 1571. This decreed the type of headgear that every English resident over the age of six and below the rank of 'gentleman' should wear on Sundays and holidays. It specified ‘a cap of wool, thickened and dressed in England, made within this realm and only dressed and finished by some of the trade of cappers, upon pain to forfeit for every day of not wearing 3s. 4d’. The aim of this Act of Parliament was to protect the trade of cap-making.
Bibliographic References
  • Levey, Santina M. Illustrations of the History of Knitting Selected from the Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Textile History Volume 1, Number 2, December 1969. Plate IV.
  • This cap was one of 13 objects investigated in 2019 as part of ‘Gendering Interpretations’: a collaborative project between the V&A, University of Plymouth, Vasa Museum (Stockholm), Lund University, Leiden University and the University of Western Australia. The following text has been written by Dr Kit Heyam who carried out the research: " 'Labour in the wool industry was significantly affected by gender. Men and women kept sheep and worked as sheep-shearers, but men were paid around 16% more than women for the same work. Wool-spinning in early modern England was predominantly performed by women and children, and enabled women to earn a meagre living wage. Spinning was also ideologically gendered: all women were encouraged to spin in order to keep their hands and minds busy at a chaste, productive task. The 1571 Cappers’ Act mandated the wearing of these caps for ‘Every Person above the Age of seven Years... Except Maids, Ladies, Gentlewomen, Noble Personages [and other aristocratic men and clerics]’. Hats signalled social status, and headwear was also a focus of gender conformity and nonconformity. Clergyman Thomas Stoughton referred to men with long hair, and women with short hair and hats, as having ‘changed their sexe’; while the ‘man-woman’ in the 1620 pamphlet Hic Mulier is condemned for their “cloudy Ruffianly broad-brim’d Hatte, and wanton Feather”. The coif or headdress was considered more appropriate for women than the hat: its capacity to metonymically signal female dress is demonstrated by the sentence passed against Thomas(ine) Hall in Virginia in 1623, which forced Hall to make visible their self-proclaimed status as ‘both man and woeman’ by wearing men’s clothing with a coif, cross-cloth (triangular forehead cloth) and apron. This meant that, for women or other people assigned female at birth who wanted to express masculinity, hats were a particularly powerful signifier: this type of cap, which was legally circumscribed as male, was arguably even more so."
Collection
Accession Number
1562&A-1901

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record createdDecember 13, 2004
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