The Pays Bigouden is an 'aire culturelle' or traditional subdivision of Brittany in northwestern France. One of the area's best-known traditions is the 'coiffe', a 19th-century lace headdress worn by women as part of the traditional dress.

Local legend says that the headdress was created in response to the demolition of Bigouden belltowers by representatives of the French king in 1675. Churches whose bells had sounded a call to arms had their towers destroyed. In this case, however, the legend is just a legend, and the Bigouden coiffe is a much later invention.

Though Breton women have worn bonnets for centuries, like women in many regions of France, the distinctive height of this example is a 20th-century invention. The original Bigouden bonnet was flatter, larger and rounder at the back. It supported and contained hair that was difficult to pin up. Somewhere around 1900, the coiffe grew from its previous unremarkable height into the shape of a sugar-loaf.

In the late 1920s, the height of the bonnet climbed again, to between 15 and 20 centimetres. It continued to ascend until after the Second World War, when it evened out at 30-35cm -- more than a foot high.

Originally made of rustic cloth, the increasingly elaborate headgear was now made of embroidered lace, secured by two ribbons. By the end of the 20th century, however, daily wearing of the coiffe had all but died out except on occasions where traditional dress was worn.

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