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A lappet is a decorative flap or fold in a ceremonial headdress or garment. They were a feature of women's headgear until the early 20th century. They remain strongly associated with religion. A bishop's mitre has two lappets (infulæ) sewn to the back of it. The most famous usage of lappets occurs on the Papal Tiara. Lappets also feature on some animals.
On the papal tiara
Each papal tiara since early mediæval times contained two lappets. Their origins remain a mystery, though they are obviously an imitation of the lappets on the bishop's mitre. It has been speculated that lappets first were added to papal tiaras as a form of sweatband, with inner cloth being used to prevent popes from sweating too heavily during papal ceremonial in hot Roman summers.
The two lappets (Latin: caudæ, lit. "tails") at the back of the tiara are first seen in the pictures and sculpture in the thirteenth century, but were undoubtedly customary before this. Strange to say, they were black in color, as is evident both from the monumental remains and from the inventories, and this color was retained even into the fifteenth century.
Papal lappets on tiaras were traditionally highly decorated, with intricate stitching in gold thread. Often a pope who either commissioned a tiara, received it as a gift, or who had it remodelled for their usage, had their coat of arms stitched on to the lappets.
The last tiara to be used for a coronation, and which was created for Pope Paul VI in 1963, also contained lappets.
On episcopal mitres
The mitres worn by Bishops and Abbots of Western liturgical denominations, such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England also have lappets attached to them, in the same manner as the papal tiara. The lappets are probably a vestage of the ancient Greek headband called a mitra (μἱτρα) from which the mitre itself descends. The mitra was a band of cloth tied around the head, the ends of the remaining fabric of which would fall down the back of the neck. The Latin name for the lappets is infulae, which were originally headbands worn by dignitaries, priests, and others among the ancient Romans. They were generally white. Mitre lappets are often lined with red silk.
Lappets on animals
The word is also sometimes used to refer to wattles, flap-like structures that occur on the faces of some animals. For instance, the Lappet-faced vulture has lappets of bare flesh on the sides of its head.