Can You Top This? Marie Antoinette's Hairstyles
This post falls into the category of "research outtakes" -- marvelous information that I have come across while researching another subject -- in this case, the marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.
But I admit to a passion for fashion myself, so I just couldn't skim over the parts of Marie Antoinette's biographies that refer to the popular Parisian hairdresser Monsieur Léonard Alexis Autier (1751?-1820) being summoned by the Queen of France to race over to Versailles and dress the royal coiffeure.
Before Marie Antoinette, the youngest archduchess of Austria, arrived in 1770 to wed the Dauphin, Frenchwomen had already begun to style their hair into tall poufs by coating it with pomade and tugging and teasing it over wire cages and woolen pads. The term "hairdresser" was born in the mid 18th century, known as such because they dressed the hair with ornamentation. By 1767 there were 1200 hairdressers working in Paris; a few years earlier there had been none.
French ladies of the 1770s
The new Dauphine was expected to embrace the styles of her adopted country (in fact, before she was handed over to the French delegation in April, 1770, she was compelled to undress fully and divest herself of every shred of Austrian clothing and change into garments constructed in France of French textiles made in French factories, mills, and workshops.) Marie Antoinette was also expected to set fashion trends and to spend lavishly as she did so, because it was good for business.
Marie Antoinette, who reportely shampooed her hair with a mixture of eggs, white wine vinegar and rum, took the the pouf coiffeures to new heights until they reached absurd extremes of more than three feet. These towering creations were adorned with a profusion of ornaments and objects on it that showcased current events, turning a noble woman's hairdo almost into a bulletin board. One of the most famous of these current events coiffeures was the "inoculation" pouf that the queen wore to publicize her success in persuading the King to be vaccinated against smallpox.
Marie Antoinette's august mother, Empress Maria Teresa of Austria, chastized her for her frivolity and extravagance, specifically targeting the queen's outlandish hairstyles:
I cannot help but touch upon a point that many of the papers repeat to me too often: it is the hairstyle that you wear. They say that from the roots it measures 36 pouces high and with all the feathers and ribbons that hold all of that up! You know that I have always been of the opinion that one should follow fashion moderately, but never carry it to excess. A pretty young queen full of charms has no need of all these follies. Quite the contrary. A simple hairstyle suits her better and is more appropriate for a queen. She must set the tone, and everyone will hurry to follow even your smallest errors . . .
Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, Sony Pictures, 2006
Léonard would start by interweaving Marie Antoinette's real hair with fake tresses and arrange it on a wire form placed on her head and padded with wool, straw, or cotton. Then he would stiffen the hair with a scented pomade (made of beef lard or bear grease) and cover it with powder. Huge capes were draped about the client, who was already in court dress, and then the powder was blown on to the coiffeure. In 1770, no one -- male or female -- could come to court with unpowdered hair. People who visited Versailles in the 1770s recalled that scent of pomatum pervaded the entire court.
Mme. Henriette Campan, Marie Antoinette's First Lady of the Bedchamber, observed that Immediately everyone wanted the same hairstyle as the queen, to wear feathers and garlands . .. The expenses of young ladies were greatly increased, mothers and husbands complained, some fools ran up debts, there were upsetting domestic quarrels, many marriages went cold or split apart, and the general rumor was that the queen would ruin all French ladies.
And according to Jane Austen's cousin Eliza Hancock, later Eliza de Feuillide, people looked as if they had been "dipped in a meal-tub."
After the foundation was ready, it was time to get creative: the hair would be accessorized, stylized, cut into defining scenes, modeled into shapes, fruits, things, from recent gossip to nativities to husband's infidelities, to French naval vessels like the "Belle Poule", to the pouf "aux insurgents," complete with ships and smoke, in honor of the American Revolution. Some of these insanely elaborate hairdos featured live birds in cages, waterfalls, cupids, and naval battles. In an eccentric display of mourning, one widow had her husband's tombstone erected in her hair.
Because these hairdos were tremendously costly, women would keep them for a week or two. Naturally, since it was coated with animal fat and a powder mixed from flour, the hair would become rancid and would often attract vermin -- ostensibly the origin of the term "her hair is a 'rats nest'. " And how would they mask the stench of the rotting pomades? French perfumes, naturellement!
It's axiomatic of of any era that women who are slaves to high fashion will endure physical pain and make all sorts of physical sacrifices to sport the latest style. [I admit that my definition of a "sensible shoe" is that the heel height is a mere 3" ]
In Marie Antoinette's day, women developed backaches from the weight of their coiffeures. Carriage interiors were not high enough to accommodate these overwrought constructions, and women might travel for miles crunched over and crumpling their full skirted silk gowns because their hair would not travel upright.
Like the look? I saw this wig online for a mere $90. If you were to decorate it yourself with an eye toward illustrating our own current events, what would you use to adorn it?