Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Marie Antoinette, Big Hair and moi (Part I)

I’ve never particularly liked my hair. It is fine and of a dark reddish-brassy color. I can fix the color (as I do often) but I can only do so much with the lack of thickness. Root boost, thickening spray, Velcro rollers and backcombing helps, but only for a few hours. It ultimately grows weary and limp. The only lift I have is an enormous cowlick on the right side of my forehead. That area sticks straight up with no help at all. And it won’t lie down either – despite wind, rain, snow, humidity or even a bucket of water dumped on my head.

In grade school my mom would often put my long hair in two braids. Because my hair was so fine, I would always lose one of my ponytail holders by the end of the day. Somewhere on the play ground, or on the floor of a classroom or in the gymnasium was one of my lone plastic and elastic hair bobbles. It would just slip out and fall away. I would ask the teacher for some scotch-tape to hold my loose braid together.

After the original Star Wars movie came out in 1977, I desperately wanted to go as Princess Leia for Halloween. I wore my Dad’s white dress shirt which fell past my knees and tied a thick rope around my waist. I had my mom do my usual two braids, but then wrap each one around and around pinning them to the sides of my head. But my braids weren’t anything like the big, fat cinnamon buns like Princess Leia had. I had two dinky little nuts on either side of my head. I was embarrassed for myself and mad at my Mom for not making them look thick like Carrie Fisher’s. No one knew who I was that night as I rang doorbells for candy.

I’ve always wanted thick hair. I’ve mixed packages of gelatin with water and slurped it down, washed my hair with horse shampoo, and coated my thin, straight strands with all sorts of thickening sprays and creams. The only thing I have not tried is crimping it with an iron. A crimping iron makes me think back to 1989, torn Levi’s, Woo Woo shots and a particular ‘Guns ‘n Roses’ song... all with quite a bit of distaste. It also makes me think of more recent times wondering if Kelly Wearstler was trying to bring it back when she appeared on Top Design. I couldn’t crimp then and I still can’t now. So when I’ve read stories about characters -- real people or in fables -- with thick, glorious hair I’ve gotten… a little envious.


Most of us know about Queen Marie Antoinette (1755-1793). And we’ve heard about her penchant for big hairdos. Many of us can’t understand why she went to such measures to create tall and enormous dos. Though we may desire to have big bouncin’ and behavin’ hair, to go to the great lengths as the women of the court in the eighteenth century did is hard to understand. But we need to put this in historical context. Marie Antoinette's came to the spectacular and glitzy court created by the "Sun King" Louis XIV who had rebuilt Paris and Versailles as THE style centers earlier in the century. Under his reign, "couturière" was born. Women seamstresses were taken seriously and under the protection of a guild, they were allowed to create their own dreamiest of gowns. Some of these women were specifically sought out and recognized in Paris and became the first celebrity designers. Hairdressers as well. The Sun King encouraged luxury goods, fancy furnishings and the latest fashions, and this was to entrance Marie Antoinette.


Court of Versailles was always crowded with hairdressers, dressmakers, and milliners (much like stylists today), who exercised more influence than the King's Councilors. Big hair wasn’t anything new before Marie Antoinette discovered it. Although the Sun King was only about 5’-7” tall, he towered over six feet tall sporting with his high 6” heels and his tall coiffeur. Hairstyles in the early eighteenth century were big and high, so much so that Duc de Saint-Simon who resided for many years at Versailles complained that women's faces were now "in the middle of their bodies."

From very humble beginnings, came a dress designer and stylist named Rose Bertin. According to legend, when Rose was a small girl she would sneak food to a woman in prison who was a fortune teller. She told Rose that one day she would be very successful in life. After apprenticing as a milliner in Paris to Mademoiselle Pagelle, things quickly moved ahead for her, and she eventually became Pagelle's partner. In 1770, Rose opened a shop in Paris called The Grand Mogol filling it with all sorts of grand and gilded displays. Customers walked through the door and felt they were in a jewelry box. She quickly had customers, many among them were influential noble women at Versailles, who included many ladies in waiting to the new Dauphine, Marie Antoinette.


Rose’s style wasn’t limited to clothing; she worked with the court’s leading hairdresser, Monsieur Leonard, developing le pouf – the latest hairstyle. In 1774, when Rose Bertin was presented to Marie Antoinette by the Duchesse of Chartres, that is when the vogue for the big hair began.


(Top image from The Brat Pack Blog...)

13 comments:

Mrs. Blandings said...

I can't wait for the rest of the story!

soodie :: said...

working on it ;-]

Pigtown-Design said...

Hon... here in baltimore, the hairdo capital of the world, we love HAIRSPRAY!

soodie :: said...

Meg, problem is with all that hairspray... you touch your hair then the steering wheel of your car, your handbag, a pencil -- everything gets sticky from all that spray!

David said...

Child of the 80s that I am, I love big hair. Perhaps you could road test the Bumpit? Just because they sell it on tv doesn't mean it couldn't work.

Looking forward to part II!

soodie :: said...

ohmygawd David, I forgot about the Bumpit! I saw it advertised on tv one time and thought... "eeewwww" at the same time thinking how much time it would save me from backcombing to get a little 'lift' in my crown. I can't see the back of my head so I leave the house thinking my hair looks all fine after I've smoothed some strands over the mess. My smooth strands fall away about an hour later and I'm left with what looks like the aftermath of two ferrets fighting in my hair.

Karena said...

Soodie i have seen your photo and you look beautiful!I cannot wait to hear the rest...

soodie :: said...

Karena, as always... thank you....

Virginia said...

How funny you are. I remember the day when I didn't use any products on my hair. Today, I can't imagine doing without conditioner, styling lotion, and hair spray.

During the 60s we had big hair. I remember reading about a New Jersey girl that had "teased" her hair big and didn't shampoo it for days, and a nest of cockroaches lived in it. Is that story an urban myth?

Cote de Texas said...

the grass is always greener, born into what I call a "bad hair life" I would trade my hair volume anyday for straight, thin locks! you can't imagine the tortue my hair has caused me. I wish so badly you could see it now - at the beach, with no blow dryer. imagine for a moment roseanneroseannadanna. haha!!! with curls though!

Joni

soodie :: said...

Joni, yes, the grass is ALWAYS greener! I don't get it because I would love to have your hair!

My husband is insecure about his. So he just shaves it off??? When he was in grade school all the girls would call him 'pouf' boy because his hair was so voluminous and had lots of cowlicks which would make it stand up.

And when my brother was in his pubescent years he tried to cut off his thick and long camel eye lashes because all the girls were cooing over them.

andrew1860 said...

Beautiful portrait of Marie Antoinette. I remember seeing it in person at a Paris auction house.

soodie :: said...

thanks andrew. love your blog by the way!