Monday, August 3, 2009

Marie Antoinette, Big Hair and moi (Part II)

By 1769, shortly after Marie Antoinette arrived to the French court, there were no less than 1200 hairdressers in Paris. Over time, Marie Antoinette began wearing larger and more ornate bouffants. The collaboration between her famous milliner, Rose Bertin, and her hairdresser, Léonard, proved to be quite a creative one and the vogue for these hairstyles lasted for ten years. Marie Antoinette began to don more and more outrageous hairstyles. She didn't invent fashions -- she promoted radical new ones – and set the trend. These hairstyles became all the rage among the aristocracy. Women began to do more than decorate their big coifs with ribbons, feathers, flowers, beads and jewelry. They crowned it with silk or lace. But after some time, that just wasn’t enough.


Marie Antoinette by Jacques-Fabien Gautier D'Agoty (1775) Musee Antoine-Lecuyer, Saint-Quentin France


In the court of Louis XVI, members competed for attention and tried to outdo each other with witty remarks and the latest novelty fashions. The most unusual hairdo would soon have to be outdone by another -- something more ingenious and over the top.


A beehive form made from wire was created stuffed with wool or horse hair, and then it was mounted on top of the head. Hair was wrapped around these frames – and when women didn’t have enough (or it was too fine or thin) false hair was added -- building it up to soar up to three feet high. The do was powered with flour which helped to set the creation and absorb natural oils from the head. But it was this same flour that so many starving peasants desperately needed to have to bake bread.

Image from La Mesure de l'Excellence.

Women placed in their hair little figurines made from fabric and small objects made from papier maché. Their hairdresser arranged them as sceneries or landscapes. Sometimes, they used their hair as a stage to replicate historical scenes or sometimes to communicate an emotion -- sentimental pouf -- this type of do was called.

Image from La Mesure de l'Excellence.

Themes began to develop. Marie Antoinette wore a pouf à la jardinière which included such garden vegetables as carrots, radishes, an artichoke and a head of cabbage. Another woman exclaimed in glee after seeing the pouf do that she would never again wear anything but vegetables in her hair. “Vegetables were so much more natural than flowers,” she said. Women were not to be involved in politics. It wasn’t a ladylike thing to do. But it didn’t mean they couldn’t participate in their own way. Marie Antoinette wore her pouf a’ la inoculation in support of the small pox vaccination which showed Aesculapius’s serpent wrapped around an olive tree.



She wore these hairstyles at court and in town, and this had a swift and contagious effect. Rose Bertin, a mere plebeian, was now known as the Minister of Fashion.

"Everybody was talking of the poufs created by the firm of Bertin . . . one famous pouf was that of the Duchesse de Lauzun. She appeared at a reception wearing a most delicious pouf. It contained a stormy sea, ducks swimming near the shore, someone on the point of shooting one of them; on the top of the head there was a mill, the miller’s wife being made love to by an abbe, whilst near the ear the miller could be seen leading a donkey."


excerpt from Rose Bertin -- The Creator of Fashion at the Court of Marie Antoinette. By Émile Langlade. Published in 1913. I so want to find this book....

“The Preposterous Head Dress, or the Featherd Lady", London: Published by M. Darly, March 20, 1776. Yale Library.


The Duchesse de Chartres was one of the biggest big pouf wearers. She wore in her pouf small figures of her five children. Another time she appeared at the opera with her hair dressed in a sentimental pouf – nestled in it she had a little figure of her eldest son in his nurse's arms, a parrot pecking at a cherry, a little black boy, and the initials of her son and husband.

This trend spread England and to Sweden, one woman was report to have even created a replica of her dead husband’s tombstone.

“Miss Juniper Fox”, London. Published by M. Darly, March 2, 1777. Yale Library.


One of the most fashionable hairstyles of the eighteenth century was called: À la Belle Poule, which commemorated the victory of a French ship over an English ship in 1778.


In 1776 the Duchess of Devonshire was said to have made the addition of ostrich feathers, beads and flowers fashionable in le pouf. “Lady All-Top", London: Published by J. Lockington, May 15, 1776. Yale Library.


These big hairstyles created problems though. Hairstyles would obstruct other patron’s views at the theatre. It was difficult to move through doorways or in and out of carriages without knocking it over. Women would stick their head out of a moving carriage – the roof was simply not high enough. Some women kneeled on the floor for the extra room. Rumor says that many slept upright for weeks as not to muss their do. And many others would get their hair caught on fire from candlelit sconces. Lice, mice and other such things were said to have made these pouf their home.

This one is my favorite: "Miss Shuttle-Cock", London, Published by M. Darly, December 6, 1776. Yale Library.

Queens were always expected to look like the king’s dutiful subject – necessary only to produce heirs. It was the king’s expensive, flashy favorite mistresses for whom ultra-chic fashion was appropriate -- not his wife. But Louis XVI was faithful to Marie Antoinette and instead of providing excitement in the bedroom, he allowed her to spend spend and spend some more. Marie Antoinette’s end was tragic, no doubt. She lived a life of furbelows, flounces, and fandangle, (I don’t think I’ve used that word since 1982!); extravagance and excessive spending. And then she paid for it -- her pouf permanently separated from her shoulders.

(Top image from Boston Museum of Fine Art: Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français. 2e. Cahier des Nouveaux Costumes Français pour les Coeffures B.12 (duplicate) "Pouf d'un gout nouveau..."French, 1778)

21 comments:

Virginia said...

My goodness, I can't go one day without shampooing my hair. Yet, the women of court had flour, vegetables, figurines, etc in their hair for days, weeks, months. Do you wonder that they had headaches, stiff necks, sleep deprivation, all sorts of ailments.

You have the most amazing and fun blogs. They always leave me with a reaction and certainly a thought.

Tracy @ comfortandluxury said...

Great posts these last two! I was thinking the same thing Virginia has written... wondering how long REALLY those big hairdos could last what with all the rotting vegetables and candle smoke and sweat and critter hitchhikers! What women will endure for the sake of being more beautiful than the next... you'd think we'd have evolved a bit more by now.

soodie :: said...

Virginia, I was wodering the same thing also -- my neck was just aching writing about these big poufs. Sometimes they would prop their head up on three pillows not to mess their hair. Like when you have a stuffed-up nose and have to sleep half-sitting up. Agony.

soodie :: said...

Tracy, I was also wondering what happened if the hair got wet with all that flour in it -- would it be all pasty-glue like? No wonder bugs were in it -- by the time the flour got wet and then heated up by all the candles, there must have been little baked bread in the poufs for them to eat.

I didn't think of the rotting vegetables... ick.

and yeah, you'd think we would be evolved... but look at Bravo tv's housewives. Who would have thought: women pulling hair and sabotaging one another?

home before dark said...

And I thought Carmen Miranda had a bad hair day! I, too, a child of the 60s remember all the hair spray (possible source for the warming of the planet?), rolling our hair in empty orange juice cans, ironing our hair, and other horrors. I'm letting my hair go white—it's part of my road trip—that and the fact that my post menopausal hair already feels like a brillo pad!

soodie :: said...

Home you always give me a laugh!

home before dark said...

Off topic, but I saw your comments at AAL regarding your mother's possible interest in, yes decoupaging her kitchen cabinets. Being an Kansas Citian, I am fairly sure you know of Durwin Rice who wrote the book on decoupage. I mean really wrote: The New Decoupage. He actually did own kitchen cabinets. He has his own website. I may have unleashed a monster...

Cote de Texas said...

The ship just kills me. reminds me of that chandelier. hard to believe we actually did this to ourselves! (as if I come from that kind of stock!)

loved this of course. you're the best.

soodie :: said...

Oh my Home.. I think you might have.

My grandmother decoupaged a bunch of stuff in the 50s, including a little wooden handbag (it is now my party purse) with a bakelite handle. Also several little foot stools, and she even did the soffits of her kitchen with chickens. 50-ish years later... might be time to explore it again. I'll tell my mom to check out Durwin Rice's classes. I think I'm going to check them out too.

soodie :: said...

Joni, sometimes I wonder if we've come all that far... they also used to put lead in their face powder to make their faces whiter and more pale looking -- blue veins appearing through their pasty skin was the look to achieve.

I as thinking how crazy that was the other night as I was applying my 'bleaching cream' to get rid of all my aged freckles from all those years of baking myself in the sun. Who knows what is really in that bleaching cream stuff!

Karena said...

Soodie, I just cannot imagine the trouble of keeping these styles in place, free of bugs; they must have smelled just terrible after a few days. Even walking around, one would certainly have to practice great posture!I do remember ironing my hair/ or wearing those huge hair rollers both wire and sponge to bed!

soodie :: said...

Karena -- my head is just itching thinking of these bouffants.

I wore the pink sponge rollers to bed also. What a mess it was the next morning, when I think about it. But at the time I was so glad to have curly hair -- until the curls went limp by noon....

David said...

Well darn, I was hoping you were thinking about bringing back the wearing of small figures in your hair. =)

I sort of know Durwin Rice, let me know if you take a decoupage class, I've wanted to but never have.

soodie :: said...

David, I will. I need some balancing out and it sounds good. I wonder if we can learn how to decoupage big things like a headboard, tri-folding screen or a small side table, then varnish it with a subtle pigmented stain...

You would be great with your skills.

home before dark said...

Will she never quit: Have been thinking about not being able to see there from hair (sitting behind big hair in theatre). Your quite comprehensive post about this had one obvious omission: billy wearing big hair filled with his objects of desire.

soodie :: said...

Home, I did sketch out a little scene of billy wearing a big pouf but didn't pursue it further. His favorite things would include: his ripped up, gutted and smelly stuffed toy of a monkey, bugs from outside, spoonfuls of peanut butter, cubes of cheese, and plastic ball point pens.

Chloe said...

Loved loved loved this post... made my scalp itch a little with the thought of critters taking up residence in my high rise hair! Perhaps these hair contraptions were birth control... 'specially since they had to remain in the upright position.

soodie :: said...

Chloe, I thought the EXACT same thing about the birth control. After all, women had to sit for hours and hours to get their hair done this way. And for probably a hefty price. Who was going to want to get their brand new do mussed up for a little romp in the hay -- papier-mâché figures flying about.

venetianred said...

Sodie
This is a fabulous post, you've really taken this discussion to new heights (pun intended!). I must find for you an equally wonderful picture of "Yankee Doodle Dandy," which I discovered while posting on lace topic for Venetian Red. (Now that I think of it, of course it was related to Louis XIV!) Although Although not Marie Antoinette, this British fop sure rivals her excess. A little tiny hat upon a big mound of a wig, and a helper with a long little hook to get it on and off... Best of all, as you can imagine, this is where our Colonial ditty came from!

Keep up the good work,
Liz

soodie :: said...

Liz, wow thanks... I would love to see a pic of "Yankee Doodle Dandy"... and people say the 70s rock and roll stars got weird in their dress.

Thanks again Liz, I love visiting your blog and reading all of the info. So thorough and such fabulous, detailed posts you do.

Will Bashor said...

Great blog! Interesting that Louis XVI was faithful to Marie Antoinette and instead of providing excitement in the bedroom, he allowed her to spend spend and spend some more.

I really think he felt guilty for not being able to fulfill his conjugal duties for so many years. Moreover, she towered over him (not only the pouf) but in personality.