Every Day Was Wacky Hair Day In The 1700s

Fantastic follicles

In the early ‘90s, the best show on TV was Reading Rainbow. It once featured a book called The Lady with the Ship on Her Head. A ship like Captain Hook’s on top of a woman’s head? No way! But, it’s actually based on truth. And, as we all know, truth is stranger than fiction. Especially, when it comes to wacky hair in the 1700s.

During that time in France, the trendiest way to flash wealth was on your head. Elaborate wigs and ridiculous hairstyles were the gold-plated iPhones of the day—they boasted riches, status, and insane gaudiness. The hair trends went by special names so all the rich people could gossip about who wore their follicles the best.

And, the names for the following hairstyles are beyond ridiculous. 

Fontange

The Fontange was the hipster of 1700s hair—the cool hairstyle before it was cool. Dating back to the 1680s, the Fontange came about a hundred years before Marie Antoinette created a frenzy for sky-high hair.

Named for the Duchess of Fontange, Louis XIV’s mistress (one of them anyway), the style involved piling curls atop the head and securing them with ribbons. The Duchess created the style while out on a hunting trip. Loose hair was inappropriate (for shame!), so before her hunting party could castigate her for all time, Fontange took ribbons from her dress and gathered her raunchy curls on top of her head. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. 

Periwig

In case the menfolk feel ignored, we must include the periwig. From the French perruque, periwigs or perukes were male wigs worn in the 1600s and 1700s.

The wigs were usually heavily powdered. Louis XIV had a problem with baldness so, like his mistress, he created this hair trend out of necessity. Periwigs had to be curly or at the very least wavy. Corkscrew curls were most popular, which helped create volume around and above the head. Like the ladies’ hairstyles to come, fashionable periwigs grew (get it) to great heights.

Sheep's head

In the mid 1750s, the sheep’s head was a subtler style than the Fontange and many others. This female coiffe was created by tightly curling the hair and arranging the curls in rows close to the scalp . . . a look that presumably resembled the head of a curly-haired sheep.

If their tresses were too flat and stringy, women added false hair to boost up the volume (weaves aren’t anything new, ladies!). A delicate smattering of flowers or gems could be added for decoration. But, only in tasteful moderation! 

Pom pom (and the Pompadour)

Pom pom is shortened from Pompadour—as in Madame de Pompadour, the illustrious mistress of Louis XIV. Just as pom poms are a cheerleader's accessories, hair pom poms were elaborate accessories for ladies' powdered puffs. Madame de Pompadour was known for her pom pom ornaments and for the famous hairstyle she adorned with them: the Pompadour

Over 200 years after she popularized the hairstyle, the Pompadoura billowy bouffant of hair that sways up and away from the forehead—has graced the heads of 19th-century Gibson Girls, Elvis Presley, and Janelle Monáe.

Ques-A-Co or "What Is It?"

Literally meaning “what is it?”, the ques-a-co was a hairstyle created by Mademoiselle Rose Bertin, fashion designer to 18th-century royalty and the favorite of none other than Marie Antoinette.

The ques-a-co played on the pom pom decoration but consisted of three feathers in place of ribbons or jewels. The plumes descended down the back of the head, playfully forming a loose question mark. This style made its mark, but before long, a friendly rival stepped in to create another hair trend that would shake France by the roots.

The pouf

The famed hairdresser Léonard Autié was that friendly rival. Both he and Bertin worked together to create beautiful confections of hair and cloth for Marie Antoinette. But, Autié felt eclipsed by Bertin’s fame with the ques-a-co style, so he devised a new coiffure for Marie Antoinette’s trip to the opera: the pouf.

Upon first sight of the new ‘do, the Queen exclaimed “Why Leonard, it must be over a yard high!” The tall tresses contained pink ribbons, braided rosettes, a large ruby, and three ostrich feathers (a smirking nod to the ques-a-co). A colossal hair beast was unleashed.

The sentimental pouf

The pouf sentimental (or the pouf aux sentiments) became exceedingly popular with the female upper echelon. The tower of tendrils gave ladies real estate in which to display a vast assortment of jewels and objects (like a ship? Yep, that's on the horizon). In fact, the sentiment of the style quite literally referred to a woman’s mood, which she could express through her hair.

Autié, le hairdresser extraordinaire, created the first pouf sentimental for the Duchess of Chartres. Her hair incorporated 42 feet of gauze and wax figurines of a nurse with the Duchess’s newborn baby, an African servant, and a parrot eating cherries. 

The Lady with the Ship on Her Head

The sentimental pouf became a blueprint for the fashionable elite to create crazy hair tableaus. In addition to sentiment or “mood dos,” coiffures could be themed around culturally-relevant concepts or events (“circumstance hairstyles” in English).

This gave rise to numerous updos following the formula “coiffure à la (in the style of)" whatever mood, theme, concept, or event the wearer wanted to spend exorbitant sums of money on to evoke and build on her head. Yes, build. Scaffolding was required.

The coiffure à la Belle Poule was one of these circumstance hairstyles. The Belle Poule ("Beautiful Hen") was the name of a French ship that damaged a British frigate during the American Revolution. After the French victory, it was all the rage for women to nestle copies of the ship in their raging seas of hair. 

Hair in the style of vaccinations

Vaccinations hair, or the coiffure à l’inoculation, was a style created by the famous Autié for Marie Antoinette in celebration of an important victory.

At the time, it was considered dangerous to get vaccinated for smallpox in France, but King Louis XV had died of the disease. Marie Antoinette urged her husband (XVI) to receive a vaccination. When he survived the prick unscathed, the Queen rejoiced with her vaccinations hair.

Planted into her huge pouf (which could get as high as four feet) was an olive tree. Oh yeah, and a serpent. The tree symbolized wisdom and the serpent good health (after the Greek god of medicine who owned a pet snake).

Hair in the style of the gardener

Gardener or window box hair was also really popular in Marie Antoinette’s day. Of course, the style was known by the French as coiffure à la jardiniere. The Queen's gardener style showcased a vegetable garden with radishes, artichokes, carrots, and a head of cabbage. An ironic flip-flop, given that gardening was beneath the dignity of a queen.

One would think outdoing the Queen would be bad form, but the Duchess of Choiseul had no qualms about it. She somehow balanced herself beneath a three-foot-high coiffure à la jardiniere covered with flowers and grasses, a gurgling stream, and a bejeweled mechanical windmill.

The hedgehog

The hedgehog (l’hérisson) became a popular coiffe in the 1780s and ‘90s. The style called for tight frizzy curls that sat in tiers like a hedgehog’s spiky mound atop a layer of longer, loosely curled hair that hung at the back and sides.

The irony that the newest fad was called hedgehog might not have been lost on wearers; powdered wigs and poufs were held together with bear grease and flour. Men and women kept hairstyles for weeks at a time, which would attract all manner of critters as the hair got rancid. Now, that's a really bad hair day!

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