Entries in Marie Antoinette (1)
While researching the upcoming FIELL book on hair (Hairstyles: Ancient to Present) we came across some very interesting fashions from the court of Louis XVI and Revolutionary France. There is no hair more iconic, perhaps, than Marie Antoinette's elaborately curled and beribboned wigs. Her daringly avant-garde style and her love of fashion took Versailles by storm, and the ladies of court were constantly trying to emulate the Queen's frequently changing coiffure.
As young aristocrats in the 18th Century, women (although in a position of social power) were obviously not in a position to express themselves freely or assertively. Perhaps the young Queen of France used her love of fashion as a way of expressing herself when in all other areas (marriage, politics) she was rather a lost soul. One of the most well known trends of this period was for miniature models of war ships to be placed upon rolling waves of curls, in celebration of French Navy victories against the British. There was also a fashion for bedecking the wig with various decorative ornaments, including birds, vegetables, figurines of shepherds and shepherdesses, even baby dolls (worn when a member of the royal family gave birth.) Wigs were also dyed a variety of colours, pink being an especial favourite.
Gravity-defying hairstyles fell out of favour once Marie Antoinette gave birth to her son and her hair fell out - this sparked a new trend for "Coiffure à l’Enfant" - a simpler, more deconstructed style. As Charlotte Fiell notes in 'Hairstyles: Ancient to Present', "The adoption of this simpler style was also no doubt a recognition of the growing revolutionary sentiment stirring among the French populace – to put it plainly, the follies of excessive tall-wigged coiffures were not politically expedient during this period of increasing social unrest.". The populace was sick of the Queen and her excessive spending on lavish gowns and on her hairdresser Léonard. The storming of the Bastille saw a rapid degeneration of the previously rich lifestyle to be had at Versailles - in an attempt to curry favour with her subjects the Queen adopted a more austere lifestyle. Obviously, this failed, and Marie Antoinette met her violent fate.
With the age of Revolution drawing to a close, in the Directoire period, came the most extraordinarily morbid new fashions; haircuts à la victime were all the rage for men and women - hair either closely and raggedly cropped, or cropped at the back with long curls in front, emulating the style given to those aristocrats unfortunate enough to go to the guillotine.
It is extraordinary to see illustrations of women of this period with shorn hair, in complete contrast to our ideas of the fashion of that time. Dresses were in the style of underclothes, as this was how one met with Madame Guillotine - and a red ribbon was worn around the neck, grimly recalling the manner in which the aristocracy met its end. Even jewellery in the shape of the guillotine was worn.
A marvellous source of imagery for this period, which shows a perfect timeline of changing fashions, is Sofia Coppola's much-referenced Marie Antoinette (2006). Although sometimes derided for the American accents, focus on visuals and rock'n'roll soundtrack, the fact that the film was approved by Antonia Fraser (whose biography of the last Queen of France is considered the last word on the subject) is good enough for me - although it may not be an in-depth study of the politics of the period, the costumes and hair are a glorious celebration, and have obviously been meticulously researched. As Fraser wrote in a piece for Vanity Fair,
"When Sofia asked me lightly, “Would it matter if I leave out the politics?,” I replied with absolute honesty, “Marie Antoinette would have adored that.”