View Full Version : My Paper on 18c French Hair Styles

May 22nd, 2009, 05:16 PM
I had to write a 7-10 page paper for my modern art (rococo-post impressionism) class and I chose hair styles. I did mine during the rococo period in France. I did find some interesting information so I thought I'd share my finished paper. I won't get it back until fall so I don't know what my grade is.
And here's the paper:

Look in any fashion magazine today and one will surely find multiple pages dedicated the styling for hair. This cultural obsession may make some long for ‘the good old days’ before celebrities became a worldwide obsession and advertisements could be found on every turn depicting a new style. However, this is not as modern an obsession as one may at first think. It has been consistence through out history for both men and women to modify their bodies in whichever way society deems appropriate. It is often used as a way to identify a group of people with each other and to separate them from outsiders. One point in society that sought to set new trends was that during the eighteenth century in France. It was during that time when hairstyles reached a new level of superficial excessiveness. King Louis XIV scolded the women of the court for their overabundance time spent on hair. Later, when Madame De Pompadour was the main inspiration for hair and fashion, she brought around an arrangement of styles closer to the head and arranged them with fresh flowers. The years of Marie Antoinette brought back the towering hair in full force only to fall with life of the very woman. Although something like hair may seem superficial at first, it must be noted that during time periods where women seeming to have advanced wealth and privileges exist, the emphasis on appearance tends to be even greater, and few other place exemplifies this glorification of women as a symbol better then the late baroque and rococo France.

King Louis XIV liked to think of himself as a Sun King, linking himself back to the Egyptians. He took delight in his wealth and position and it was him who wanted to create Versailles. Members of the aristocracy relocated themselves near the Sun King. He approved of this because he wanted to have a tight hold on court and had a very strict set of rules put in place for those who lived within his palace. He dictated the fashion of those around him; sometimes making some nobles become bankrupted trying to keep up. (Mississippi University of Women, 8) This was also acceptable because it gave him a greater hold on them. Yet with all this grandeur he placed himself in he, ironically, admitted saying that hair was a preoccupation to women that never ceased. (Trassko, Mary 39). When his wife-to-be arrived in France she was in for a surprise in regards to her appearance. Spain use to be the trendsetter and her appearance was now being called horrible by the ladies of the court. She was due for a make over. (Trassko, Mary 42)

Young girls were often indoctrinated to the fashion and hair of the time through dolls. (Image 1) Although girls are often shown with them in images, women had uses for them as well. The dolls would be passed around to friends and acquaintances to observe the newest style. These dolls would show the newest styles in hair and fashion and allowed their daughters to be taught what was acceptable. (Bryer, Robin 63) This provided a three dimensional view of new fashion allowing women to pick what was most desirable to them. Ribbons, of example, enjoyed a brief fad with all the wealthy women from the very young to the elderly. When a young duchess was riding with the king her hair became loose and she had to tie it up with a ribbon. The kind was very taken with this look and thus its popularity spread.

It was around 1665 that wigs began to increase in popularity with an additional boast a decade later when Louis XIV began wearing a wig. Curly hair was widely in fashion because of King Louis XIV own curly hair. He only shaved and adopted a wig when it began to turn gray. This may have been a premature move because where dark hair had been fashionable, white hair was soon becoming the new sought after look. (Mississippi University of Women, 10) These wigs would sometimes reach a height of two feet and allowed the wearer to experiment with hair colors other than what they originally possessed. With hair of this height it is easy to imagine accidents happening. Since candles were the source of light at night many wigs went up in flames, often when the wearer was attached. The following poem was attributed to one such noble women who was burned to death after her wig caught a flame:

Yet Miss at her rooms
Must beware of her plumes,
For if Vulcan her feather embraces,
Like poor Lady Laycock,
She’ll burn like a haycock,
And roast all the Loves and Graces (Trassko, Mary 39)

These accidents, however, did not stop the women from wearing large hair dos. The king did complain about them but his complaints had no real effect. It was not until a English woman came to Versailles with small an un-powered wig that the style seemed to change over night. Upon observation the king, bemused, had this to say, “I swear, it irks me to think, with all my authority as King that when I railed against theses coiffures being too high, no one had the slightest inclination to comply with my wishes. Along comes this stranger, a little English nobody, with a low coiffure: suddenly, all the princesses go form one extreme to the other!” (Trassko, Mary 4) His statement shows that although he held ultimate control over Versailles, women and their hair were one of the things he could not control. Women were using their hair not only to align themselves with the Kings favor, such as the use of the ribbons, but they were comparing themselves to one another thus creating a new unspoken standard that was meant to be obeyed. This new low style, like any change in fashion, was only temporary. It was not long before the styles began to grow upward again.

May 22nd, 2009, 05:16 PM
Part 2

When Madame de Pompadour came along her influence kept the styles smaller then years previous. She was the mistress to King Louis XV. Unlike other mistresses, she held a very powerful influence over most fashionable things during her time. It was during this time that the rococo style was beginning to immerge. To describe the women of rococo France one man wrote, “Architecture and furniture design forsake Baroque’s spacious solemnity, and snuggle more and more intimately round women’s daintily little person; and in the butterfly world of la mode this elusive creature, women, shaped her whole century unrestrictedly to her own image.” (Trassko, Mary 52) If the name Madame de Pompadour seems a bit familiar that may be because a hairstyle was named after her that lives on currently. The “pompadour” consisted of hair worn hair on the forehead by either a hair being backcombed or brushed over a pad. The early eighteenth century hairstyles were that of delicacy and discretion. They were curled close to the head of pulled back into a bun. Often, flowers or a jewel would accompany the design, still staying simple and refined. (Bryer, Robin 67)

By 1760, however, the fashionable impulse was to ascend upwards once again. While hair may often be thought of as loose and flowing these styles were anything but. The term “stuccowing” was applied to the process involved in making curls. It was said that although these only took a few hours from start to finish the curls could last the entire session of parliament. (Trassko, Mary 54) If one wonders whether any of these products had adverse effects one can look to a newspaper from 1768 that wrote,

When he scents the mingled stream
Which you plastered heads are rich in,
Lard and meal, and clouted cream,
Can he love a walking kitchen? (Trassko, Mary 55)

A worst effect then even the smell would have to be the small critters that infested the hair. During the same year London Magazine published an article describing what the writer had witnessed when his elderly aunt’s hair had been “opened up”. There were swarms of “animalculas” inside. Although it was told they were not able to migrate because they were held fast by the by the gluey pomade, there were still instances where rodents were seen sticking out of ones do. (Image 2) Eleanor Farjeon recounts her thoughts on these styles and a church service that proved to amuse a least one: “It cost so much to dress these silly contraptions that the sillier ladies wore them day and night, and sat upright in bed wearing night caps of silver wire to keep out the rats, and a mousetrap on their pillow; for wool and paste attracted mice like larder. But in spite of all precautions, a mouse sometimes slipped inside a wig while a lady dozed, and made its nest there. And it is told of one little girl that she sat in the pew on Sunday and watched with delight the little mouse popping in and out of the tower of hair in the next pew, and quite forgot to attend the parson’s sermon on vanity.” (Trassko, Mary 56)

Hygiene seemed to be of as little thought as fashion was in the minds of this society. Bathing at all was a very rare occurrence so much so that in an article it was written as a special aside stating, “Those who bathe should never wet their hair, unless it be requisite on account of their health; and if they do, must be careful that it is quite dry before it is curled: for if it be the least wet, the heat of the irons will scorch and deprive it of its substance.” (Trassko, Mary 58) Health and beauty guides did exist that instructed that washing of hair in ashes, linseed, myrrh, cane root, and white wine. This however was not for cleansing but for supposed growth. One hairdresser even believed that these hairdressing practices were beneficial for the hair, so long as they did not stay on too long. He considered dressing as a “great benefit to the hair” and believed that the “pomatum and power nourish it” and backcombing would keep in hair that would otherwise fall out. (Trassko, Mary 58)

Hairstylist could receive celebrity status and a few luck ones did. It was during this time they started to be referred to on first named bases although it is unknown how this began. Their tools of trade were as specialized as surgeons. (Image 3) The bare minimum consisted of a comb set of bone or tortoiseshell; power in what ever color was ‘in’ at the moment; a powdering carrot used for touch up or a swansdown puff; a knife for removing the encrusted powder; pads stuffed with horsehair; a curling iron; dressing or bobbing pins; a vast amount of hairpieces; and a wide assortment of ribbons, laces, pins, and ordainments. (Trassko, Mary 57) And then, naturally, there would be all the sticky stuff needed to create such towering do’s, one being beef pomade which instructed one stylist to another to in its creation. Apparently knowing how to abstract beef marrow is thought to be common knowledge and needs no instruction. There did exist very detailed instruction manuals that not only instructing on what types of hair was best but have through instructions on how to construct a wig. (Cox, James Stevens, 3)

This frivolous was world in which Marie Antoinette entered into. One in which the unrest through out the country did not create half as much commotion as some new shade of silk or the new daring cut of the hoop skirt. Fantasies were dreamed up that were allegorical tropical and, naturally, huge. One woman had worn a whole garden scene with spinning windmill and brook made from mirror shards along with flowers and grass. This entire contraption was over three feet high. One princess wrapped her hair around the bard of a birdcage containing live butterflies. Yet, even these two could not compare Marie Antoinette, who indulged herself in any way possible.

Marie Antoinette married into the French royalty at the age of 14 in 1770. She quickly became the most fashionable women in France. She did not just follow fashion; she exaggerated it, much to the displeasure of her mother. Any other women who wanted to attempt to compete with her were in for a loosing battle. She spent twice the amount of time having her hair done then any of the other women. She did allowed her hair dressier to expand his cliental to others beside her. When this happened he became so popular that it was common to have to make an appointment several days in advance.

Although all this may seem like a tiring ordeal it was one of the few way women had of expressing themselves. It was one of the few businesses that women had completely populated, aside from the male hairdressers, and they could freely gossip and plan marriages away from the men in their lives. (Bryer, Robin 6) Once they left, their hair was the only thing about them that could make a statement. (Image 4) Since small feet were very much desired many women bound theirs with bands of their hair to make them smaller. When this was combined with high heels and the tight corsets (Image 5) with heavy dresses, many of the women became so uncomfortable that they fainted. (Mississippi University of women 9) It still would have been worth it for them. To be in the current fashion, wheatear by clothes or hair, was one way of possibly moving up.

If much of this attitude seems familiar to what is know currently that is because this is where a lot of the beginnings of a more secular culture began to take hold. This is when the church has lost its hold over the wealthy and the art world did not have to produce for only religious means. After Marie Antoinette was beheaded the aristocracy did tone it down quite a bit to try not to anger the peasants. They did however wear a red ribbon around their necks to symbolize the beheading they barley escaped. But as current person could note, France is once again the symbol of fashion in the world. What was attempted to be eradicated came back time and again.

Although one can look back and be thankful that at least those fashions do not have to be currently endured, one may still think about some of the traditions that have lived on to today have still have meaning in the lives of many. Barbie dolls are widely sort after and a special collector line exists for the adults. Going into a salon is still a very female centered environment that women will go to not only to get their hair done but also to get away from the world for a bit. In terms of painful fashion, clothing may have gotten lighter but the perfect form is still expected to be maintained. Plastic surgery has taken body modification to a whole new level. As one man said back in the eighteenth century that one may hear a man stating today, “Never before have French women spent so much money simply in order to make themselves ridiculous.” (Trassko, Mary 61)

May 22nd, 2009, 05:19 PM
Ow. My eyeballs! I badly want to read this, since I'm working on something related, but could you put in a few paragraph breaks to give some relief?

May 22nd, 2009, 05:23 PM
It had been done. :)

May 22nd, 2009, 05:31 PM
Did you submit it yet?

I was reading it (since your writing style is similar to how mine was in college!) and noticed the word luck where you probably meant lucky.

Well done by the way

May 22nd, 2009, 05:40 PM
Yep, it's been turned in. It probably would have been a good idea to for a whole bunch of proof readers except that I finished it the night before it was due. :mad:

May 22nd, 2009, 06:03 PM
Fascinating! It's interesting how hair care has changed over the years.

May 22nd, 2009, 06:16 PM
Well ... this was a very good and very informative paper but I think that you should have connect your imformation more obviously with the characteristics of rococo style in general.

It would be good to had a paragraph explaining what the rococo style was and what were the "roots" ( with a small reference to baroque style) in order to explain better then, why the hair styles were so superficial excessive as you describe them in your first paragraph ( which is some kind of prologue to your paper )

Anyway ... this is just my opinion, the paper is good anyway and I think you are going to have a good grade. :)

May 22nd, 2009, 06:51 PM
I read the whole thing & I think that it was very good!
That was funny how "critters" would take up residence in their hair. How awful that would be to have to sleep with a mousetrap by your head to keep the mice out:eek:

May 22nd, 2009, 07:10 PM
And very informative! I never knew that dolls were passed around like fashion hair fad models - just one of the many historical hair aspects you shared in that paper that I had not known before!

Aside from very minute mechanical errors (few, indeed), I found your paper to be well-researched (hope your bib is complete!), full of interest, and fairly well-written. Yes, of course, if you hadn't waited until the night before (natch!) it could have been spit-polished into warm glass . . . but for a last-ditch attempt, I thought you did rather well.

And yes, I am an English teacher. Thanks for sharing! ETA: I admire your guts to publish this for all to critique! Thanks for teaching me something today! Kudos!

May 22nd, 2009, 07:38 PM
i loved the quote at the end. hahaha interesting paper! And the part about them "backcombing would keep in hair that would otherwise fall out." Genious! Just genious!

i wish there were drawings of those weird hairstyles (for some reason I can't get a visual of the birdcage and the live butterflies...)

Did you come across any paintings or drawings on your research?

May 22nd, 2009, 07:44 PM
This is an interesting paper on French hair styles. It just goes to show that even in the 18th century they didn't treat hair very well. "Stuccowed" hair with small critters, even mice!!!!!

May 22nd, 2009, 08:03 PM
Did you come across any paintings or drawings on your research?

Actually, yes, we were require to have images in our paper. I copied some of them from the book I was using. I think I still might have one of the doll but I didn't save the hairstyles pictures. I'll see if I can find something similar.

May 22nd, 2009, 08:07 PM
Okay, I now really wish I had found this site when doing my paper because it has so many good examples. You really get a good idea here.


edit: some of these pictures were in the books I used, there are just additional ones I like

May 24th, 2009, 05:38 AM
I really enjoyed that! Thank you for sharing your work Michiru! :flowers:
I think you should consider putting this in articles :wink:
Amusing how these things are considered “normal” in their time… Some day our grandchildren will probably look back and laugh at the silliness we do for “beauty” like the much damaging high heels

May 26th, 2009, 09:06 PM
I have no idea how the article thing works. But yeah, I have no doubt the future generations will look back on us and shutter. Though I do have a feeling that heels will still be around. They seem to be sticking.