The coiffure of a woman of 1780 was a remarkably complicated affair; so complicated, in fact, that certain women, by way of avoiding fatigue or expense, had their heads dressed only two or three times a week, sometimes only once, and slept in this heavy, uncomfortable, voluminous rigging, of which their own hair was assuredly the least important element. False hair being very costly, the interior of the fragile edifices was often stuffed with horsehair, and even with hay. In some cases a brace of iron wire was affixed to the head, upon which flowers, feathers, ribbons, and jewelry could be firmly attached; and thus the scaffolding frequently rose to such a height that, if we may credit the caricaturists of the day, it was necessary to pierce the roofs of the sedan-chairs, and even of the coaches, in order to accommodate les elegantes in gala costume.
source: Garrick's Pupil by Augustin Filon
Coffee was served to us, while I glanced over the Gazette de France, which was at that time, if I am not mistaken, the only daily paper existing in Paris. I had been reading for about ten minutes, when, starting with a sudden emotion, I struck the table with my knee and upset my cup, which I had left untouched, so absorbed was I in my reading.
"Well! Leonard, what's the matter with you?" exclaimed my friend while wiping his breeches wet with coffee.
"Here it is ... here it is revealed, this art which your master prides himself on having discovered. ... It is not he, zounds! who first understood the transcendent head-dress, it is a lawyer."
"I say! are you getting mad?" said my friend, with an air of amazement.
"Mad—well, so be it, but mad with inspiration. . . . And this inspiration, grand, sublime, capable of undertaking everything, I receive from a disciple of Cujas. Listen, friend Fremont, listen to this extract from the Memorial in favor of the lady hairdressers against the society of master barbers, wig-makers, bath-keepers. ... It is a masterpiece."
"Ah! yes, I know; this suit is being brought before the higher court. The wig-makers act on the authority of a so-called exclusive privilege which turns over to them, so they say, all heads, both male and female, . . . but we have on our side the wives of the presidents, of the councilors, of the Masters of Requests, of the clerks of the court; if need be we shall have the swords of the light-horsemen and the musketeers. . . . The ladies have promised it."
"And better than all that, we have the pen of the great legist who wrote this Memorial; listen, listen:"
"'The art of dressing ladies' hair is a free art, like poetry, painting, sculpture. By means of the talents which we possess, we bestow new charms on the beauty of which the poet sings; it is often through us that painting is inspired, and if the Hair of Berenice has been placed among the constellations, who will say, that in order to reach this high degree of glory, she did not require the services of a hairdresser?
"'A forehead more or less broad, a face more or less round, require very different treatment; everywhere it is necessary to improve nature or repair its blemishes. Moreover, it is proper to reconcile with the flesh-tones the color under which the head-dress is to be presented. ... It is necessary to know the shades, the use of dare-obscure and the distribution of shadows so as to give more life to the complexion, more expression to the eyes, more attractiveness to the charms. Some times the whiteness of the skin will be heightened by the darkness of the hair; or the too great brilliancy of the blonde will be moderated by the pale gray color with which we cover the head-dress.'"
I felt all that, but I should not have expressed it in such a beautiful manner.
"Do you want me to tell you something?" I resumed in solemn tones: "Before three years Leonard shall be the foremost hairdresser of the universe. . . ."
"Pshaw! . . . You will favor me, will you not?"
"You shall be my assistant. . . ."
"Well! I shall not be so badly off: second hairdresser of the universe! Where do you dwell that I may go to-morrow morning to ask you for my diploma? . . ."
"No. 15, rue des Noyers, in a room eight by four feet," I replied, assuming the bantering tone which my friend had taken, and which, fortunately, suddenly drew me out of the ridicule into which I was about to sink to the very neck.
"Rue des Noyers! Jean Leonard, the neighborhood is ill selected to found the throne of universal hairdressing. . . ."
"Jest as much as you please; but this is how I reason since I have read the beautiful address of the hairdressers: I want the head-dress to express, modify, and disguise the passions; I want to soften or embolden the eye; that it be either coquettish, languishing, melancholic, or conquering; that it glide unperceived into the heart, or take it by force like a soldier on the charge. ... I want, friend Fremont, that a new Jouvence spring from my comb: if Heaven helps, women will from henceforth not be old before they are past sixty; and the life of young beauties may be spent, wasted even, without showing it."
source: Recollection of Leonard: hairdresser to Queen Marie-Antoinette By Léonard Alexis Autie Léonard
"The coiffures, those indexes of the taste of the moment, were also reflections of what the French Court took to be English fashions; ladies afflicted with "Anglomanie" carried upon their plastered heads an entire racecourse, with horses, jockeys, dogs, and a few five-barred gates, the mixture of racing and hunting being, of course, typically British. Perhaps Joseph's animadversions upon the madness of head-dresses were caused by the special visit before-mentioned to the Duchesse de Chartres, who, in a Court that calculated its coiffures by the yard, made it her ambition to outdo the most enterprising; and she would almost certainly be arrayed in the most advanced of her modes for an Imperial visit. The memory of the Duchesse de Chartres is enshrined in one monstrous coiffure that she designed with the aid of Leonard. Fourteen yards of gauze covered the scaffolding of a tower upon her head, designed by the architect to exceed by two inches the height of the "coiffure a loge d'opera" worn by the Queen. From the summit of the tower waved feathers; and upon the building were two waxen figures, representing her son, the Duc de Valois (afterwards Louis Philippe), in the arms of his nurse. Besides these there were a black boy, a parrot, a plate of cherries, and (worked in their own hair) the initials of her husband, Duc de Chartres, of her father, Duc de Penthievre, and of her father-in-law, Duc d'Orleans. This erection was called "le pouf sentimental." It is interesting to remember that its creator, Leonard, the Court coiffeur, died in the enjoyment of the appointment of Inspector-General of Funerals, an office bestowed upon him in answer to his application for that of director of the Opera-Comique."
source: "The guardian of Marie Antoinette: letters from the Comte de Mercy ...", Volume 2
By Lillian C. Smythe, Florimund Mercy d'Argenteau
It was no longer the nodding plume of the "Ques-a-co?" That for the moment had given place to two other new and equally artistic designs, named respectively, "coiffure de /'inoculation," and "coiffure mythologique." The scaffolding on which the gauze, crape, lace, and other materials were spread was higher by five inches, for both these head-dresses, than that of the Ques-a-co? The "inoculation" was decorated with "ornaments de circonstance,"— representations of the rising sun, a serpent, a club, and an olive tree. It was a sort of pictorial enigma. In a small daily paper of the time, edited by Metra, it is thus explained:— "The rising sun represents Louis XVI., to wards whom all hopes are turned; the serpent is the smallpox; the club, the art of the physician which has overthrown the monster; and the olive tree symbolizes the peace and happiness with which the successful inoculation of the princes has suffused all hearts." The mythological head-dress was ornamented on one side with a cypress, denoting the mourning of the nation for Louis XV. On the other was a cornucopia overflowing with every good gift, and emblematical of the good time coming.
The circumstances of the moment made it de rigueur that every woman of distinction should appear in one or other of these elegant concoctions on occasions of ceremony, such as that referred to above, called the " reception de grand deuil." The poor old dames de province appear to have been ignorant of this. And they may have considered their ignorance bliss, as they gazed with awe on those lofty edifices; wondering, perhaps, that heads so weak could carry such monstrous burdens. "The few that remain of the old school," says a French writer of the time, "have indeed great reason to say that good taste is in all things departing from us. To my mind, nothing proves it so much as this kind of senseless mythology, which our women of highest rank, following the example of the queen, now carry about piled up on their heads."
source: The French Court and Society: Reign of Louis XVI, and First Empire
By Lady Catherine Charlotte Jackson
The sentimental coiffure was not alone in its eccentricity. There were coiffures representing landscapes, English gardens, mountains, and forests, and to such lengths, in a literal sense, was the fashion carried, that at last the police interfered, preventing the appearance at the theatre of ladies whose head-dress would obstruct the view of those behind them.
The " commode " coiffure is the English counterpart of the French Loge d'Opera and other monstrosities. So high was it worn, that fashionable ladies were obliged, in travelling, to lean out of their coaches, being willing, such is the power of fashion over its votaries, to make themselves ludicrous, in the eyes even of their contemporaries, in order to obey its decrees. There is indisputable evidence to prove that the "commode " was equal in height to the stature of the wearer. A contemporary lady writes—"On my head a huge commode was sticking which made me appear as tall again." This statement, if alone, might be suspected of a tinge of feminine exaggeration, were it not supported by others, among them being one by that famous essayist and shrewd observer, Addison, who, in one of his essays, written when the fashion was going out, speaks of " the number of ladies who were formerly seven feet high, but who now want some inches of four."
source: "Freaks of Fashion", Atalanta, Volume 8
A story illustrating Marie Antoinette's good nature is told. Her regular hairdresser was the reverse of clever, but rather than dismiss him she allowed him to do her hair regularly; but he had no sooner completed his work than Leonard came to undo all he had done, and to build up a new edifice.
Leonard was the inventor of different modes of wearing the hair, each outrivaling the other in intricate and elaborate designs.
One was called the coiffure a In dauphine, in which the hair was gathered up and rolled into curls, which fell to the neck. The coiffure a la monte au ciel, as its name indicates, was remarkable for its extreme height; but most wonderful of all was the full-dress coiffure called loye d'opera, which made a lady's head seventy-two inches high from the chin to the top of the hair, which was arranged into several zones, each one ornamented in a different way, but invariably completed with three large feathers, attached on the left temple, with a bow of rosecolored ribbon and a large ruby.
Apropos to the capricious sway of Marie Antoinette, it is said that one day she took from her dressing-table two peacock-feathers, and placed them, with several little ostrich-feathers, in her hair. At once feathers became the fashion, not only in France, but throughout Europe. But when poor little Marie Antoinette sent a portrait of herself to her august mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, it was returned with an unqualified snub. "I have received the portrait of an actress, not that of a queen," writes Maria Theresa. "I am expecting the right one."
Nothing daunted, the gay French Queen continued to invent all sorts of fantastic fashions, which were eagerly adopted. Mademoiselle Bertin, a court milliner, writes: "The last time I worked .with the Queen we decided that the new caps should not come out for another week." A demi-nigligie cap, invented about this time, possibly by the Queen or by Mademoiselle Bertin, bore the name of le lever de la reine.
So little did it take to introduce a new mode in this capricious age! A gust of wind disheveled the tresses of the Duchesse de Fontanges ; she tied her headdress on her truant locks with one of her ribbon garters. The effect was so charming that the fashion called coiffure a la Fonttinges soon became universal.
The coiffure a la Belle Poule consisted of a ship in full sail reposing on a sea of thick curls. This arrangement of the hair was invented after the naval combat in which La Belle Poule had figured to great advantage, June 17th, 1778. The frigate itself, with its masts, rigging and guns, was imitated in miniature in the headdress.
Gabrielle d'Estrees wore her hair frizzed and drawn back in the shape of a heart, and so ornamental and loaded with pearls and diamonds that she "outshone the light of the torches."
In 1778, Devismes, the Director of the Opera in Paris, made a rule excluding from the amphitheatre all but headdresses of a moderate height. This nuisance seems to have lasted until January, 1784, when Lenoir, Lieutenant of the Police, addressed a letter to the actors of the Italian Theatre, in which he says: "There are constant complaints of the size of the headdresses and hats, which, being loaded with plumes, ribbons and flowers, intercept the view of the spectators in the pit."
source: The American Magazine, Volume 26
By contrasting the head-dress of the lady in the cut already given upon page 378 with the following group, the reader will at once detect the great change effected by fashion in this particular portion of female costume. Figs. 1 and 2 are copied from engravings by G. Bickham to The Ladies' Toilet, or the Art of Head-dressing in its utmost Beauty and Extent, translated from the French of "Sieur Le Groos, the inventor and most eminent professor of that science in Paris," published in 1768. The figures in this very curious book (of which there are thirty), were so much admired in Paris, that we are told, "not only all the hairdressers of any note have them, both plain and coloured, in their shops, but every lady's toilet is furnished with one of them, very elegantly bound, and coloured to a very high degree of perfection." To describe fig. 1, in the author's own words: "This head is dressed in two rows of buckles (or close curls), in the form of shell-work, barred and thrown backwards; two shells, with one knot in the form of a spindle, composed of a large lock or parcel of hair, flatted, or laid smooth, taken from behind the head, in order to supply the place of a plume or tuft of feathers." Fig. 2 is "dressed with a row of buckles, the roots whereof are straight, two shells (on the crown of the head), and a dragon or serpent (at the side of the head, reaching to the shoulders), composed of two locks of hair taken from behind the head, with a buckle inverted (running upwards from the nape of the neck to the crown, where it is fastened by a comb). These serpents or dragons are seldom worn but at court-balls, or by actresses on the stage."
It would be impossible to do more than give types of a fashion that was so varied and so elaborate, which increased both in size and intricacy of fancy during the next two years, as we may judge from figs. 3 and 4, a back and front view of a lady's head, from A Treatise on Hair, by David Ritchie, hairdresser, perfumer, &c.; for in these days hairdressers were great men, and wrote books upon their profession, laying no small claim to the superior merit of "so important an art;" and not content with merely describing the mode of dressing the hair, " favoured the world" with much learning on the origin of hair, affirming it to be " a vapour or excrement of the brain, arising from the digestion performed by it at the instant of its nourishment;" with many other curious and learned conclusions, into which we cannot think of following them.
The figures selected from this book will shew with what care and dexterity ladies' heads were then dressed, " with many a good pound of wool" as a substratum, over which the hair was dextrously arranged, as the reader here sees, then bound down with reticulations, and rendered gay with flowers and bows. Heads thus carefully and expensively dressed were, of course, not dressed frequently. The whole process is given in the London Magazine of 1768:
"False locks to supply deficiency of native hair, pomatum in profusion, greasy wool to bolster up the adopted locks, and grey powder to conceal dust." A hairdresser is described as asking a lady "how long it was since her head had been opened and repaired; she answered, not above nine weeks; to which he replied, that that was as long as a head could well go in summer; and that therefore it was proper to deliver it now, as it began to be a little hazarde." The description of the opening of the hair, and the disturbance thereby occasioned to its numerous inhabitants, is too revolting for modern readers; but the various advertisements of poisonous compounds for their destruction, and the constant notice of these facts, prove that it is no exaggeration.
source: Costume in England: a history of dress from the earliest period till the ...
By Frederick William Fairholt
Abundant employment was ensured to fashionable hair-dressers while this taste for high and elaborate hair-dressing was in vogue. Ladies submitted to all kinds of inconveniences in indulging the fashion. On public occasions, such as Birthdays at Court or County Balls, the demand for dressers exceeded the supply; and girls of spirit, who were determined to appear in full costume, and be quite sure of no disappointment with barbers, took time by the forelock, had their heads dressed a day or two before the appointed period of meeting, and sat up for a night or two propped in chairs, with pillows under their precious curls to prevent disarrangement. In an ordinary way, a head, when full-dressed, was too elaborate a thing to be often disturbed, and the following extract, from a periodical called The Old Maid, records a conversation with a lady, who frankly owns that three weeks had passed since hers was "made up ":—
"Three weeks, Madam," said I; "ha'n't you been a-bed since that?' "Regularly every day." "Pray, Madam, don't that lay you under the necessity of dressing your hair every evening when you rise?" "Oh, lord, no!" says Miss, smiling at my ignorance; "a head properly made up with pins, paste, and pomatum, will keep a month very well." As she talked of her head in the style of pickled pork, I ventured to ask her whether the paste and pomatum would keep as long ?" Certainly," said she, "if prepared with the veritable eau de Jleurs des arbres."
The advertisements of the day abound with notices of washes and poisons to use in the hair and prevent the generation of various living things which so much powder and pomatum would encourage. The current literature of the time abounds in details of the state of these fashionable heads, which cannot now be alluded to, but was satirized or seriously lamented in the plainest language, but of course without effect, until the polite world got tired of the inconvenient, unhealthy, and ugly fashion. A cap of monstrous proportion was invented to cover the whole mass, and its top-heavy character will be best understood from the engraving here copied from a print dated 1776. "When ladies ventured out, it could scarcely be on a windy day; but, for their convenience, a titled lady at Bath (then the very focus of fashion) invented a headcovering, thus described in the Universal Magazine of 1765 :—
source: The St. James's magazine, Volume 3