Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. She was known for her lavish lifestyle and intricate hairstyles that were often outrageous and gravity-defying. Her hair became a symbol of the perceived extravagance and detachment of the French aristocracy during a time of economic turmoil in France.
The Pouf Hairstyle
The most iconic of Marie Antoinette’s hairstyles was the pouf. The pouf was a very high, elaborate hairdo constructed with padding, powder, and wax to create volume. It was often adorned with feathers, trinkets, ribbons, and other decorative accessories. Some poufs were designed to commemorate events or make political statements.
The pouf hairstyle originated from the older French “fontange” style, which saw aristocratic women wear tall headdresses. The early pouf was a natural, frizzed halo of hair surrounding the face. But as Marie Antoinette’s hairdresser, Leonard Autie, gained more influence, he transformed the pouf into an architectural feat using wire, pads, and cosmetics.
There were three main types of pouf hairstyles that Marie Antoinette wore:
- The Vertical Pouf: A tower of hair piled high on the top of the head.
- The Horizontal Pouf: The hair puffed out wildly around the face.
- The Natural Pouf: A softer pouf created by teasing the natural hair.
Some of Marie Antoinette’s most famous pouf hairstyles include:
- The ‘inoculation’ pouf, created after the Queen had her children inoculated against smallpox. It depicted a rising sun with the serpent of Asclepius.
- The ‘coiffure de sentiment’, an intricate creation representing love and fidelity.
- The ‘coiffure à l’Iphigénie’, a towering pouf worn on a night at the opera.
Criticism of the Elaborate Pouf
The pouf style came to be viewed as a symbol of the aristocracy’s decadence and disconnect from common people. The amount of time, effort, and resources that went into creating these elaborate hairstyles was seen as excessive and frivolous. At a time when French citizens faced enormous economic hardships, Marie Antoinette’s poufs were outrageous.
There are accounts of these hairstyles becoming so tall that women had to kneel on the carriage floor or sit on the stairs at the theater. Servants had to accompany them with baskets of supplies for repairs. The use of thick pomades and powders also damaged hair. Many women suffered hair loss or infections from irritating ingredients.
French writers and political cartoonists harshly criticized the pouf hairstyles. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote:
“One’s thoughts are confused and one’s head weakened under ten pounds of paste, powder and pomatum. One’s hair must be dressed every day, and head-dresses reach the height of the second storey. In such a state, how can one have common sense?”
Satirical cartoons portrayed the pouf as a political symbol, suggesting the tall styles reflected the Queen’s distance from her people and her obliviousness to their plight. Some radical critics even blamed Antoinette’s hair for causing bread prices to rise as flour became scarce!
Marie Antoinette’s Hairdresser: Leonard Autie
The man behind Marie Antoinette’s legendary poufs was her personal hairdresser, Léonard Autié. Léonard gained huge influence in fashion and at court due to his position styling the Queen’s hair. Some accounts suggest Léonard’s ego became so inflated that he refused to dress the hair of other ladies at court so that the Queen’s styles would remain unique creations.
Every morning, Marie Antoinette would sit for 1-3 hours having her hair dressed by Léonard and his assistants. She would consult with him on designs, and Léonard would create intricate scaled models of potential poufs from pine cores covered in batting to mimic the effect of teased, powered hair. The final structure would be assembled on the Queen’s head using false hair pieces, pads, and ribbons.
Léonard became renowned for his imaginative approach and technical skill in constructing ever more elaborate coiffures. Every week, fashion merchants and hairdressers would flock to glimpse his latest creations on the Queen and copy the styles for aristocratic clients.
The Logistics of Marie Antoinette’s Elaborate Hairstyles
The logistics involved in creating Marie Antoinette’s huge hairstyles gives insight into how much labor, time, and material was required.
It’s estimated that constructing one of Marie Antoinette’s poufs took 3-4 hours. Her hairdresser Léonard had a team of assistants, including a hairdresser solely focused on powdering the Queen’s hair once dressed.
The base of the pouf was created by padding the natural hair with linen and horsehair to create volume. Pig bristles were sometimes sewn into a ribbon and attached to the padding. Pomade and wax were used to set it in place.
The pouf was then powdered, often using a combination of wheatstarch and white powder made of potato starch, rice flour, and chalk. This helped create volume and gave a bright white color. On average, Marie Antoinette ordered 50 ounces of powder every 10 days for her hair!
Finally, decorative elements like feathers, flowers, trinkets, and gemstones were incorporated. Significant architectural feats like model ships, birdcages, or windmills might adorn the more elaborate poufs.
All together, it’s estimated that the tallest of Marie Antoinette’s poufs might have incorporated up to 2 feet of padding and decoration and weighed over 10 lbs!
Breakdown of Hair Products Used
Here is an overview of some of the main hair products used to create Marie Antoinette’s iconic pouf hairstyles:
|Scented wax product made from animal fat that helped style and hold the hair shape.
|Starch-based white powder that absorbed dirt and oil while lightening hair color.
|Firm holding product used for shaping.
|Pins attached the padding and decorations to the natural hair.
|Used as padding to build volume under the natural hair.
|Sewn into ribbons and used for bulk and shaping.
What Happened to the Pouf Style?
By the late 1780s, Marie Antoinette had begun moving away from the extremes of the pouf. Fashion was shifting towards simpler English-inspired dresses and natural styling. Political critics and caricaturists had also blown her poufs out of proportion.
As the French Revolution gained momentum, extravagant hairstyles came to represent the sins of the aristocracy. Women were attacked on the street if they wore poufs or feathers. Eventually, the revolutionary government banned hair powders and products as a sign of protest.
After Marie Antoinette’s execution in 1793, the pouf faded from popularity. However, elements of vertical height and volume remained in women’s hairstyles. The pouf helped pave the way for later 19th century styles like the pompadour.
Though Marie Antoinette’s poufs had faded from fashion, her legendary hairstyles came to epitomize the perceived decadence of Versailles. The image of her elaborate powdered wigs remains instantly recognizable today as a symbol of pre-Revolutionary France.
Marie Antoinette’s pouf hairstyles were gravity-defying feats of architecture and design. The time, labor, and materials required to create these sky-high styles reflected the perceived excess of the French aristocracy. While decried as frivolous and disconnected from common people’s reality, the pouf became Marie Antoinette’s iconic and enduring symbol.
Though political caricaturists mocked it as outrageous, the pouf was a trendsetting style. Marie Antoinette’s hairdresser Léonard Autié elevated hairdressing into an artform with his immense creativity. The pouf paved the way for later 19th century hairstyles focused on height and volume.
The pouf style highlighted class tensions that exploded in the French Revolution. But it remains an unmistakable emblem of pre-Revolutionary France and Marie Antoinette’s lavish reign as Queen before meeting her fate at the guillotine.