Hairstyles made bold fashion statements in 18th century Europe. For the wealthy and fashionable aristocrats, it was a time for what would now be called extreme styles among men and women competing at court for the favour of the monarch. One element seemed to be common for men and women: long hair.
The Fontange Hairstyle
The first years of the 18th century had women wearing the Fontange hairstyle. Named after a French noblewoman, this hairstyle included the use of a headdress, up to a foot or more in height and adorned with lace and ribbons. The aristocrat's hair was artfully piled atop the head around the headdress.
Around 1715, hairstyles became less elaborate, more natural and closer to the head. Hair was often parted in the middle, curled or pulled back into a cap, with flowing curls adorned with ribbons, lace and flowers. Around that time men started wearing powdered wigs while women powdered their hair.
The Rise of Big Hair
In the mid-to late 1700s, big hair was the fashion, with women like Madame de Pompadour and Marie Antoinette leading the charge. The Fontange style was fairly elaborate, but later in the century, hair took off into the huge and iconic hairstyles of the 18th century. Hair was once again piled high on top of the head. It continued to be powdered, but this time, women resorted to other means to give the illusion of abundance on their heads, including hair from servants or pets to augment theirs. This supported even more fabric, ribbons or other decor. At its extreme, these creations also held props like birdcages with stuffed birds, miniature frigates or even more fabric and decor.
The time it took to put together these works was extensive, and they were meant to be worn for a few days or more than a week. With so much decoration and infrequent washings, as baths were still considered unhealthy, women's hairstyles often became hosts for parasites including lice.
The powdered wig was the standby for the fashionable European man of the 18th century. Men, according to their rank and what they could afford, wore wigs made of both animal and human hair. The wealthy wore long wigs, often powdered, that portrayed the illusion of an abundant head of curly hair. Others who couldn't afford the luxury of a long wig and all the time it took to curl and powder it, wore shorter versions, a style that was brought over into the New World. Various wigs, styled into a braided ponytail, also became popular late in the century.
The Focus on Hats
Hats became very popular late in the century as well, accompanying the enormous hairstyles of the women and the slower-evolving styles of the men. As focus shifted onto hats and political strife turned the common people against the fashionable French aristocracy, hairstyles diminished in size, elaboration and ornamentation.
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