Clothing styles in the French court were elaborate. Dresses were huge. Pleated fabric cascaded over unseen hoops made of whalebone or wood beneath satins, brocades and velvet. It is no wonder the hairstyles had to be supersized in order to compete. Men's heads, too, were expensively wigged and powdered. These elaborate styles sent the message of prominence, status and wealth. They also provided great opportunities for one-upsmanship and plentiful gossip in the salons of the French court.
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Women of the French court wanted hair that towered. They placed wool pads and gauze under hair, added to the length with hair pieces and lifted the hair over lightweight wire frames. They topped it off with flowers, ribbons and feathers.
Powdering was most popular beginning in the middle of the century. It was an easy way to give a blended effect to the colour of a lady's hair when she had a mix-and-match tower of her own hair, hair pads and hair pieces. Hair powder was starch, sometimes pigmented in blues, pinks or yellow, but usually white, and was applied to oiled hair to make it stick on. The ground starch was sometimes scented with lavender, orange flower or other perfumes.
A coif known as "pouf à sentiment" was the fashion and much enjoyed by court ladies, including Marie Antoinette. The style involved the weaving and placement of a miniature still life into a tower of upswept hair. Women included props that would commemorate an occasion, draw attention to an interest, such as a ship to honour a naval victor, or photos of family.
The wig craze began with Louis XIII who went bald at an early age in 1624 and started to wear a wig. Upper class men, especially those at court, followed his lead whether or not they had hair. The trend continued into the 18th century with Louis XIV, who also was balding at a young age. The wig-making industry was huge all over Europe due to the fashion started at court. Wigs were made of animal and human hair.
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- The American Historical Review: Big Hair: A Wig History Consumption in 17th Century France
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- "Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution"; Caroline Weber; 2006