Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ode to the Pouf

Marie AntoinetteA few weeks ago, I wrote about kings and queens who became fashion icons. Any discussion of trendsetting is not complete without the queen of the pouf, Marie Antoinette. Marie took her hair to dizzying heights by fortressing her locks with wire, cloth, gauze, horsehair and ironically, the flour that so many peasants needed to survive. Her hairstyles were copied by all of French society, despite the fact that they sometimes included gardens of carrots, artichokes, radishes, and heads of cabbage. You have to be a powerful fashion icon to get people to put cabbage in their hair.

A martyr for hair
And let’s not forget about the shear inconvenience of putting radishes in your hair. To sleep, ladies would have to wrap their hair up like conical packages supported with piles of pillows. It would have made an interesting slumber party today. Vermin especially enjoyed the high-hair craze and made protective nests out of them. (Special head scratchers were designed to provide relief.) And imagine having to stick your head out your carriage like a dog or kneel on the carriage floor to get your hair sculpture safely to the ball. Marie would shun tight-fitting corsets, but would make any sacrifice for her hair.

Why go through all this pain and agony for hair? Growing up in the 80's, gives you a certain appreciation for big hair. The girls of my highschool were armed with the power of our trusty blow dryers and enough hair spray to take out half the ozone. We would spend hours getting our hair cemented into feathered pomps and spikes. I have yet to find documented cases, but I am sure our hair took out a few eyes.

Was it all just to look pretty?

For anyone who survived the 80s, we were just following another stupid fashion trend. In Marie’s case, hair was a more serious business. Hair allowed Marie to “play with politics” in an age when women wielded little political clout1. To support the medical movement toward inoculation, Marie wore her pouf a’ la inoculation featuring Aesculapius’s serpent wrapped around an olive tree. To show her support for the American colonies, Marie donned coiffure a 'Independance ou le Triomphe de la Liberte(shown here). Marie proudly advertised her political messages right on her head. It made them hard to miss and may have made others uncomfortable with her power. The queen was allowed to control fashion, as long as it didn’t make political statements.

The pamphleteers fought back. The first libels to attack Marie, targeted her head. Thousands of more libels followed with more licentious implications.

So what do you think? Was Marie just a bored queen playing dress-up? Or was she trying to make both political and fashion statements.?

A Blogging Dare
Now that I have shared my disastrous 80’s flashback…..I dare anyone to post their own version of the 80's pouf or any other bad hair moment.

Weber, Caroline. Queen of Fashion, What Marie Antoinette wore to the Revolution: Henry Holt & Co, New York, NY, 2006.
1 Weber, Queen of Fashion, 105
Lever, Evelyne. Marie Antoinette, The Last queen of France. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
Marie Antoinette. DVD. PBS, David Grubin Productions, Inc., 2006.

Illustration Credits:
Image 1: Art by Carlyn Beccia
Image 2: Unknown, Servants Standing on a Ladder, Preparing a Pouf for Bed (C. 1778). The Picture Gallery at the New York Public Library
Image 3: Carlyn Beccia sporting big hair, copyright long expired.
Image 4: French Fashion Caricature: Coiffure a' l' Independence of The Triumph of Liberty (c. 1778) . Reunion des Musees Nationaux/Art Resource, NY)
Image 5: 1778 fashion plate of French court dress with wide panniers and artificially enchanced "big hair". Plate 43 in Galerie des Modes for 1778. Caption: "Jeune Dame de Qualité en grande Robe coëffée avec un Bonnet ou Pouf élégant dit la Victoire. Dessiné par Desrais. Gravé par Voysant."Scanned by H.Churchyard. More info


Anonymous said...

Great post.
However, Marie-Antoinette's attempt at launching the radish headdress flopped (according to Madame Tussaud, who grew up in Versailles.)

Connie said...

This is a marvelous site! Great art and great entertainment. I have a wonderfully cringe-making photo of my husband (great hair) with the blow-dryed bouffant hairdo I used to create for him in the early 80s!

Heather said...

What a delightful jaunt into the history of hairstyle. And a nice illo too. We had the "joke catchers" in the 80's where I came from, a stiffened wave of hair straight up from the forehead.

INDIGENE said...

What a fantastic site! I love all the commentary on Marie Antoinette and her times! I survived the 80s, but I've always had big hair! You have a great website!

lil kim said...

Fantastic illo!

CR Wall said...

Oh, 80's hair, oh yes, the stories I could tell. I remember the routine. Everything had to be right, the shampoo, conditioner, mousse, curling gel, only a certain type of blowdryer, brushes. A failed coif was cause for tears and, believe it or not, girls were not unknown to start the whole routine again, or even skip school on a particularly bad hair day. I can very well identify with the obsession with big, BIG hair!