I Feel You Should See These Hairstyles from the 1700s & 1800s

Victorian hairstyles

These are amazing, right?

It would be tempting to dismiss them as the work of an artist with an active imagination, but I recently read about wild hairstyles around that time period, so I’m inclined to believe these were actual hairstyles offered. And if you can believe it, these are reserved compared to their precursor.

The below hairstyle on Marie Antoinette is described in the charming book Encyclopedia of the Exquisite. Her hair was sculpted into a swelling body of water and held a replica of the French battleship La Belle Poule, which sunk an English frigate in 1778 and prompted her to wear this hairdo.

Marie Antoinette's Elaborate Hairstyles

These hairstyles, called poufs, were made with scaffolding of wire and gauze and covered in real and fake hair set with flour and lard. Here’s an example of how they work.

Hair scaffolding for a pouf

Marie Antoinette supposedly wore one that rose 6 feet hight. They sometimes showcased full-on tableaus — the Duchesse de Choiseul once wore a rural landscape in her hair, complete with a stream and a tiny windup windmill. (No, I can’t picture how that works either.) The hairstyles were typically sported for a week and were obviously very difficult to sleep in. They even attracted vermin (ew).

Here’s one that’s especially mind-blowing, though I have to wonder if it was ever worn in real life.

1780s hairstyles

Wouldn’t you fall backwards from the weight?

Marie Antoinette’s excessive hairstyles grew increasingly unpopular, especially because they used flour, when many people were starving. You can see the frustration in drawings of the time.

Giant 1700s hair

More fun old stuff on my Retro Fashion Pinboard!

Imagery via Old Rags (1), Fashion is My Muse (2) & Love Is Speed (3, 4, 5)

It's good etiquette to share what you like!

2 Comments

  1. Anne

    Nah, your last two pictures are caricatures. They wouldn’t have worn anything like this, same with the six foot hair. (Maybe she was 6 ft high including her hair and citations got muddled up over the centuries.) Especially the Victorians liked to make up horrific stories about their ancestors to paint themselves in a more sophisticated, reasonable light – you’ll find them making up such stories in 19th century books and then they got cited, and the cite got re-cited in the 1920s, and they turn into these modern myths.
    The Belle Poule seems to have been real, though.

    There’s some really wonderful, interesting, well-researched and still quirky stuff over here at Two Nerdy History girls: You might like their blog a lot!
    http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.de/search/label/Colonial%20Williamsburg

    • Retroette

      Thanks for weighing in, Anne! I knew that last one was a caricature, and I figured the second to last one was an exaggeration, but it’s interesting the imagery came from a fashion institute providing an example of their work. I guess they had as much reason to exaggerate as anyone.

      When I learned of the Belle Poule, I figured that couldn’t be true. But my research led me to believe it was. That’s some statement-making hair for sure!

      I follow Two Nerdy History Girls on Twitter, but I hadn’t seen their post on poufs. Thanks for sharing!

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