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Marie Antoinette Hair Secrets


Oscar winning director Sophia Coppola has reopened the history books to highlight the life of famous French queen Marie Antoinette from Sophia's unique perspective through the acting of Kirsten Dunst.

Kristen Dunst as Marie Antoinette Columbia Pictures 2006

Sony Pictures All Rights Reserved

The film, which is eagerly awaited has captured the imagination of the modern day fashion media. Even before the film formally opened noted fashionistas have been swarming to adopt modern versions of Marie Antoinette's hair, beauty and fashion trends.

Fashion and jewels aside, Marie Antoinette was famous for her extravagant three foot high coifs that were often outrageously adorned with feathers, miniature sculptures of ships and an array of glittering opulent jewels.

Looking at the photos of the beautiful French queen always makes me wonder how in the world she endured lugging around several pounds of hair, jewels and feathers. An even better question, how did she dance at court balls with her massive headdresses?

Indeed, Marie Antoinette often towered over her pale and sickly husband, Louis XVI by several feet. Being a queen that always took hair, beauty and fashion trends to excess, Marie Antoinette would spend many hours undergoing very elaborate hairdressing rituals.

To achieve the big hair, the royal hairdressers would use layers and layers of padding along with pomades and other styling products to lift the young Austrian born queen's hair several feet into the air. Yes, that's right, I said several feet.

It turns out that the Queen was unhappily married to her husband, Louis XVI. Consequently she chased away her boredom by shopping. Well at least shopping for her time in history.

Kristen Dunst as Marie Antoinette Columbia Pictures 2006

Sony Pictures All Rights Reserved

Spending lavishly on the latest fashions, jewels and adornments, she exceeded her clothing allowance every year to the horror of the French court and citizens. the extravagance of the queen's fashion were rivaled only the alarming hairstyles she adopted.

Marie Antoinette's shopping and spending addictions drew criticism from her mother who was the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. Marie Antoinette argued that she was merely following the dictaes of French fashions. Ironically during that time in history the queen set all the trends and could have as easily adopted a more frugal fashion attire if she desired to do so.

During her reign, before she was literally beheaded her hair was always a point of fascination whether she wore it in a long cascading style or piled on top of her head.

It was also the era of the “Belle Poule” – the infamous hairstyle that was piled mile-high on the head and lined with fruit, toys and feathers – which Marie Antoinette cultivated to an extreme degree. Yet later, Marie Antoinette also ushered in a major fashion shift, turning France towards a period of simpler, more free-flowing and natural dress that presaged a time of tremendous change.


Hats, Caps & Bonnets:

Jason Swartzman & Kristen Dunst in Marie Antoinette Columbia Pictures 2006

Sony Pictures All Rights Reserved

Various styles were in vogue depending on who you were and what you were doing at the time. The mob cap was as ubiquitous for women as the tricorn was for men. It was made of cotton or linen gathered to a band and covered much of the hair which was piled up underneath it. Several styles of cloth bonnet were utilized including one with long “lappets” down each side of the face and the “calash” which was large enough to fit over high hair styles but was collapsible for ease of storage when not being used. Fashionable ladies might wear a “cartwheel” hat of straw, perhaps bedecked with silk flowers and tied under the chin with a ribbon.

Both men and women typically wore some type of headwear (whether wig and/or hat, cap, bonnet, etc.) during most of their comings and goings. This was especially true outdoors not only for fashion’s sake but also for the practical reason of protection from the elements. Ladies in particular tried to avoid getting sun on their faces to a degree which might darken their fair complexions. In contrast to the later 19th century, both men and women commonly wore some type of headwear while indoors as well. However, this would generally not be the case during certain social functions such as a Ball.

Hair and Wigs:

Hairstyles for ladies were often high, sometimes extravagantly so. Many cartoons of the time poked fun at fashionable ladies for their ponderous coiffures. Women (like the men) also commonly used wigs and hair pieces as well as white powder.

Dunst faced not only emotional challenges in portraying Marie Antoinette’s journey from playful child to tragic Queen but the physical challenges of being transformed into an 18th Century fashion goddess complete with rib-crushing corsets, truly massive hair and extensive makeup, including the lavish rouge circles that were emblematic of the French aristocracy. “The daily process was pretty brutal,” Dunst admits.

“There was a constant flow of dry shampoo and hair spray and they were always piling more and more stuff on me. I often needed a break after the hair and makeup sessions because it was so stressful.”

Hairdressing did not emerge as a profession until the reign of Louis XV of France and the influence on hair fashions by his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Wig makers were prominent before this time but no hairdressers. Elaborate theme parties were thrown by socialites of the French Court. Women started hiring artists to create hairstyles depicting the theme of these parties. The hair was draped over a frame stuffed with cotton, wool, or straw and cemented with a paste that hardened. The hair was then powdered and decorated. Hairdos had live birds in cages, waterfalls, Cupids, and naval battles, complete with ships and smoke. One widow, overcome with mourning, had her husband's tombstone erected in her hair. This time in history is where the term "hairdresser" was born. They dressed the hair with ornamentation. By 1767 there were 1200 hairdressers working in Paris; a few years earlier there had been none.

Problems were many during this time. Women developed backaches from the weight of these monstrosities. They traveled for miles by carriage to these parties, bent over in the coach because their hair would not travel upright. The combination of being corseted and wearing bustiers added to the discomfort! The pomades to hold these styles together were made of beef lard and bear grease. Because these women paid a high dollar amount for the hairdos, they kept them for a week or two. The hair became rancid and would often attract vermin while the mistress slept. That is where the term, her hair is a "rats nest" originated. French perfumes became renowned to cover the smell of the rotting pomades.

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