In the eighteenth century, fashion called for women to expand themselves vertically and horizontally. Robes were widened with panniers and hair was elevated with pads. Hairstyles were elaborate and quite often raised to other-worldly proportions. Hair was combed, curled, greased with pomade, and dusted with powder. Cushions or pads were inserted to give height, while false hair gave length. Another trend was to style the hair according to a theme adding items like toy ships, gems, or vases that contained live flowers. One fashion maven had her stylist weave a concoction upon her head that was over three feet tall and included a gilded bird cage with a live, chirping bird inside!
Another, the Duchess de Chartres, had a scale model of her son's nursery in her hair, complete with nanny and servants (Louis and Antoinette by Vincent Cronin, 128).
It was not uncommon for women to spend upwards of three hours in the stylists chair only to find their hair had been teased to such a great height that they could not fit in their carriage without sitting on the floor. Some women opted to stick their heads out their carriage window. What a sight that must have been!
Some women suffered from hair loss, eyestrain, and headaches because of the constant torturous manipulation of their tender tresses. Pests were another very personal and real problem. Fleas and lice infested some of the most genteel heads in eighteenth century Paris. Indeed, women of fashion often carried long, think sticks with claws at the end for scratching their scalps. (To The Scaffold by Carolly Erickson, 99)
As a girl, Antoinette paid little attention to her naturally thin, reddish-gold hair. She wore her hair loose and was often seen coming in from riding with wet, bedraggled locks. Once she became engaged to the dauphin of France, a French hair stylist, Larsenneur, was sent to manage her unruly and unsightly coif. Larsenneur sought to soften Marie Antoinette's appearance by styling her thin, badly damaged hair into a more stylish do. He pulled her hair off of her forehead to emphasize her blue eyes and added long, ringlet curls as a more feminine touch.
After she arrived in France, she employed a new physiognomist to finesse her tresses. A flamboyant, arrogant little man by the name of Leonard Hautier became Marie Antoinette's official physiognomist. He was a man of great temper and arrogance, often throwing temper tantrums when something occurred to upset his sensibilities. Hissy fits or no, Leonard performed some hair-raising feats with Antoinette's sparse coif. Soon, women all over France were asking their physiognomists to style their hair al a reine (in the likeness of the queen). Though the hair styles of the day called for a lot of fuss and primping, Antoinette preferred to wear her hair loose, unpowered and unbound. She might not have realized it, but Marie Antoinette was a trend-setter in physiognomy. Long before Farrah Fawcett wore her feathered bangs, Jennifer Aniston sported her shag, or Jessica Simpson flaunted her free flowing extensions, Marie Antoinette danced through the Hall of Mirrors with her strawberry blonde hair au natural.
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