Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Marie Antoinette's Pouf

The queen influenced women to wear their poufs up to six feet tall and stuffed with fruit, feathers, and other eccentricities.
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Caitlin L.
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The queen influenced women to wear their poufs up to six feet tall and stuffed with fruit, feathers, and other eccentricities.

Since her 1770 debut as the Dauphine of France, Marie Antoinette has often been heralded as one of history’s boldest sartorial icons. Sure, she made some incredible fashion choices, but one of her most remarkable style traits was her hair. 

Whoa! A female political figure who influenced the styles of her time? Shocking! I mean, everyone knows the power that women like Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton hold when it comes to fashion, but what's groundbreaking about Marie Antoinette's sartorial influence was how she leveraged it. She used it as a political tool--to develop her own individual image and persona apart from her husband. 

Eighteenth century women (even queens) had no control when it came to worldly issues. What they could control was their physical appearance. 

The Pouf Is Born 

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Before she could marry into the Bourbon Dynasty, Marie Antoinette was required to undergo an extensive process of beautification to ensure that she was up to French aesthetic standards. This portrait, painted by Joseph Ducreux, is similar to the now lost portrait that documented her transformation. (image via)

The pouf was first debuted in the summer of 1775 at Louis XVI’s coronation. Marie Antoinette happily watched Louis-Auguste become the new king of France, and while her eyes were on her husband, many of the other participants were pointing theirs at her. Perched upon her head was a heavily teased, heavily powdered tower of hair adorned with white feathers to mark the occasion.

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Marie Antoinette in coronation robes. Painting by Jean-Baptiste Gautier-Dagoty, circa 1775. (image via)

The sight of this new coiffure sparked ALL the feels from guests of the coronation--from amusement to full-on outrage. Many found the style to be attractive and a little silly. Others claimed that her ridiculous hair had blocked their view of the coronation ceremony. While our contemporary female dignitaries have countless predecessors to model themselves after, Marie Antoinette entered the throne with nothing but the former king’s mistress, whom she despised, as a model for appearance. So it was only natural that her fresh take on what a queen might look like would be considered shocking to some.

If You Can't Say Something Nice, Turn It Into A Cartoon  

Despite the public reaction that her big hair was kind of silly, the style immediately took hold among her friends and the wider public. The pouf often involved wire framing for support, decorative objects like fruit, feathers, or flowers, and could stand up to 6 feet tall, which made way for prime mockery of Marie Antoinette and her followers. 

Ladies found themselves kneeling in their carriages, having difficulty walking, sleeping with boxes on their heads, and finding all sorts of vermin building nests in their hair. WORTH IT, they said!

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Many cartoonists used their talents to attack the Queen, her hairdressers, and her followers. (image via)

Unfortunately, a trendy hairstyle wasn’t enough to keep the people of France from resenting the queen. She already had her Austrian heritage working against her, but as she continued to pursue her fashionable existence, the French people began to resent her lavish spending and her failure to produce an heir to the throne. As a result, satirical cartoons poking fun at her extravagance and moral existence by way of her hair began making the rounds. (I'm sure M.A. would sympathize with Snooki.)

I'm On A Boat! No, Wait... There's A Boat On The Queen!  

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Seated atop her elaborate updo was a replica of a French ship that had recently reigned victorious as the French aided the colonists during the Revolutionary war. (image via)

The pouf continued to grow in height and grandeur, and within a few years the style was no longer just a fashionable trend, it was a full on political statement. The pouf a la Belle Poule not only took the pouf to new heights, but showed her support for the newly formed allegiance between the French army and American colonists. Abandoning the traditional feathers and flowers for a fully constructed replica of a war ship allowed the young Queen to assert her own political agenda while still falling in line with the concept that women were seen, but not heard.

Within a few years, Marie Antoinette had abandoned her lavish appearance for an even more shocking relaxed look, but unlike her head, the pouf was not a casualty of the French Revolution. Big hair has continuously come in and out of style since the 18th century, each time a little different, but with just as much bang as the original French pouf. It may have been hairstylist Leonard Autie that created her look, but it was the queen herself that helped the style gain lasting notoriety. 

Vive la pouf!

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