Wigs and Poufs


Wigs and poufs, a type of wig made popular by Marie Antoinette, were hairstyles from 18th-century France. Wigs were only affordable to the French elite. The cost of a wig was equivalent to the combined cost of a hat, coat, breeches, shirt, hose, and shoes. Wigs required constant care in order to maintain them. They defined rank and power in eighteenth century French society.

Wigs were made of horsehair, yak hair and human hair; human hair was the most expensive. Poufs were created using toques and cushions, which were made of fabric and cork. They were shaped like a heart or pear. Men were the only craftsmen allowed to make the wigs and poufs. Generally men were associated with wigs in the eighteenth century. They were also the hair stylist for women and men until the 19th century. Maria Antoinette’s hair stylist was a man, Léonard Autié.

A common fashion for elite men’s wigs was ailes de pigeon, pigeons’ wings, which hid male ears , as displayed in Fig. 2. In order for the wigs to be curled in that fashion, barbers would have to take the wigs to the steamer and preparation room, where the wig would be washed, steamed, and curled. Various instruments were used in the process of curling the wigs, such as a curling irons, scissors, and washer as show in Fig. 3 and Fig 4.

Different professions wore specific wigs.   Full-bottomed wigs were worn by judges as seen in Fig. 7. Bob wigs, originally worn by tradesmen, but later worn by clergy men, were very popular in the eighteenth century. Outrageous women’s hair styles in the eighteenth century influenced men’s hair styles.

While wigs were made by barbers and men, women were allowed to make the accoutrements for perruquiers and poufs. One of France’s leading fashion influences was the marchande de mode.  Rose Bertin, Marie Antoinette’s main stylist, was the most renowned marchande in eighteenth century. She sold items for wigs such as trimmed hats, caps, palatines, fichus, mantelets and mantillas, all daily accessories for women’s hair. Women augmented their hair to express themes as well as political events  in the eighteenth century by adding accountrements such as the leaves in the women’s hair in Fig 8. There was nothing natural about the appearance of these hair pieces. The extensively high poufs were women’s way in the eighteenth century of proclaiming their status and position.

In the latter half of the eighteenth century the use of powder became fashionable because silvery- white hair for wigs were too expensive. Both men and women powdered their poufs and wigs. Hair powder was made from the poorest quality of  corn and wheat flour to the best quality in finely milled and sieved starch. When barbers applied the black and white powder, it created a gray charcoal coloring. Elite men and professional men such as doctors, lawyers or judges would own wigs whereas working men who did not own wigs could apply cheap powder on their hair. When the elite began to use powder, there was a confusion of rank and power. In 1756 the Marquis de Mirabeau confused his head assistant for a member of the elite, because he had a well-powdered wig. The distinction between ranks was now blurred, and wigs and poufs, which for centuries functioned as visible markers of rank, lost their importance.


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Monument du Costume, Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune [1789]. Smith College Museum of Art. @http://sophia.smith.edu/blog/fys199-01f12/monument-du-costume-jean-michel-moreau-le-jeune-1789/

Autié, Léonard, and Etienne-Léon Lamothe-Langon. “Recollections of Leonard, Hairdresser to Queen Marie-Antoinette.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. .

Maginnis, Tara. “18th Century Men’s Hair and Wigs.” – Costume. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. .

“Women’s Hairstyles & Cosmetics of the 18th Century: France & England, 1750-1790.”Women’s Hairstyles & Cosmetics of the 18th Century: France & England, 1750-1790. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2012.

Patience Otun

2 Responses to Wigs and Poufs

  1. ethompson says:

    I think it is interesting how you related both male and females to wig-wearing, and how they both contributed to wig fashion in the 18th century. It’s amazing to read about the extensive process of preparing the hairstyles each day for the aristocracy, and specifically Marie Antoinette.

  2. jhughes says:

    I didn’t think that men’s hairstyles would influence women’s hairstyles so that was very interesting to me. It’s interesting that men are the main makers of wigs, I think of wig making as a delicate process and I guess associate that as a female art whereas men do things like work in marquetry. I agree with Ali, it’s pretty amazing how much preparation goes into making a wig.

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