Marie Antoinette’s Perfect Pouf

Pouf: An extravagant eighteenth-century hairstyle

Besides the Mohawk, no other hairstyle has gone to the aesthetic extremes of the late-eighteenth-century pouf, when stylists built women’s tresses up into towers and decorated them with baubles and figurines like hair-framed dioramas. Rose Bertin (1747–1813), who designed gowns and bonnets for a ritzy clientele, and who wore a parasol in her hair, introduced the pouf after opening her shop, the Grand Mogul, on Paris’s rue Saint-Honoré. Before long, she was on the royal payroll, and serving Marie Antoinette (1755–1793).

The young dauphine didn’t start small. One of Marie Antoinette’s first major coifs commemorated the king’s vaccination with the pouf d’inoculation, incorporating a rising sun and a serpent holding a club as he shimmied up an olive tree nestled into her hair. The sun symbolized the king. The olive tree stood for peace. The slinky serpent represented medicine, with its club to clobber disease. Later, while in mourning for her father-in-law, Louis XV, the new queen wore a pouf garnished with a tiny cypress tree rooted by a black tangle of ribbons, as well as a sheaf of wheat and a fruit-filled cornucopia, promising a bountiful new reign. Topping all previous efforts, in 1778 she wore an exact replica of La Belle Poule, a French battleship that had just sunk an English frigate, riding the swelling sea of her hair. “Behold the coiffure of our Queen, whose perfect taste is therein seen,” began one poem of the day.


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