Regular readers will know that I’m all about the 18th century, baby. I can’t totally explain it, except that it’s 1. fabulous, 2. gorgeous, and 3. better than all your other eras. (Okay, so there are deeper and more complex reasons why I love it, but go with me here). I’m also totally into 18th-century hair and wigs, because they are so 1. fabulous and 2. RIDICULOUS. In fact, I’ve decided that if an era doesn’t have over-the-top hair, I’m not interested in it!
This interest in 18th-century hair may just have led me to years of experimentation on hairstyling and wigs and may have just led me to write a book about both:
So in honor of my geekitude, let’s take a look at my personal top 5 18th-century hair movies. I’m not going to number these, because it’s hard to say that one is necessarily better than another. They all have a lot of fabulosity going on, and that’s what’s important. (Also, there are probably other great 18th-century hair movies/TV series that I just haven’t seen yet!)
Marie Antoinette (1938)
This movie isn’t included on this list because it’s so historically accurate. Yes, there is a LOT of shiny white wigs that are very Old Hollywood and not the powdered/grey look that you would actually see in the period. But that’s not why I love this movie. Not only is a great example of a classic Hollywood take on historical costume, but the hair and wigs are FUCKING GORGEOUS. So they didn’t get the details right! Take a look at just how beautiful these styles are, and weep that your hair will never look as good.
The hair/wigs were designed by Sydney Guilaroff, and according to his obituary, “he called [Marie Antoinette] his greatest challenge … [It] required 2,000 court wigs (some with actual birds in cages), lesser wigs for 3,000 extras, and Norma Shearer’s monumental bejeweled and feathered artists’ ball creation” (Sydney Guilaroff, 89, Stylist to Stars, Is Dead).
Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette both get the perfectly smooth white hair featured throughout the film. I think Marie-Antoinette’s hairstyle is based on the tête de mouton (sheep’s head) style? Clearly she’s supposed to look young and her style is comparatively simple.
Now we’re getting somewhere! Let’s take those perfectly smooth buckles (rolls) and add some flowers and jeweled birdcage. Yes please!
My favorite — more height and a cloud of stars!
Oh wait, what if we add some huge and lush ostrich feathers plus some gorgeous ringlets?
It’s not just Marie-Antoinette who gets great hair. Check out the King of the Fops, the duc d’Orléans, with his beautiful high toupee (top/front portion of his wig) and ringlets.
Now we’re going goth, and I love it!
Just your average mother, with a gauzy veil and some jewels.
Okay, so some of the styles are kind of weird. But they’re still perfectly executed, and that counts for a lot in my book. (This is the Princesse de Lamballe)
A contemporary magazine spread showing a display of many of the film’s wigs. Yes, many of the details are wrong, but who cares — these wigs are gorgeous.
Hair/wig stylist Syndney Guilaroff “at work” on some of the film’s wigs.
The Lady and the Duke (2001)
It was a toss-up for me whether I’d include this film or The Affair of the Necklace — this one only won out because I already had two 1780s films on my list (below), plus I wanted to talk about a movie that’s less frequently mentioned. And this movie is amazing, and you really should see it if you haven’t. The Lady and the Duke tells the story of Englishwoman Grace Elliot who was mistress to the duc d’Orléans and focuses on her experiences during the French Revolution. It’s a great film for many reasons, but in particular because the costumes and hair are so spot-on for the period and because all of the exterior shots were done with the actors digitally superimposed into paintings, which sounds like it could be weird but in execution is REALLY COOL.
Hair-wise, what I love is that they really captured the transitional hairstyles of the early 1790s. Many designers seem to say “fuck it” when it comes to the hair of this era, and just put the actresses into vague, long, curly ‘do’s, and the actors into 20-years-too-early Regency/Empire styles. But this film’s designers understood that the cuts and styles of the early 1790s were very similar to those worn before, they were just more toned down.
According to IMDB, the hair stylist was Véronique Hebet.
At top is Grace’s basic style — short and curly on top and sides, long in the back. Compare that to the two French busts below, and you’ll see that they’ve nailed the basic haircut of the 1780s-mid-1790s.
Sometimes Grace’s hair is accented with a poufy cap…
And they do different things with the chignon (the long back hair).
I liked this chignon treatment in particular, where it’s worn in a low knot. I haven’t seen anything exactly like it in the period, but as you can see from the two period images on the left, a low gathered or looped-up arrangement was definitely done.
Here’s Grace with a scarf tied through her hair, which is very similar to arrangements seen in portraits.
And occasionally Grace wears her chignon looped up. Generally this loop was worn lower than Grace’s style (see far left for the typical look), but I have found at least one image (second from left) that shows the chignon up higher.
The duc d’Orléans’s hair is also good for the early 1790s. He’s still got the short toupee (front/sides) and long queue (back) typical of the period, but he’s clearly wearing his own hair and it’s styled very naturally, except for the occasional side buckles (rolls). Compare it with an image of the real duc (bottom right) and another simpler style (top right).
I can’t remember who this character is, but I liked how they noted that not all men stopped wearing wigs during the Revolutionary period. Okay, so a bit more powder might be good, but otherwise compare the character to all of the early 1790s French images I’ve included below showing men wearing powdered wigs.
And, just a nice shot of a variety of characters and their hair.
Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Not many films get pre-1770s hair right, so I’m pretty damn happy with what they came up with for the late 1750s/early 1760s setting of Dangerous Liaisons. Okay, so the women’s hair could use a whole lot more powder, and I question Valmont’s own hair being so long when most men of the era cut their hair short or shaved it to work better under wigs. But beyond that, they did a great job of sticking to that era, and of getting most of its details right — and what they came up with is really pretty and works well story/character-wise.
IMDB lists three credits: Peter Owen (wig designer), who has also worked on The Draughtsman’s Contract, The Age of Innocence, The Portrait of a Lady, Sleepy Hollow, all three of the Lord of the Rings movies, and The Other Boleyn Girl; Malou Rossignol (hair stylist); and Pierre Vadé (hair stylist), who also worked on the competing film Valmont. There’s a great article about Peter Owen over at The Independent that shares a few tidbits about his work on Liaisons:
The wig they made for Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons was 12- denier, which meant it could be drawn back into a sleek chignon without anyone spotting the fake hairline…
In the closing scenes of Dangerous Liaisons, for example, when John Malkovich’s urbane and treacherous character, Valmont, breaks off his relationship with Michelle Pfeiffer, and then goes to report to Glenn Close, Owen switched the two wigs he’d designed for Malkovich. Throughout the rest of the film Valmont wears the artificial wig when with Close, the natural one when with Pfeiffer. By swapping them, Owen made Valmont seem unexpectedly confused and vulnerable…
Initially [Dangerous Liaisons‘s director] Frears had reservations about giving Malkovich such theatrical wigs, ‘but when I saw what they’d come up with I thought, ‘yes’. They were so elegant, you could understand why these people wore them’ (All the World in a Wig).
The aristocratic Marquise de Merteuil generally wears an updo that’s typical of 1750s-early 1760s silhouettes. Okay, so she should be totally powdered, and a tête de mouton hairstyle would be more typical. But she’s got the same slight pouf around the face…
More importantly, they got that in back, the chignon (the long back hair) was generally worn pulled up smoothly to the crown and arranged there. Occasionally you see some kind of extra hair on the sides of the chignon, like the middle right bust, so I’m fine with the ringlets.
Cécile de Volanges starts off wearing very simple buns. You don’t usually this kind of uber-simple, scraped back hair except on Englishwomen, but it makes sense since she’s fresh out of the convent.
Cécile’s hair then transitions to a twisty updo that covers most of the back of her head. This is the least appropriate style for the period — if the hair wasn’t pulled up smoothly in back, it was worn in one or more braids that are pulled up to the crown — but I can see how they might misinterpret some period images to think there’s something bigger going on in back.
Madame de Tourvel wears her hair with that same bit of pouf around the face. She usually covers it with a wired cap that’s very typical of the 1750s.
I’m not entirely sure what Madame de Rosemonde’s hair is supposed to be doing, but you certainly see wavy poufy hair around the face and caps and veils, so I’ll deal.
There’s no way Madame de Volanges would rock her red hair in reality, but this isn’t reality, and her layered caps are right out of portraits.
The Vicomte de Valmont’s wigs are FABULOUS. Okay, so I’ve never seen that heart-shaped curl that they have going on on top of his head. But it’s close enough to the rolled-under V shapes you do see. The slightly poufy toupee (front short hair) is more 1770s, but I love the widow’s peak and the three side buckles (rolls). AND POWDER.
This wig is more typical of the period, even if the poufy top makes it more 1770s (center right) than 1750s (far right). They got the bagwig (the black bag with bow) spot-on.
The one thing I question is that Valmont’s own hair is long. Most men of this era would have cut short or shaved their own hair. However, I do like that when he wears his own hair, it’s worn in the same style as shown on wigs — which is totally correct.
Valmont’s servant Azolan’s bagwig style is 100% 1750s.
And let us not forget the joys of the powdering scene!
Jefferson in Paris (1995)
Probably the best depiction of the late 1780s on screen, when women’s hairstyles had turned away from the tall and wide styles we associate with Marie-Antoinette and into the faux-naturalistic, post-coital, frizzy styles of the 1780s. There are one or two missteps, and they definitely stay on the BIG end of the hairstyle spectrum, but otherwise Jefferson in Paris gets 1780s hair and wigs right. Oh, and there’s a hilarious and fascinating scene where we actually get to see an actress have her hair styled!
According to IMDB, Catherine Leblanc was the key hair stylist, while Sophie Asse was assistant hair stylist, and Carol Hemming is credited for hairdressing/makeup. Hemming has worked on a number of other Merchant-Ivory productions, including A Room with a View and Howards End, as well as recent hits like Cinderella and Suffragette, while Leblanc’s credits include Titanic and Midnight in Paris.
An article on the film’s costumes from the LA Times gives us some details about the hair and wigs:
“Big hair” doesn’t begin to describe the towering masses of curls — the more enormous the better — worn by wealthy Frenchwomen. Hair designer Carol Hemming notes that a decade earlier in the period, wigs had reached heights of 2 to 3 feet; vases tucked inside the hair held fresh flowers. Later, such decorations as stuffed birds, jewels, and yards of ribbon and lace were seen.
Marie-Antoinette (Charlotte de Turckheim) lusts for a miniature ship at full sail in her tresses. Maria Cosway (Greta Scacchi, pictured) wears three or four hairpieces at once, all oiled and powdered. The actress washed her hair no more than once every 10 days to avoid a sheen.
“There was such a cry for false hair(pieces), there was a healthy trade of corpses. Wigs were incredibly expensive,” Hemming says of the period (Costumes of the Rich and French).
Maria Cosway rocks some amazingly huge, poufy, and frizzy styles. The film very much goes with the early 1780s styles, which are very big on top (center left), as opposed to the more appropriate mid- to late-1780s styles (far left) which tend to be wider than tall. But I’ll cut them slack because the hair is SO GORGEOUS.
Compare Maria’s big frizzy curls with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (right), and note that they got the basic 1780s cut right — short and curly on top and sides, long and straight or wavy in back.
More comparison of mid-1780s hair and Maria’s rockingly fabulous ‘dos.
Marie-Antoinette generally has fabulous hair, too. Her hair is more frizzy than curly, which was a definite trend in this era.
The one mis-step in the film is luckily in a short scene — Marie-Antoinette randomly wears an at-least-5-years-out-of-style high wig that is far too pyramidal in shape. Compare it to the far right fashion plate, which is a good representation of the typical late 1770s style. That being said, I have seen wigs that point up like this in back — but generally they have a ship or some other decoration that works with that shape.
The film really loves the powdered-only-around-the-face look. The French were still way into (all over) powdering in the 1780s, so it’s atypical, but I have found a few images that do show powder only around the face (see far right) — so they didn’t totally make it up.
And, later in the movie they got that hairstyles started to collapse and lengthen in terms of size.
Look at all that fabulous hair!
The best scene in the movie is when Patsy Jefferson, who is deeply suspicious of all this French froo-froo nonsense, gets her hair styled by a French hairdresser. You get to see all the various false hairpieces added to her hair:
And you get another sense of the false hairpieces when she tears the style apart!
Jefferson’s hair isn’t bad. It doesn’t look like the styles he’s shown painted in (the two left images are both of Jefferson from the 1780s) — he’s still powdering — but they anticipate the simpler styles of the 1790s (see the two right images) and they work, character/story-wise, to differentiate the “plain” American from the OTT French.
I’m not sure why Richard Cosway isn’t wearing 1780s style wigs like he does in his portraits (top right images). He’s wearing a long bob style, popular from the 1730s and still worn throughout the century by doctors and “learned men” (see bottom row of images). I think they were just trying to make him look uber-foppy?
The Marquis de Lafayette, on the other hand, is totally rocking the 1780s appropriate wigs, often with powder. Compare the frizzy toupee, and note just how far back it goes, to the busts below — 100% right for the decade.
La Revolution Française (1989)
I raved about the hair and wig styles when I reviewed this movie, but let’s look at it again. This film joins Jefferson in Paris in really getting the late 1780s right, and what I love is how well they matched the actors’ hair/wig styles to the real people they were portraying.
Unfortunately, while IMDB lists various makeup artists, it doesn’t tell us who was responsible for the hair and wigs.
Marie-Antoinette could use some powder, especially in the formal scenes like the ball (top right). But otherwise, they got the big frizzy halo, wider than tall, that was popular in this era.
And while her hair is a teensy bit too big when she’s imprisoned, they obviously worked from source material when it came to her cap and veil.
The Duchesse de Polignac’s hair is a bit big compared to portraits of the real person, but it’s close enough.
Marie-Antoinette’s daughter, Marie-Therese, is shown in the longer, simpler styles worn in the 1790s. This makes perfect sense, as often it was the children who began wearing what would be fashionable for adults. It’s not quite what she looked like in her portraits, but close enough.
Gabrielle Danton (wife of an important politican) rocks the big frizz shown on one of her busts, even if they don’t go to the simpler styles she’s later painted in.
Georges-Jacques Danton is probably the main misstep, as most images of him show him still wearing the buckles (rolls) and queue (long tail) popular in this era. But, I get that they wanted the actor to clearly be wearing his natural hair, and it certainly communicates his revolutionary-ness.
Camille Desmoulins’s hair is too mullet-y for the period, my taste, and what he really looked like … but they were obviously dealing with an actor with really curly hair.
Axel von Fersen is barely in this — when he is, he’s wearing a powdered white wig, just like real portraits of him show. A+.
The Marquis de Lafayette could use a slightly bigger frizz on his toupee, but otherwise, I’m glad they put him into a queue wig.
Louis XVI stuck with powder and buckle/queue styles throughout, at least from what period imagery shows. I’m glad they did the same on screen.
I LOVE that they captured Robespierre’s totally random foppishness, showing that he totally rocked the big frizzy 1780s wigs throughout the revolution. A++.
Oh, and bonus points for the scene where Robespierre is shown powdering his wig with a hand bellows!
Which other films feature great 18th-century hair and wigs?
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