As you might guess, I have a LOT of thoughts about the plot and costumes of Marie Antoinette (2022), the Canal+ series about the famed 18th-century French queen that’s just now airing in the U.S. on PBS. Created and written by Deborah Davis, who wrote The Favourite (2018), the series attempts to show the real story in a specifically feminist lens. You KNOW I needed to be all over it, given how much the 18th century and Marie Antoinette specifically is my jam. I’ve already done one post on the hair, specifically Marie Antoinette’s hair, as well as a super long one on the plot and the costumes (minus the hair). Now, I need to go back to hair and wigs, because there are a whole lot of other characters who need discussing.
As longtime readers may know, I’ve done enough research into the history of 18th-century hair/wig styling and worked out my own recreations, that I wrote a book, 18th Century Hair & Wig Styling: History & Step-by-Step Techniques. The book has been out of print for several years, but I’ve finally gotten organized enough to do a second printing, which will come out in July 2023. If you’re interested in the why’s and how’s of 18th-century hair and wigs, the stylistic differences of different eras, and/or how to recreate these hair/wig styles taking advantage of modern products, you should know that I’m offering a discount on presale orders up until the book is released (you’ll save $15, and if you live outside of the U.S., you’ll also save $10 on shipping).
Now, let’s get into the hairstyles and wigs worn by the other characters in the series! Because they’re not great! And I’m not even going to get into the lack-of-powder issue.
The Comtesse du
Guys, I hated du Barry‘s hair. SO MUCH. FIRE OF MANY SUNS. Again, like Marie Antoinette, it was nicely styled — no crappy “something died on her head” or face-eating wigs. But her ash blonde hair with blonde highlights, spiral curls, and way too much hair down just made her seem like the Legally Blonde of the 18th century.
WHAT DOES THIS HAIRSTYLE HAVE TO DO WITH THE 18TH CENTURY. I mean, yeah, they put the front up. I am underwhelmed.
THIS. Sure, they liked hanging ringlets, but not literal ponytails. And this looks like those ponytail-French-braids we wore in middle school c. 1989.
Oh yes we did this. But Madame du Barry didn’t! | via Stylecaster.com
Even when they managed to get all of her hair up, the twisty curls were too unstructured and spiral-curl-y to look really 18th century, and the back is complete meh.
Let’s look again the classic style of du Barry’s era, modeled by the lady herself. There’s twist to those curls, but they are much fatter and fuller than the TV version. The ringlets are shorter and again fatter and fuller | Augustin Pajou/Sèvres Manufactory, Madame du Barry (1746–1793), 1772, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The back should be pulled up smoothly in the “chignon relevée” (raised back hair) style | Augustin Pajou/Sèvres Manufactory, Madame du Barry (1746–1793), 1772, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Did I rock the spiral perm in the 1980s? You betcha. Does that make it a good curl pattern for 18th-century hair? No, it does not.
The Comtesse de Provence
No, the comtesse wasn’t a beauty, but Marie-Antoinette’s sister-in-law also gets some weird-ass hair.
She starts off with this simpler ‘do, which confuses me — it appears to be spiral curls wrapped around her head. Which, no.
She then spends most of the rest of the series in this high hairstyle, which is nice in its height and shape, but the asymmetrical rolls on top are weird. MOST weird, however, is they put GREEN POWDER on those rolls.
I’m not kidding! Green! I think it’s to coordinate with the fact that her husband is ALWAYS wearing green, but it’s weird AF. Yes, they sometimes wore colored powder in the period. But green?
Ignore the arrows, here’s the actual Comtesse de Provence wearing a fashionable hairstyle from the period. Which isn’t green. | Comtesse de Provence by Drouais, 1770, Versailles
The Princesse de Lamballe
Lamballe starts off great, but goes in a weirrrrd direction. Literally.
At first she’s in a perfect low tête de mouton, with its structured curls across the head laid perpendicular to the hairline. It’s a little old-fashioned, but it’s an Actual 18th-Century Hairstyle!
She even gets a dab of powder!
From 15ish years earlier than our time period | Portrait of a Frenchwoman (detail from “the Early Breakfast”) by Jean-Etienne Liotard showing the tête de mouton hairstyle, c. 1753-56, Alte Pinakothek
But then she gets this high hairstyle for the second half of the series that LITERALLY LISTS TO ONE SIDE. IT’S THE LEANING TOWER OF HAIR. It made me twitch repeatedly.
You’re thinking “Oh Kendra, that’s just a viewing-angle issue.”
The actual Princesse de Lamballe understood that 1770s hair was, in overall shape, symmetrical | Portrait of Marie Louise Thérèse de Savoie, princesse de Lamballe (1749-1792) by Antoine-François Callet, c. 1776, Versailles
The Duchesse de Polignac
Of all the ladies, the duchesse has the most historically accurate hair. Which is why I get annoyed, because clearly 1) they know what the hair should look like, and 2) they know how to achieve it, 3) they just choose not to.
Polignac sometimes does this mid-1780s full and round styles.
But these high hairstyles, with the hair looped up in back, are the ones that are the most accurate to the period.
And why I get annoyed, because YOU’VE GOT IT RIGHT, NOW JUST KEEP DOING THAT.
IT’S RIGHT THERE.
Although the width on this could be fuller around the ears, it’s still MUCH better than what everyone else is wearing.
Okay, they do randomly give her this high hairstyle that doesn’t work — too pointy, back hair just pulled up — late in the series and therefore stylistically out of order.
There aren’t that many surviving images of the real Polignac, but as you can see, she was an early adopter of the short and wide (in front/on top) 1780s styles | The Duchesse de Polignac by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1782, Chateau de Versailles
Yes, let’s discuss the boys! Because they got some things right, and some things wrooooooong. Let’s start with King Louis XV:
Yes: hair up in rolls above the ears on the sides, long and tied in back! No: WHY ARE THE SIDE ROLLS (“buckles”) TURNING INTO RINGLETS THAT MERGE WITH THE QUEUE (back hair)?
I have never in my life seen an 18th-century man with side rolls that turned into ringlets, and I hope I never do again | Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-1788), naturaliste, intendant du Jardin du roi by Augustin Pajou, 1773, musée du Louvre
Also, VERY few men — and Louis isn’t one of them — get their front top hair cut shorter and rolled under, so you get some VERY derpy center parts.
This shorter hair in front/on top IS missed by a lot of modern stylists, so I can freak out slightly less | Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-1788), naturaliste, intendant du Jardin du roi by Augustin Pajou, 1773, musée du Louvre
Worst is when Louis goes casual and starts looking like he’s in a 1980s hair-metal band.
Sure, there were some longer men’s wig styles, although those were generally earlier | Portrait of Louis XV of France (1710-1774), 1763, Workshop of Louis-Michel van Loo
I’m not even going to talk about his unstyled hair in the first few episodes. Once he finally figures out how to bathe/operate a comb, however:
He gets side buckles that don’t exactly turn into ringlets, but are placed at a weirdly downturned angle. He also gets Marcel waves, which is a super early-20th-century take on 18th-century hair.
More downward dog side rolls.
I’ve very occasionally seen extra-foppy men with side rolls that angle up | Self-portrait by Richard Cosway, c. 1770-75, Metropolitan Museum of Art
But 99% of them have horizontal rolls | Joseph II, empereur germanique (1741-1790) by Simon Louis Boizot, 1777, Versailles
The Duc de Chartres
He at least had no derpy center parts, although they accomplished that by leaving his hair long and pulling it all back.
I’m sure if I peered at those side rolls they’d turn into ringlets too.
Sure looks like it.
One reason I think people don’t get the short-on-top thing is that by the mid-1770s and especially into the 1780s, that section extends past the crown of the head | Detail from The Duke of Chartres and his Family by Charles Lepeintre, 1776, Versailles
This is what I think is going on with the real Chartres’s hair in the painting above | Louis XVI by Simon Louis Boizot, 1785, Versailles
The Comte de Provence
He probably had the best men’s hair, in that his side rolls WEREN’T doing double duty as ringlets/queue. Which means, THEY KNEW WHAT TO DO AND HOW TO DO IT ON EVERYONE ELSE. They just chose not to.
Okay that top hair wave is a little modern, but it’s shorter, and the side rolls are Actual Side Rolls!
See? Pretty darn good!
Oh hey here’s another minor character with horizontal, discrete side rolls!
The Chevalier de Saint-Georges
This real-life musician is portrayed as super fashionable and flamboyant, and his hair matches. I’m actually glad they decided that just having him be Black wasn’t enough to make him stand out. On the other hand, his hair is total WTFrock.
It’s essentially an angled pompadour.
With two colors.
That folds into each other, French twist style, as 1950s pompadours did. In back, his queue is in a long ringlet, which passes muster.
The actual chevalier did not embrace the 1950s | Chevalier de Saint-Georges, contemporary etching of a painting of 1787
Did the hair in Marie Antoinette (2022) make you twitch too?
It looks like they also crimped the Duke de Chartres (the future Philippe-Egalite) hair. I also disliked Madame du Barry’s hair. I guess they were going for a, ‘she’s a mistress, she’s wild and free,’ hairstyle.
Apparently the Duc de Chartres has also pioneered the 90s (but not the one from 200 years ago) crimper action. I feel like he just needs some plastic pink and purple dazzle beads and he’d be set!
Am I wrong to assume this was also not a Thing?
I’m still scratching wondering why if they could get it right with Polignac and Lamballe before she was mimicking the Leaning Tower of Pizza, why couldn’t they do it for the others.
Also they made a movie about the Chevalier St Georges. Will you review?
I wish one day that someone actually make the insane 1770´s hairstyle (like in Lamballe’s portrait here)…
I was about to make a reasonably intelligent comment, but was distracted by all the pictures of pretty ladies – dear me, but this show benefits from the lovelies!
Right, brain back in gear, haze of lust diminished – could Madame/the Duchess of Provence have been given greenish hair powder to hint at her rather toxic influence? (Or at the very least, to evoke the toxic nature of her marriage to Monsieur).
Also, why is it that in a gallery of lovely ladies the one who sets my heart pitter-patting the one most likely to cut my heart out with a spoon? (Presumably because chasing Lamballe would be like a skunk confusing a cat for his lady-love, the Polignac would demand I share, I’m not rich enough for Du Barry and it’s genuinely possible I could take Monsieur in a fight).
On a less serious note, I wonder why the future Charles X has been excised from the plot?
The Chevalier de Saint-Georges is the 18th century version of Cat from Red Dwarf is what I’m getting from this.
I’m glad you see it too!
Thank God I’m not the only one…
The actor playing him in Chevalier, said he modeled the character on Prince. Not sure how I feel about that.
I came here to say this.
I thought the same thing!
I bet they didn’t even use hot water on those wigs!
Here’s a page with an actual hairstyle with a ship, worn at Louis XVI court. It’s amazing that they’re actually toning down the hair, my guess is that otherwise we’d see nothing else.
That said, I love this show, some errors in hair and historical accuracy notwithstanding, it gets the idea across and is great fun to watch.
Whups my link was to a modern day recreation of the ship hairdo. The did have them though, to commemorate a maritime battle victory.