Marie Antoinette’s Tall Ship Hairdo – Who Wouldn’t Want One?

OK, so maybe a whole lot of people wouldn’t want one…but a whole lot of other people do. To follow-up yesterday’s Weekend Wow post, here’s some information to help your own set of locks make ready to set sail, so to speak.

("Independence Coiffure, or the Triumph of Liberty")

(“Independence Coiffure, or the Triumph of Liberty”)

First, the historical background.

In 1778, France signed a treaty and formed an alliance with the fledgling United States and, therefore, against their traditional enemy, Britain. The Battle of Ushant took place that year and was the initial major conflict between the French and the British. In the course of battle, a French frigate, the Belle Poule, badly damaged a British ship. The news quickly became a source of great pride for France and Paris was enraptured.

“All Paris was enflamed by the news,” the Vicomtesse de Fars recorded, “and for a month the ladies enshrined its memory with an object of fashion of bad taste, called the coiffure à la Belle Poule. This coiffure represented, more or less, a ship in full sail.”

This quote if from When Fashion Set Sail, by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, is an excellent and concise essay about the history behind the wearing of tall ships as a coiffure and can be found at WornThrough: Apparel from an Academic Perspective.

Coiffure à la Belle Poule

Coiffure à la Belle Poule

*********************

Anonymous, Le Négligé Galant Ornés de la Coëffure à la Belle Poule, 1778, Bibliothèque nationale de France, cote cliché RC-B-05642.

Anonymous, Le Négligé Galant Ornés de la Coëffure à la Belle Poule, 1778, Bibliothèque nationale de France, cote cliché RC-B-05642.

*********************

Anonymous, ‘Nouvelle Coëffure dite la Frégate la Junon’, Gallerie des Modes, 1778, MFA Boston, acc. no. 44.1290.

Anonymous, ‘Nouvelle Coëffure dite la Frégate la Junon’, Gallerie des Modes, 1778, MFA Boston, acc. no. 44.1290.

*********************

(original source and artist unknown)

(original source and artist unknown)

*********************

Ms. Chrisman-Campbell also writes (the emphasis being her own):

Though minor chapters in the story of American independence, in France these naval battles assumed a psychological importance far exceeding their military significance. Along with other events, places, and patriots who played key roles in the Revolution, they were celebrated in operas, ballets, card games, dances, and, especially, in fashion. At a time when women had no presence in government or the military, hats and hairstyles allowed French ladies to show their support for the American cause.

While the queen clearly had no objection to wearing elaborate confections on her head, and these may have included ships, there is absolutely no evidence to support either the identification or the interpretation. On the contrary, ship hats formed part of a much wider expression of French support for the American cause. They were worn by many women, if only for a short period of time. Some may have questioned their taste, but in political terms they were perceived as being patriotically anti-British rather than problematically extravagant or anti-monarchist.

And so a briefly lived flurry of fashion was conceived, born and ran its course. It is said that Marie Antoinette only worn her model of the frigate once.

But what a notion of over-the-top frivolous luxury these historical images have left with us. They are outlandish, hardly subtle, and somehow have managed to embody that mis-attributed notion of “Let them eat cake.” (Which was never said by Marie Antoinette, but very likely spoken 100 years before her by Marie-Thérèse (Maria Therese of Spain, Queen of France and Navarre, the first wife of Louis XIV.)

So, let’s say one is in the mood for a bit of nautical millinery. Is there a modern equivalent? Or are we reduced to playing with popsicle sticks, balsa wood, miles of string and globs of glue? Well, here are some examples gathered from the web to give you some idea of what others have been inspired to create. Whenever possible I’ll credit the creator, but there is a lot of un-credited genius out there.

Philip Treacy - 'The Ship,' a hat he made for Isabella Blow in 1995. He created a smaller version for the Museum of London...the hat shown in yesterday's post.

Philip Treacy – “The Ship,” a hat he made for Isabella Blow in 1995. He created a smaller version for the Museum of London…that’s the hat shown in yesterday’s post.

So grab a big mess of hair, make a ship and wave your magic wand. You don’t need an 18th century gown or  lavishly embroidered topcoat. As a Greek goddess apparently once uttered, just do it. Have fun, play, work with the possibilities and create a statement piece that will last.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Marie Antoinette’s Tall Ship Hairdo – Who Wouldn’t Want One?

  1. So many fun hats out there!

    I didn’t know the original was inspired by a particular ship, though I had read it had to do with winning a sea battle. Great information!

Comments are closed.