The eighteenth century was an age of elegance. Never in European history do we see men and women so elaborately artificial, so far removed from natural appearance. What could not be done with the natural hair was made with wigs. This epoch was an extravagant explosion of amazing hairstyles, a reaction completely opposed to the modesty and shyness of former centuries. The hair was in synchrony with the "Rococo" style, which was the most important one until the end of the century. It was an artistic style in which curves "s" shaped predominated, with asymmetries, emphasizing the contrast; a dynamic and brilliant style, where the forms played integrating a harmonious and elegant movement. A style according with an age of new philosophic ideas, like the Enlightenment, and according with the affluence of a powerful economic wealth arrived to Europe from the travels to the new continent, America. New social orders started to born; besides of the clergy and the nobility, a strong bourgeoisie of nouveau riche people appeared, who make fortune and was positioned into the best of the social and political spheres, imitating in all their costumes to the nobles. A style according with a time when the science was more independent of the religion, reaching spectacular achievements and developing, in consequence, a technology which would open the doors to the Industrial Revolution. People at that time believed that they were living in the best of all possible worlds. At the end of the century, artistic and cultural styles changed; it appeared the "neo-classic" style, much more sober and conservative, with a return to the classic Greek and Roman esthetic.

The wear of wigs in men started to be very popular at the end of the 17th century, while the reign in France of Louis XIV, the Sun King. All his court began to use wigs, and as France was the pattern of the fashion for all Europe at that age, the use of wigs was spread to the rest of the courts of the continent. In 1680 Luis XIV had 40 wigmakers designing his wigs at the court of Versailles.

From 1770, wigs were also extended to women. And, as the years were going on, women wigs were being made taller and more sophisticated, especially in France. Men's wigs were generally white, and women's wigs of pastel colors, like pink, light violet or blue. Depending on how wigs were ornamented, they could reveal a person's profession or social status. Wealthier people could cost expensive wig designers and better materials. They were made in general with human hair, but also with hair from horses or goats. The countess of Matignon, in France, paid to the famous hairdresser Baulard 24.000 livres a year to make her new headdresses every day of the week.

Near 1715, wigs started to be powdered. Families had special rooms for "toilette", where they arranged and powdered their artificial hair. Wigs were powdered with starch or Cyprus powder. To powder wigs, people used special dressing gowns, and covered their faces with a cone of thick paper. 


powdering hairbarbers become wigmakerspowdered hair

Barbers, besides of cutting and arranging the hair and the beards, used since many years ago to practice surgical operations and dental extractions. In 1745 a law in England banned them of these practices and only allowed them to deal with hair services. It provoked the ruin of many barbershops and the lack of jobs for many barbers in Europe, because similar laws were promulgated in France and other countries. But the success of wigs required a demand of new professionals; wig makers and designers also cleaned and repaired wigs, refreshing the curls with powder and fragrances. Since the end of the former century guilds of wig makers were organized, and they required to pay a fee and to give an exam of aptitude to work in the profession. In this century the wig-making industry grew and became important, generating new jobs and sources of income to many people. On the other hand, it affected the millinery industry; men stopped wearing hats in order to exhibit their wigs, and new kind of hats was required for large and heavy wigs. However, the mass of the people -an 80% of the population- did not wear wigs (which cost a great deal of money); they wore their own hair, unpowdered. But only the small minority living on the superb scale mobilized and fed an important wig industry.


stealin wigs 18th century


William Andrews, an English writer from the 19th century, tells us that stealing wigs in the street in the 18th century was not uncommun. And, in the glory days of wigs, a full-wig was very expensive. Too much care had to be exercised that wigs were not lost. Although precautions were taken to prevent wigs being stolen, we are told that robberies were frequently committed. It was famous this mode of operation: a boy was carried covered over in a butcher's tray by a tall man, and the wig was grabbed in a second by the boy. When the astonished owner started to look all around, an accomplice stopped him, pretending to give him assistance, while the thief run away. (William Andrews, "At the sign of the barbers' pole", Cottingham, Yorkshire, J. R. Tuttin,1904 ).




Louis XIV



At the beginning of the century, men's hairstyles were more elaborated than women's. Still was in fashion the "Louis XIV style", with great curls and the hair shoulder-length. At the end of the century, the trend is reversed: women used towering masses of hair, rising 1 or more feet above the head. These wigs had some inconveniences: door frames should be elevated for they could pass through, and sometimes the pressure of heavy wigs on their heads caused serious inflammations on their temples.

Louis XV




At the middle of the century, the new king of France, Louis XV, imposed a smaller wig's style for men and the strictly white or grayish powdered hair. Men also wore since the middle of the century a single ponytail on the nape, tied with a bow, a very popular style in every European court at that time. Women continued with their extravagant styles until the French Revolution, when all the luxury and exuberance were vanished into the new republican ideas. Since then, hairstyles were more classic and simples. 





Women wigs 18th centuryBig wigs 18th century


In spite that it could be funny to imagine that women could use those immense towered hairs on their heads and in every party where they assisted, the reality is quite different. Maybe those giant capillary arrangements could have existed, but only in very special occasion or in theatrical performs. Wigs as the images we can see above are only cartoons of the epoch, or tales or legends with no serious bases. It's impossible to find those kinds of wigs in paintings of this century, given that famous painters used to depict the real life. Noble women wore much more sober and elegant hairstyles, although they were pretty elaborated.


coiffure a la fontange

Perronneau painting


About the women's hairstyle, at the beginning of the century still was in fashion a particular style since the former century: the "Fontange" hairstyle. It was nicknamed that way because it was created by the Duchess of Fontange, who, during a hunting journey with the king Louis XIV of France, tangled up her hair in a tree branch, and to arrange the hair messed up by the accident, she piled it up on the top head. The king was fascinated with the look obtained from that accidental hairstyle, and he begged her that it will be kept for ever. This style was in fashion more or less until 1720. Under the reign of Louis XV costumes changed and women's hairstyles became simpler. It was in fashion a hairstyle called "tÍte de mouton" (sheep head), with short curls and some locks on the nape. Women didn't wear wigs until 1770. Since then, hairstyles became more elaborated.  





Green - Ladies Waldegrave


Gainsborough Lady in BlueMaria Winkelmann KirchPompeo BatoniJohn Smart miniaturesGeorge Romney paintingsJens Juel paintingsLuis Paret y AlcazarJean Laurent Mosnier paintingsFragonard Mme. Guimard



Van BeuningenNicolo Di ContiJoseph Wrigh tpaintingPierre Subleyras paintingsPerronneau portrait of a manJohann Zoffany paintings



Near the end of the century the grandiose and exuberant style of the European nobility was criticized by the Enlightenment's philosophers. Not only hairstyles and dresses, but the same artistic style, the "rococo", was strongly criticized. In the very moment that the bourgeoisie -the class without "noblesse"- became powerful and influential, the whole system, the political, economical, social and cultural system was questioned by the most important thinkers. In the past, bourgeoises tried to imitate the nobles' costumes; they wanted to look like them. But when they became strong and self-sufficient, questioning the entire Old Regime system, they rejected all their social structure, and of course, their costumes. Luxury and ostentation, at the arrival of the French Revolution, were bad seen by everybody. The new society adopted a more sober style and turned to the simplicity; from the "rococo" style they jumped to the "neo-classic", an artistic style which recovers the ancient classic Greek esthetic. And this will be the style in tune with the Romanticism, which started at the end of the century and will remain along almost all the nineteenth century. 

Hairstyles France after 1789

Philosophic changes, changes of the way of thinking, changed also the hairstyles. Little by little, people stopped to wear wigs, and the hair started to be natural, with no powder. The Revolution and the transformation of the whole system happened suddenly -although it was, in many ways, expected- by a legislative coup of the deputies of the bourgeoisie with the back up of part of the clergy and the nobility, but it was not that fast. All the images we can see today of Robespierre and Danton, chief leaders of the Revolution, show them with powdered wigs, until their death in the guillotine. Jean Paul Marat, however, the other revolutionary leader, already wore the new esthetic. And one of the principal men of the Revolution, the painter Jacques Louis David, was already absolutely inserted in the neo-classic style, in his works and in his personal appearance. As the neo-classicism became more popular, hairstyles changed. At the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte, very few people wore wigs; the Empire style shows all the politicians with their natural hair, combed in an informal way, symbol of a new age of independent thought. Military delayed more time in abandoning the old hairstyles, but in the Napoleon army all of them looked a natural hair. Women, at the end of the Revolution, stopped to use high and complicated hairstyles and wore their hair natural, with no powder, held with tortoise shell combs, pins, or ribbons, instead of elaborate ornaments.