La Fontange

There were quite a few popular hairstyles at the court of the Sun King. In his youth it was all about curls and ringlets for the ladies, but later on, there was one particular hairstyle that dominated Louis XIV’s court and swept all over the world.

 

Marie-Angélique de Scorailles de Roussille, Duchesse de Fontanges

Legend has it that this hairstyle is the result of a hunting accident. Louis liked to take his love-interests hunting. In fact, he absolutely loved if they shared his love for hunting. One day, he was on the chase with Marie-Angélique de Scorrailles, not the smartest lady of the court, but very charming and beautiful. There are different versions on how it came to happen: In one, Mademoiselle de Scorrailles lost her hat, in a other a branch got stuck in her hair, in yet another it was a windy day that brought her hair into disarray. Either way, Mademoiselle de Scorrailles was embarrassed to present herself to the King with her hair so disorderly and made a quick attempt to fix it with the help of a ribbon.

Louis XIV found the result of this hot-fix to look rather stunning and asked Mademoiselle de Scorrailles, whose hair was now piled up with a hint of a curly fringe, to wear her hair this way for the rest of the day. Back from the hunt, Mademoiselle de Scorrailles changed her hunting garments for a more court-proper attire, but, as asked, kept her hair as it was. She earned quite a few irritated looks and wrinkled noses that day as she swept through the corridors and salons…. but once the other dames heard that this strange hairstyle was appreciated by the King…well, legend also has it that almost all of them wore their hair like Mademoiselle de Scorrailles did the very next day.

What started out as a ribbon-hot-fix, soon became a rather complicated matter. As always, the ladies sought to outdo each other by piling their hair up higher and higher… apart from Madame de Montespan. She did not jump on the bandwagon, for she thought the whole thing to be rather silly. (I can’t blame her.)

Two young ladies with Fontange hairdo.

The ladies started to add more ribbons and also lace to their hair and to support this organ-pipe styled hairdo, the so-called commode, a so-called monte-là-haut was added. It was basically a wire-frame with gauze, which was fixed to the actual hair, that was then arranged around the monte-là-haut. And if this was not yet complicated enough, the ladies developed, and named, different more or less artistic ways to arrange their hair around that frame. There was the bois style, which meant the hair was arranged close to the foot of the monte-là-haut in a bristling looking manner. The name cruches was given to the style were one would wear small tufts on the forehead, curls arranged on the cheeks were called favorites, curls arranged at the nape were called crèvecœurs.

Soon, not just the ladies at the court of Louis XIV were wearing this style, but ladies all over Europe. While it was the thing to wear for the fashionable female, many males started to utter their displeasure. By the time Louis XIV started to wrinkle his nose at the piles of hair, lace, ribbons and wires, it was too late. Not even the great Sun King could stop the Fontange anymore. The wire frames got higher and higher and concerns regarding their stability were raised. According to Saint-Simon, the wire towers swayed with every step their wearer made and looked as if they might fall off the next second.

The Fontange was an unstoppable force from the mid 1680s to around 1715. It became a little less popular in around 1701, as a new style was introduced which involved wearing the hair as flat as possible, but did not vanish from the heads of many ladies until after the death of the Sun King.

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