A Queen's First Appearance or Marie Antoinette's hair | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: A Queen's First Appearance or Marie Antoinette's hair

November 21, 2011

A Queen's First Appearance or Marie Antoinette's hair

One of the most tragic figures of the 18th century was the young French queen Marie Antoinette, who only lived to be 37 years old. The beginning of her career as queen was also the beginning of her career as a fashion icon in Europe. Marie Antoinette was making major fashion decisions as early as the coronation of her husband, Louis Auguste in 1775. At just nineteen years old, Marie Antoinette had an important decision to make: what to wear!

The coronation ceremony for the new king and queen was traditional. The ceremony was ages old, even the official uniforms of the attendants were decades out of style but they were required. Keeping frugality in mind, the young Louis decided to cut some corners and keep things low budget. He cut out the double coronation part of the ceremony, and just had a single coronation for himself.

Album of the Coronation of Louis XVI, The King led to the Throne. Detail of Marie Antoinette and her ladies. French School of the eighteenth century. Source
A special seating area was built for Marie Antoinette to view the ceremony. In a way, this choice would keep Marie out of the spotlight at the actual ceremony, but it would also free her to wear something more contemporary as a spectator and guest of honor. This may not have been the top concern for the young dauphine at the time, but it certainly was an important choice and did not go unnoticed.
“Marie Antoinette” (film) 2006, Marie Antoinette in Coronation Gown. Screenshot.

For her husband’s coronation the young queen, with tears of joy, arrived in a dazzling gown in the modern style. The contrast between the old ceremonial costumes and her contemporary ensemble instantly set her apart. Her gown was created by her favorite dressmaker, Rose Bertin, and was covered in sapphires and gemstones. Although her gown shimmered from every angle, it was her hair that everyone was talking about.

Anonymous, The Coronation of Louis XVI.
Detail of Marie Antoinette with her
ladies in the grandstand. Illumination,
gouache, 18th century. Musée du Louvre.
That day she wore her tresses piled high and set with feathers. The tall pouf would become Marie’s trademark hairstyle. She would constantly pioneer new styles of poufs, each magnificent structure would hold various objects and scenes. The thought, time and craftsmanship (yes we are still talking about hair) that went into the poufs made them true works of art. The popular pouf aux sentiments was created with the hair piled up high and displayed objects that held great personal meaning to the lady. Trinkets, portrait miniatures, jewels, anything! Because every lady would select different objects, each pouf was unique. Marie Antoinette also made famous the pouf à l’inoculation, after her husband and his brothers received small pox vaccinations. This famous pouf included a serpent in an olive tree to symbolize the god of medicine and healing and a bright sun, representing enlightenment.

The poufs allowed ladies to be creative and in a way they were able to speak opinions and make statements through…hair! Just as the clothes we wear can let people make statements, during the 18th century and thanks to pioneers of fashion such as Marie Antoinette, hair did as well.

Joshua Reynolds, Georgiana,
Duchess of Devonshire
1775-1776, oil on canvas.

What about the Georgians? Didn’t Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire do this first? While hair was being piled high years before Georgiana and Marie were out, no one was wearing it quite as creatively. Georgiana pioneered all hair that was tall. Tall feathers, tall coiffures. A letter she received from Lady Clermont a few months after Louis’ coronation which discussed the differences between the French hairstyles from the English read, “the heads are not so high nor as many feathers…”

For lack of feathers the French ladies filled their hair with other ornaments. Not everyone may have said good things about how the new queen wore her hair on coronation day, but they were talking, and people took notice. Ladies adapted the queen’s taste for hair piled high, and mimicked her various ‘styles.’ For Marie Antoinette, her debut couldn’t have been more successful.

I originally wrote this post for Joanne Renaud at Joanne Renaud Writing & Illustration blog.  It is all about fashion, first impressions and most specifically Marie Antoinette's hair!


  1. Dear Lauren,

    here is a print of the young dauphine and dauphin in their wedding attire.


    Marie Antoinette's robe de cour seems to be a typical 18th century court dress, mantua style. But Louis Auguste , I think, sports a truly old fashioned relict, which of course would correspond with the male ceremonial dress of his time.

  2. Would it be possible to redo the link to continue reading? For some reason, I can't click to continue.

  3. @The Lady Ship Thank you so much for that link!! I love it!

    @Jillian Trainor ack! Thanks for letting me know the link was not working, I have corrected it!