Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Deseine's Robespierre

Not exactly Christmassy, but still a treat for the festive season...

Here are some photos of Deseine's beautiful statue of Robespierre in the Musée de la Révolution française, Vizille, which I visited early this year.  The lighting in this part of the museum is awful, but I was still quite pleased with the pictures.  Hoping to post on some of the other highlights from Vizille in the New Year.
For  details of the sculpture, see:




Claude-André Deseine (1740-1823)
Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794)
1791

Terracotta.  Acquired in 1986.  Inv. MRF 1986-243.

The sculptor, who was a deaf-mute from birth, is the brother of L.-P. Deseine, author of the bust of the Dauphin.  Deseine assiduously attended the sessions of the Jacobin Club, which in September 1791, awarded him the prize in the competition for a bust of Mirabeau.  Shortly afterwards, he put out an advertisement for the sale of busts of Robespierre, Pétion and "several other deputies who have distinguished themselves by their patriotism and talent."












Wednesday, 18 December 2019

The policeman and his wig


Portrait of Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir, Conseiller d'Etat and lieutenant général de police.
Engraving by N. Courteille, "en sanguine", 1778, Musée Carnavalet
http://parismuseescollections.paris.fr/fr/musee-carnavalet/oeuvres/jcp-lenoir-conseiller-d-etat-lieutenant-general-de-police-iff-p333



To judge from this splendid engraving from the Musée Carnavalet, the lieutenant de police, Jean-Charles-Pierre Lenoir was very particular about his wigs. The journal Correspondance littéraire  (by Louis-François Metra; various re-editions) has the following macabre little anecdote:

[17 March 1777] In default of political news, we like to publish stories to make you laugh: here is one which will amuse you.  The lieutenant general of police had a new wig made for his daughter's wedding; the wig was brought in a box by the  wigmaker's boy. Once work was finished, he asked for the box from his valet-de-chambre; but imagine his surprise when, in place of a senatorial wig, he found a dead infant!  M. Le Noir went immediately to find the Master Wigmaker.  The latter, realising what had happened, was full of apologies;  he recounted that his wife had given birth the evening before, the infant had died shortly afterwards;  apparently the two boxes had  been become confused, and the one containing the wig had been buried.  This case of mistaken identity - quiproquo - made the magistrate and his guests laugh hugely, and we are assured that the wig was exhumed and the dead infant buried in its place.

Stories like this remind us, the 18th-century world was a little different from our own!



Reference

Anecdotes secrètes du dix-huitième siècle,  rédigées avec soin d'après la correspondance secrète, politique et littéraire, vol. 1, p.281
https://books.google.fr/books?id=7flDAAAAcAAJ&hl=fr&pg=PA281#v=onepage&q&f=false

Understandably, 19th century writers often preferred to attach this anecdote to Lenoir's predecessor Sartine, the well-known aficionado of wigs:  see, for example, Gustave Desnoiresterres,"La perruque de M. de Sartine", in  Les Talons rouges (1854)
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=etgMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA330#v=onepage&q&f=false



For details of the Lenoir wedding, see Sylvie Nicolas, Les derniers maîtres des requêtes de l'Ancien Régime (1771-1789), 1998, p.117
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ewsjsWPBdP0C&pg=PA117&lpg=PA117
 Lenoir's daughter Anne Pauline married Augustin Marie François Boula d'Orville, Conseiller au parlement de Paris, then Maître des requêtes, on 26th February 1777 at the church of Saint-Roch.

The wedding party was possibly in extra need of light relief as the duc de La Vrillière dramatically collapsed on arrival at the festivities and subsequently died.

In praise of Wigs (1799)


Here is an extract from a comic "Eulogy of Wigs" published in 1799.  

The author was Jean-Marie de Guerle (1766-1824)a native of Issoudun, who, having  been forced by the Revolution to abandon his career as a procureur,  made his living as a teacher of grammar and literature.  (In 1809 he was to become Professor of Eloquence in the newly-founded Faculté des lettres de Paris).  He was well known for his Latin translations and also penned several amusing or erotic pieces of this sort. 

As Frederick Nicolai observed, the work includes a whole list of "Éloges dans le genre gracieux et badins" (p.198) and  is intended to be taken in the same vein.  Nonetheless, Nicolai conceded, it was not altogether worthless:
"[The author] has included anything amusing which came to his mind, without worrying too much about his facts.  What he takes from Ancient and Medieval writers should be taken with caution. But what he says about his subject in the history of France, is often useful, and what he says about the "Regeneration of Wigs in Paris" is really quite comical." [Recherches historiques, p.25]




The Regeneration of the Wig


 Louis-le-Grand had gone to his grave;  as widow of the crowned head, the royal wig followed him into the tomb. But, if queens are mortal, a people never dies.  After a long period of mourning, wigs were finally consoled and trusted themselves to the promises of faithful heads; placing themselves adroitly in the here-and-now, they reappeared in the world with new éclat, adorned with the propitious name of perruques à la Régence.

Adversity, they say, is the crucible of wisdom.  Wigs had learned  from experience the dangers of arrogance, and this time preserved more modesty in their forms.  The Sartine, proud to have graced the head of a magistrate, knew how to respect the humble perruque de laine sported by the sailor.  A miser could hide his skinny pate for little expense under a perruque de fils de fer; with this sort of helmet, he could safely brave rain, wind and hail; and he could feel happy that in death he would leave the hereditary hairpiece intact to his son. Chapelain, had he lived later, would have adopted this wig, as it is the perruque économique par excellence.
[The reference is to a satire against the poet Jean Chapelain: Le Chapelain décoiffé (1665)]



Never had the family of wigs produced so many varieties.  Sometimes, arranged with grace and freedom, the hair would fall full length to a point, in a pear-shape, with the pigtail lost in the wearer's belt;  this was the perruque naissante.  At other times, having been arranged in rolls round the temples and forehead, the hair would form an upside down cone at the back of the head, which was plunged into a perfumed  sack;  this was the perruque à bourse.  Then again the hair could be divided into two pigtails which were folded back on each other without any ties, so as to present the appearance of two natural rosettes;  this was the perruque à  noeuds. Layers of tight curls were arranged on top of each other in a double parallelogram, to form two moving sidepieces by each ear,separated by a flat roll; this was the perruque carrée, the familiar companion of the law court. Then again still, the hair escaped from the middle of a horseshoe, and divided on each shoulder into two parallel fat rolls, which are imprisoned side-by-side with a ribbon.
      Each twin is held in her place
     Offering a sister to her sister at a remove


Who does not recognise from this description the perruque à deux queues, which is not much rated by French ladies, but enjoys the favour of German baronesses.

Finally, who would believe it? One sees glass, tamed and spun by nimble fingers, curled into elegant heads of hair;  a new comet in orbit around a pretty head, displaying its flamboyant tail.  But this sort of wig:
      Just as it has the sparkle of glass
     Has also its fragility
Often, having shone on the horizon with all the fire of the sun, this star, which is reduced to powder at the slightest shock, falls at its apogee into eternal eclipse..

The facility with which wigs appealed to all tastes, increased before one's eyes their partisans, and assured them faithful friends.  Fashion, daughter of the desire to please and mother of important little nothings, has created vogues for many things:
Ample redingotes from London
Jackets in Eastern style escaped from Warsaw
Gothic flounces resuscitated from the 15th century
The inconstant palatine translated from a Germanic bosom
The elegant caraco camisole descended from Caracalla by the female line.......




But these abortive ephemera, the whims of a frivolous century, shone on the world stage for but a moment.  Their credit was no more;  but, standing on the debris of their glory, the wig reinvented itself, ceaselessly more resplendent, in different forms.....The imperishable wig, always changing but always the same, seemed impervious to the torrent of the ages....

From Louis XV up to Year One of French Republic the wig showed a marked preference for masculine heads.  But the regeneration of a great people brings with it the regeneration of wigs. The cradle of liberty became a tomb for the thatch ofthe Ancien Regime; recalled to its primitive institution, artificial hair today prefers the attractions of the fair sex.

Eloge des Perruques, enrichi de Notes plus Amples que le Texte, par le Docteur Akerlio
De l'Imprimerie de Crapelet, A Paris, Chez Maradan. 1799, p.17-22.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=fxhZ-QCpEhAC&pg=PA17#v=onepage&q&f=false
Biographical note on de Guerle: 
https://www.persee.fr/doc/inrp_0298-5632_1985_ant_2_1_2630


Saturday, 14 December 2019

How to buy a English periwig...

Barber's Shop, English School, 18th-century [Oil painting sold by Christies in 2001]
https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/english-school-18th-century-the-barbers-shop-3815224-details.aspx?intObjectID=3815224

A Frenchman never knows when he might need to purchase a wig whilst abroad!  

The following dialogue is from the popular English primer by Abel Boyer, a Huguenot emigré originally from Castres. The book was first published in 1694. Note that, even at this early date, there was great concern with fashion and quite a choice of wigs available.

The compleat French master for ladies and gentlemen: being a new method, to learn with ease and delight the French tongue

Dialogue XVII, pour acheter une perruque – to buy a periwig.

From the 1720 edition on Google Books, p.270-272
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=2b0_AAAAcAAJ&pg=PA270&lpg=PA270#v=onepage&q&f=false

Sunday, 8 December 2019

The bewigged of Toulouse


Here is some more evidence for the social profile of wig-wearers, this time from the local archives in Toulouse. The information all comes from records of criminal hearings and complaints - a surprisingly rich resource apparently, since charges of assault commonly involved damage to clothing and headgear.


The capitouls of Toulouse in their wigs
The wigs of the urban elite

As one would expect, the references confirm that men of high social standing invariably wore wigs, indeed that the powdered wig was a accepted symbol of noble status.
  • 1706: A violent brawl left the young baron d'Esquieule dead on the pavement in his black jacket, scarlet belt and "short wig",  his plumed hat under his arm.  The inventory of his possessions also yielded a wig "à la cavalière".
  • 1717:  An avocat of the Parlement of Toulouse reported the theft of various items, including "a blond wig which was hardly worn"
  • 1732: A former capitoul was insulted by a woman in public;  she said that he did not deserve his nobility and that she wanted to "cut off his wig and take away his sword"
  • 1762: A conseiller of the Parlement incurred the wrath of a purveyor of sedan chairs; she threatened to drag him from his chair, "even though you are well-powdered".
  • 1775:  The son of another parlementaire, a tonsured clerk, absconded to Carcassonne where he was spotted sporting "a false pigtail of blond hair"


The wigs of the merchants and shopkeepers

Wigs also seem to have been ubiquitous among the bourgeois and commercial classes:

  • 1703:  A shopkeeper's clerk complained that a passerby had seized his wig and thrown it to the ground.
  • 1725: A cloth merchant was "seized by the wig" and attacked in the course of a dispute.  Another shopkeeper in the same year complained that a woman had knocked off his wig and hat and trampled them under foot.
If the shopkeeper and his clerk wore wigs about their business, they also retained them at leisure, among the cabarets and drinking establishments of the town.
  • 1705: In a tavern brawl between a merchant's clerk and a messenger ("facteur")
  • ,  one of the participants had his wig and his hat knocked off.
  • 1733: A merchant draper took his family to see a "comédie des singes"; he was deliberately jostled in the crowd and candle grease fell on his coat and wig.

The wigs of employees and petty officials

It is the same story for this group:
  • 1705: A clerk collecting tax arrears was attacked and had his wig knocked off.
  • 1716: an employee in a tobacconist shop quarrelled with the owner of a cabaret, who knocked his wig and hat to the ground.

How far down the social scale did wig-wearing go?


Some of the judicial records reveal really quite humble wig-wearers

  • 1725: A garçon cordonnier - a servant or apprentice shoemaker - complained of being "seized by the wig"

  • 1732:  A goldsmith called Louis Savanac accused his apprentice of throwing his wig in the mud and dirt.  A neighbour confirmed that Savanac had requested the loan of a comb because his wig "was all spoiled by mud".
1733: A rôtisseur - a seller of cooked meats - was involved in an assault in the street; he too lost his wig.

1735: A wool carder and tavernkeeper called François Saragnet  was set upon, beaten up and robbed.  He left the tavern in a pitiful state - without his shoes, his hat or even...his wig.

1756: An affineur (a cheesemaker?) and locksmith was attacked by a woman who seized him by the wig.

1756: A gardener called Benoist was pushed to the ground during a quarrel and lost his hat and wig.

  1767 : A mason was interrupted at supper by an adversary, who snatched his wig and threw it into the mud. The man went away threatening to "sweep the street" with the wig.  Apparently there are quite a few examples involving masons - hard to imagine wearing a powdered wig on a construction site, but it would seem that this was the practice.

In 22 February 1760 an corpse was fished out of the Garonne; it was noted that the body "had no hair, which showed that he wore a wig". However, this did not lead to identification - suggesting that wig-wearing must have been commonplace.


Wigs as symbols

When a gentleman lost his wig in a public place, it would seem he had no choice but to hide, cover his head or go swiftly to the perruquier in quest of a replacement.


So who didn't wear a wig?

Many men mentioned in the criminal records probably did not wear wigs but there is little evidence to establish who they were or the reasons for their choice. There are a few odd mentions;  in 1775, for instance, a  tavern keeper called Jacques Montels  came to depose in evidence a substantial lock of his own hair which had been pulled out during an assault.


Summarised from: 
"...et tombent les perruques"
Archives municipales de Toulouse - Dans le bas-fonds: June 2016, no.6
https://www.archives.toulouse.fr/documents/10184/311548/FRAC31555_Bas-Fonds-2016-06.pdf/7558a36a-efe-4533-a016-d52f2cb4837e
See also: the notice for the dossier on Criminocorpus: 
https://criminocorpus.hypotheses.org/19288

Friday, 6 December 2019

The art of wigmaking

Interior of a wigmaker's shop.  From Art du perrruquier, 1761

According to one 18th century source it took six men six days to make a wig.  There were several distinct processes involved:  buying and selling of hair; cleaning, sorting, and weaving;  mounting the hair on wig blocks, curling and styling the finished wig.


The Trade in Hair


  The wig trade involved an incredible consumption of human hair.  Colbert considered prohibiting its import, but the perruquiers successfully argued that the export of French wigs brought considerable net gain in revenue to the kingdom. In effect, French wigmakers had already acquired a Europe-wide reputation. The renewed statutes of 1718 gave the Corporation of Barbiers-Perruquiers, a monopoly of the "sale and resale of hair": wholesalers were obliged to take their bales of hair to the bureau of the corporation to be examined. At the beginning of the 18th century there were already fifty such marchands de cheveux.   A Paris directory of 1692 lists some of their names -  Pelé, Vincent, Potiquet, Rossignol - these last two living slightly ominously "sous la galerie des Innocents".
Nicolas de Blegny, Le livre commode des adresses de Paris pour 1692, p.39-41.
https://archive.org/details/lelivrecommodede02bleg/page/38

 All these merchants had hair-cutters -"coupeurs"-  who toured the villages of Normandy, Flanders and Holland, returning with  six, eight or ten livres in weight of hair at a time.  When sufficient hair was amassed it was sent to  Paris and other centres, in consignments of 50,60 or 100 livres. The length was set at 24-25 inches ("pouces"); the shorter the hair, the less if was worth. The price varied between four francs and 50 ecus a livre,  the most valuable hair being  blond or white.

Hair from southern Europe was considered inferior; the best hair was the cheveux de pays from Normandy.  England supplied little: "the people, who are comfortably off, do not readily consent having the hair of their women and girls cut". Women's hair preferred over men's.  The best hair was neither too fine nor two coarse, so that it would curl well.  Various methods were used to bleach the hair using eau limmoneuse noix de galle and bismuth. The term "cheveux vifs" was used for hair that had been cut from its owner's head, whether they were alive or dead.  "Cheveux morts" was collected from combs, or had fallen out as result of some illness, whilst"cheveux naturels" referred to naturally curly hair.  According to Jean-Paul Marana, writing in about 1700: "Since wigs have become  accepted, the heads of the dead, and those of women, sell dear; it being fashionable for sepulchres and women to furnish the finest ornament to the head of men".(p.32)
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YxRZAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA36


Preparing the hair


Wigs were made in a variety of different colours;  grey could be mixed in with the hair, or white wigs made.  Many styles also included horsehair stiffening, which was used particularly in the new shorter style wigs which became fashionable in the 18th century.

The hair first had to be cleaned. Small bundles, the width of a finger, would be rubbed with flour or bran to remove the grease. The hair would then be carded to separate it into  different lengths. At this point it was rearranged in larger parcels, which were tied together using a long string (fil de pêne).  The next process was curling. The hair was  first wetted; grey or white hair might be  treated with a mixture of Prussian blue to prevent yellowing.  Strands would then be rolled round curling pins or "biboquets", small cylindrical rollers of wood or pipe clay and the bundles boiled in water for about three hours,  then partly dried in a small charcoal oven. 


From Art du perruquier (1761):  hackle for carding, wigmaker's vise
and a cylindrical oven for drying curls

At this point a further stage of processing was required to restore the hair's natural moisture.  The parcels of hair would be sent off to local bakers - or in Paris gingerbread makers - who would cover them with dough and bake them alongside their bread and cakes to allow them to absorb the moisture. (In 1705 a brief attempt was made to regulate this casual use of bakers' ovens, but the idea was soon dropped as impracticable)


Once the biboquets had been removed, the hair would be re-carded and arranged in packages of different lengths.  It was now ready to be used to make the wig itself.



Constructing the wig

From Art du perruquier (1761):  wooden head, 
and coeffe in various stages of construction
The wig was constructed using a sculpted wooden head of an appropriate size.  A caul of  ribbon and cotton or silk mesh - the coeffe - would be created and secured to the blockhead in order to provide a base onto which the hair could be stitched.
 From Art du perruquier (1761):  tressing frame, 
various knots and a paper pattern for a wig
The most labour-intensive and intricate part of of the process was to weave the hair, a task usually performed by women workers known as "tresseuses".  A small loom or "tressing frame" was used which consisted of two upright posts set in a block of wood and supporting three (or six) silk threads, tightly stretched to form the warp.  A few strands of hair were woven  at a time, interlaced between the silk threads using over-under motions.   The secured strands would then be slid tightly together to create the length of weft required.  Here is a clipping from a video of the Wig Store in Colonial Williamburg which shows exactly how it was done.



So prepared, the rows of hair would be sown onto to the caul, often with the aid of an elaborate paper pattern.  It was then a question of putting the final touches on the wig, which would be trimmed, combed, curled pomaded and styled.  It was  expected that the wig owner would return regularly to  for cleaning, repairs and restyling - hence the close links of the perruquiers with barbers and, later in the century, with the new profession of hair dressing. 


References

For a clear description of the wigmaking process in English:
Thomas K. Bullock & Maurise B. Tonkin,  The Wigmaker in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg, (First published 1959, Gutenberg ebook 2018)
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/58384/58384-h/58384-h.htm

Video showing wigmaking at Williamsburg:
Colonial Williamsburg: Wig Shop 
https://youtu.be/EXeS3fqLLMU


Contemporary French sources: 

Art du perruquier, in the series of Descriptions des Arts et Métiers, faites ou approuvées par messieurs de l'Académie Royale des Sciences , 1761

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k1067624g

"Perruque", Encyclopédie article
https://artflsrv03.uchicago.edu/philologic4/encyclopedie1117/navigate/12/1632/
Exhibition of plates at MIT Libraries:
https://libraries.mit.edu/exhibits/diderots-encyclopedia-exhibit-preview/wigmaking/

 "Perruquier", Dictionnaire raisonné universel des arts et métiers. Vol. 3 (1773), p.436-441.
https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k113031n/f438.item.texteImage.zoom

See also:

Alfred Franklin, La vie privée d'autrefois : Arts et métiers : modes, moeurs, usages des parisiens du XIIe au XVIIIe siècle: Les soins de toilette , 1887, P,62-65.
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/56072/56072-h/56072-h.htm

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Wigs and the 18th-century consumer

The following is taken mainly from an article by Michael Kwass, Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University.  The subject is the wig trade in 18th-century France, and the light it sheds on the emerging world of the consumer.


Jean Duplessi-Bertaux, ( c. 1747-1819) Interior of a barber-wigmaker’s shop, British Museum collections
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=721100&partId=1

Wigs as objects of consumption 

By the mid-century wigs had become an everyday item of male attire across a wide social spectrum. They "seemed to have tumbled down the social hierarchy, so far down that writers now observed them sitting atop the commonest of heads" ( Kwass, p.634-5)  Mercier  in the Tableau de Paris, for instance, listed  many types of ordinary men who had taken to wearing wigs:  schoolmasters, old choirmasters, public scribes, law court ushers,shop boys, legal and notarial clerks, domestic servants, cooks, and even kitchen boys.   However, the growth in demand for wigs did not just reflect an expansion in conspicuous consumption or the pursuit of marks of social rank.  It represented the 
emergence, through printed word, of "a new set of consumer values based on convenience, natural authenticity and self-expression". (p.634)

  • Size of the wig trade
Business was booming!  Records are unusually good as the wigmaker's trade was regulated by charges, or licences to operate,  issued by royal authority and controlled by the Corporation of Barbiers Perruquiers.  The number of masters in Paris multiplied from 200 in 1673 to 835 in 1765 and 945 in 1771. The peak membership was  1014.  According to one Almanac of 1776, "there is no neighbourhood where one does not find many [wigmakers], and there is nothing easier than informing oneself about the most renowned" (quoted Kwass, p.635-6).  A vast number of wigmakers also operating illegally outside the guild system, and were subject to periodic policing by the Corporation.  They worked both openly, in shops, and in clandestine premises, typically on a second floor (see Gayne, 2004).  Evidence from provincial centres show a similar pattern.  Surprisingly small communities boasted local wigmakers and the wig trade penetrated into small country towns and villages via peddlars, markets and fairs.

18th-century Parisian wigmaker's  shop sign, "A la perruque à marteaux"
Musée Carnavalet
http://www.carnavalet.paris.fr/en/collections/enseigne-la-perruque-marteaux

  • Social composition of the wigmakers' clientele - Account books
By the end of the seventeenth century  the wearing of wigs had already spread to non-aristocratic professionals:  magistrates, clergymen, financiers, well-placed domestic servants.  It now extended to still more middling groups.  In the middle of the century  the Rouen wigmaker  Le Tellier, whose account book been studied by Professor Kwass,  counted relatively humble curés and procureurs among his clientele.  His cheapest wigs were twelve livres, half the cost of a decent coat or a silver snuffbox.  Moreover, he turned out over a hundred wigs a year.


  • Evidence from inventories
Further evidence is provided by the "surprisingly robust presence" of wigs in after-death inventories.  For instance, inventories for tenant farmers in the Île-de-France revealed an increase in wig-owners from virtually none at the beginning of the century to 46 per cent in the 1750s; "The rustic fermiers of the Île-de-France had transformed themselves into bewigged gentlemen farmers" (Kwass, p.638)  Studies from Normandy and Savoy yield similar results. Wigs now adorned the heads of farmers, professionals, merchants, shopkeepers, clerks and the wealthier artisans throughout France.

 The chronology of this expansion is difficult to assess with certainty.   The initial period of growth seems to have been from the Regency to mid-century, a period of general consumer vitality.  By the third quarter of the century, the wig had become a commonplace commodity. It was part and parcel of a whole intermediate consumer zone of "accessories" - toiletries, snuffboxes, cans, fans, watches, umbrellas - which were by no means confined to women.



Socio-cultural significances?


Following Norbert Elias, social historians of 18th-century France have tended to see wigs and other items of personal adornment as part of a growth in "conspicuous consumption"; the  primary function was to bolster status and privilege by encouraging  social emulation.  Wigs were certainly seen by contemporaries as a statement of social position.  Thus a set of fashion plates by Michel Moreau  published in 1776 depict men of descending social and political status wearing different kinds of wigs or no wigs at all.  The seigneur, bishop, nobleman, magistrate, financier, abbé, bourgeous and doctor all wear styles of wig appropriate to their status.  The artisan and gardener have natural hair under their hats.  The series ends with a lowly - and bald - beggar.
Michel Moreau, Les costumes françois representans les differents etats du royaume (1776)
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=toFcAAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

A bewigged seigneur and his bald tenant
Engraving of 1783 by J.L. Delignon.

However, according to Professor Kwass,  possessions  can also convey other, more complex and personal messages.  Writers and commentators - and the wigmakers themselves in the way they presented their goods - often discussed wigs completely differently, in terms of their convenience, truth to nature and contribution to physiognomy.


Convenience - "la commodité".  This concept was much evoked by defenders of "luxury", who applied it to a host of consumer goods, particularly furniture and clothing.  They asserted that wearing a wig was more convenient than cleaning and dressing one's own hair.  According to the Encyclopedie méthodique wigs possessed several advantages over natural hair, “one of the greatest of which is to relieve men of daily cares.” According to the satirical Éloge des perruques (1799), men soon discovered that their hairstyles were ruined by the slightest breeze and "longed for the immobility of wigs, as one wishes for calm after a storm." (p.10-11).  Convenience was particularly associated with the newer, lighter styles.  Molé's history of hairstyling  published in 1772, notes that  in-folio wigs had been disgraced at the death of Louis XIV to be replaced by "new editions" which were much more convenient and portable.  Knotted wigs and bagwigs, at first considered indecent for formal occasions, soon became accepted as part of fashionable dress (Molé, Histoire des modes françaises (1773), p.      ) .  The wigmakers themselves promoted a health and utilitarian aesthetic, advertising soft, flexible wigs, that allowed free movement of the head and were even comfortable enough to sleep in.

Nature:  By the 1770s  fidelity to "nature" had became part of the language of consumer appeal. From the mid-century  advertisements stressed how well wigs imitated natural hair.  For example, the wigmaker Chaumont, who operated from the St Honoré quarter, advertised a series of innovations which  made the seam between the forehead and the wig as invisible as possible.

Individual style:   Enterprising wigmakers claimed to tailor their wigs to the individual faces of their clients. In 1757 the Rouen lawyer Jean-Henri Marchand parodied this idea with an Encyclopédie perruquière in which he illustrates no less than forty-five styles of wig supposed to aid his reader in choosing "the form which most flatters the air of his face".  Many well-known 18th-century figures used wigs as a means of self-expression:  Rousseau, took to wearing a simple round wig to express his independence and  Greuze sported idiosyncratic side curls.  Advertisements emphasised not only the rank but the aesthetic taste of the consumer.




References

Michael Kwass,“Big hair: a wig history of consumption in eighteenth‐century France” The American Historical Review, 2006, vol. 111(3):p. 631–659. On JStor:
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/ahr.111.3.631

Lucinda Brant, "The wig business was big business in eighteenth century France", Lucinda Brant's website.
https://www.lucindabrant.com/blog/the-wig-business-was-big-business-in-18th-century-france

Gayne, Mary K. “Illicit Wigmaking in Eighteenth-Century Paris.” Eighteenth-Century Studies, 2004, vol. 38(1)p.119–137. On JStor: https://ww.jstor.org/stable/30053631.


18th Century NoteBook: "Wig Shop Interiors, Peruke Makers, and Barbers in the 18th Century" [List of illustrations on the internet] http://www.larsdatter.com/18c/wigs-barbers.html

Readings


The imitation of nature - from the Art du perruquier,  (1761)

This book was one of a whole series of  Descriptions des arts et métiers,  sponsored by the Académie des Sciences.  The volume was edited by the writer F-A.-P. Garsault, but the section relating directly to wigs is the work of  Antoine Quarré, "a skilled and ingenious perruquier who has carried out researches to perfect [the construction of wigs], and whose aim is to imitate the beauty of Nature."

The manufacture of wigs is a modern Art, which grows more perfect from day to day. It seems likely to endure due to the advantages of wigs over natural hair, the greatest of which is to rid the wearer of daily haircare.... Wigs are for both sexes and all conditions (Preface, p.vi)

The great art of wigmaking is to create hair for those whose own hair is inadequate. To make a wig, is to construct a sort of epidermis, to which hair is attached and arranged in such a way as to simulate the owner's own  hair.  The aim is to imitate la belle Nature. At the time of writing, some wigs follow the laws of Nature closely whilst others deviate from them -  but much less so than in the infancy of the art. Then wigs were immense and created the appearance of a bear or a lion rather than a human head. (p.5).
https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k1067624g







The Wigmaker's Shop - from Mercier's Tableau de Paris


Mercier provides an altogether more jaundiced view of the consumer experience: 
Imagine all the filth that lack of hygiene can amass.  It reigns in this shop where people come because they want to be clean.  The windows, clogged with powder and pomade, block out the light. Soapy water has eroded and loosened the pavement outside.  The floor and walls are impregnated with  thick powder. Spiders hang dead from their long white webs, asphyxiated by the constant volcano of the powderer. Don't ever enter this infected hole, but come and look with  me through the broken window pane.

Here is a man under a cowl of waxed cloth, a sort of gown which covers his entire body. They have just put a  hundred paper curlers onto a head which has no need to be disfigured by all these spikey horns.  A heated iron is used to flatten them out, and the odour of burning hair makes itself felt.  On one side, look at that face bearded with soap suds;  further on, there is a comb with long teeth which cannot enter into a thick head of curls.  They will soon cover it up with powder, and so find a solution.
https://gallica.bnf.fr/essentiels/mercier/tableau-paris/boutique-perruquiers