Wednesday 29 January 2020

Some Revolutionaries and their wigs

Wigs in the Early Revolution

The Revolution from the first involved issues of dress. The controversy which surrounded the opening of the Estates-General on 5th May 1789 highlighted the antiquated costumes of the three Estates.  As one anonymous deputy remarked, the dress code underlined the puerility of Court etiquette and degraded occasion into a "mascarade indécente". (Quoted Ribeira, p.46).  The sombre black uniform of the Third Estate served to underscore its inferior status. Some deputies refused to conform and wore ordinary clothes, even coloured coats.   On 15th October 1789 the Constituent Assembly formally voted to abandon all uniform; a few days later the obligation to wear clerical dress was also lifted.  David chose to depict participants in the Tennis Court Oath in English style suits and greatcoats.  Among the deputies, as on the streets, there was sartorial confusion.  The English visitor Mary Berry, wrote of the Assembly in Paris in 1790 that she had never seen "such a set of shabby, ill-dressed, strange-looking people".
Miss Berry's Journal (1865) p.217-8.

Wigs at first remained neutral in meaning.  The powdered wig, like the sword, was a symbol of nobility, but it also formed part of the everyday attire of the lawyers and well-to-do bourgeois of the Third Estate.  Amy Freund (2008)  has studied the series of portraits of deputies engraved by Nicolas-Francois Levachez  from 1789 onwards; many posed in their ordinary street clothes; the famous farmer-deputy Michel Gérard affected rural simplicity with his simple brown coat and bare head.  However, the majority,  still wore wigs or else their own curled and powdered hair.


Aileen Ribeiro, Fashion in the French Revolution (Batsford, 1988)

Amy Freund, "The legislative body:  print portraits of the National Assembly, 1789-1791",  Eighteenth-Century Studies, 2008, Vol. 41(3) p.337-358.

Monday 27 January 2020

More notable wigwearers

Here are a few more anecdotes concerning notable 18th-century wig-wearers. The following is translated / summarised from my latest favourite source of trivia, Sébastien Feuillet de Conches's Causeries d’un curieux.  Feuillet de Conches (1798-1887) was a diplomat, writer and formidable collector of all sorts of "stuff": paintings, books and curiosities of all kinds. 

Voltaire's wig

p.250: Two men, Bachaumont and Voltaire, persisted under Louis XV,  even, in the case of Voltaire, under Louis XVI, in wearing wigs from the bygone era of Louis XIV - the perruque classique à cinq écheveaux or even the cinq lauriers, invented by Nevers (1). Voltaire arrived in Paris to stay with the marquis de Villette on the last day of January 1778 but he only undertook his first full "toilette" at the end of March.
"He had a red coat trimmed with ermine ; a great wig à la Louis XIV, black, without powder, his lean face  so buried in it that one saw only his two eyes sparkling like coals.  His head was surmounted by a red cap in the shape of a crown, which seemed to be merely balanced there." [Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, 28th March 1778.]

An hour after his arrival two months previously he had gone "jauntily and on foot" , to pay a visit to the comte d'Argental on the quai d'Orsay. He was so oddly dressed -  wrapped in a vast pelisse, his head in a woollen wig surmounted by a red fur-trimmed bonnet - that little children had taken him for a carnival character ("chienlit") and followed him shouting and taunting. [Mémoires secrets, 2nd February 1778].

(1) According to Grimm, the duc de Nevers invented a style of long wig, which was imitated  only by Bachaumont and Voltaire: "of the three wearers, only the last now persists.".
Correspondance litt., Vol. VII, June  1771 

[Voltaire's old-fashioned wigs were much remarked upon by visitors to Ferney:  The Duchess of Northumberland described his "small well-combed dark grizzle tie-wig without powder". Boswell at Christmas 1764 found him in "a slate-blue fine frieze greatcoat nightgown and a three-knotted wig"] 

The wigs of Rousseau and Maupertius

p.250  Rousseau adopted a little perruque à trois marteaux

p.251:  At his reception to the Académie française  Maupertius famously sported a short round wig composed of red hair with powdered yellow curls.  See Collini, Mon séjour aupres de Voltaire (1807) p.36.

The wigs of M. de Sartine

Sartine by  Joseph Boz, 1787
Musée Lambinet
p.253-4: It was hairdresser Le Gros (author of L'Art de la coiffure) who had the honour of working for the lieutenant general of police M. de Sartine, Secretary of State for the Navy at the start of the reign of Louis XVI. As far as fashions in hair were concerned, Sartine was the most coquettish man of the day and prided himself on having the best styled head in France.  He had a wig for the morning, a wig for the council chamber, a wig for the evening.  He even had a wig for good luck (a bonne fortune) with five little floating curls. Three wigmaker "valets de chambre" each had their department under the direction of Le Gros, who  alone enjoyed the privilege of dressing the hair of such a difficult and discerning master.  His hair was curled in the morning; his hair was curled in the evening.  If some accident disarranged the economy of his head during the day, the iron was in the fire (possibly literally?).  It was said that, when he was lieutenant of police, and had a criminal to interrogate, he would don a terrible wig with five serpent's tails which made him look like the three judges of Hell.  They nicknamed this instrument of anticipated torture la Sartine  or l'Inexorable.

[See also, the comments in Métra's Anecdotes secrètes: 
M. de Sartine has an incredible weakness of fine, well-curled and powdered wigs.  His collection of wigs - in-folio, in quarto, in-duodecimo, large and small format, some more square than others - amounts to sixty or eighty of the finest examples and the best makers. (Anecdotes secrètes, 30 October 1779)

Notice for the portrait of Sartine: ]

Diderot on the President de Brosses

p.254: Diderot could not get over the immense wigs which weighed down the magistrates of the Parlement of Paris and the provincial parlements. His correspondant Charles de Brosses made fun of the Doge of Genoa and his senators hidden under their vast perruques quarrées.  However, when he became president of the Parlement of Dijon, he too found himself obliged to don a heavy wig. Diderot found it impossible to take him seriously in this absurd costume: 

 The President de Brosses, who enjoys my respect in his ordinary clothes, makes me die of laughter in his habit de palais.  How can one look at him, without the corners of one's mouth turning up? His jolly little head, with it ironic and satiric expression, is lost in an immense forest of hair which overwhelms him;  and this forest descends left and right to take possession of three-quarters of the rest of his small figure. (Comment in the Salon of 1765).


Félix-Sébastien Feuillet de Conches, Causeries d’un curieux vol.2 (1862), p.250-54.

Saturday 25 January 2020

A satire on wigs

L'enciclopédie perruquiere . Ouvrage curieux a l'usage de toutes sortes de têtes, enrichi de figures en taille-douce. Par M Beaumont, coëffeur dans les Quinze-Vingts

A Amsterdam. Et se trouve a Paris, chez l'auteur. Et chez Hochereau, libraire à la descente du Pont Neuf au Phenix. M. DCC. LVII

The Encyclopédie perruquière was a jeu d'esprit of 1757 by the lawyer and satirist Jean-Henri Marchand. Intended as a parody of the more pedestrian articles in the Encyclopédie, the work featured  illustrations of no less than forty-five (largely spurious) wigs.

 According to Grimm the piece was forgotten in eight days (Correspondance littéraire, January 1766). However, it was described in the Année littéraire  as one of the best "pieces of buffoonery" to appear for a long time and it was well-enough received for Marchand to publish a second edition in 1766. Certainly the joke would not have been lost on Marchand's readers: there was now a wig for every occasion, every profession, and every type of physiognomy.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Wigs of the Professions

The Church

The wearing of wigs by the clergy was almost universal by the beginning of the 18th century.  Several wigmakers in Paris already specialised in ecclesiastical wigs, notably M de la Roze in the rue Saint-André, who, according to a 1692 almanac, was renowned for his "perruques abbatiales" (Livre commode des adresses de Paris, p.40)

 The perruques d'abbé of the standard catalogue were short, simple affairs which differed from the bonnet laicque of the modest bourgeois  only by the addition of a slightly absurd tonsure. (The author of the Art du perruquier confides that this made them much more challenging to construct.)

Any moral reservations about clerical wigs would have disappeared from public view long ago had it not been for Jean-Baptiste Thiers's Histoire de perruques, published in 1692.  The redoubtable Thiers's irresistable mix of erudition and humour ensured that his work was reprinted and  referred to, even over a century later.  

The abbé Thiers, learned and zealous opponent of superstition and abuses in the Roman church, composed a book of almost five hundred  pages against the wigs of ecclesiastics.  He talked first about lay wigs, whose usage began in France in about 1629....numbers grew to such a degree that in 1659 an edict was passed creating two hundred barbers, bathhouse keepers and wigmakers.  It was only in 1660 that churchmen first wore wigs. The abbés, or those who called themselves such - the abbés of the Court, dandies and men of fashion, started to wear wigs;  these were short and were called perruques d'abbé.  The first to wear one was famous for his base intrigues, La Rivière, later bishop of Langres.

The abbé Thiers proves convincingly that wigs were condemned by the Church;  he cites  challenges, rulings, statutes of the synods, directed against clerical wigs, as well as various attacks - including violent ones -, trials, scandals and coups that have taken place.

The author enumerates the different sorts of wigs;  full wigs, also called in-folio; small wigs; wigs à la calotte, which are the oldest;  perruques de bichon; perruques à la moutonne; perruques d'abbé etc.
Histoire physique, civile et morale de Paris, Volume 6, 1839,

Theoretically canon law forbade priests to cover their heads whilst officiating. It seems that ecclesiastics habitually pleaded headaches or vulnerability to the cold - a feeble pretext, commented Molé, which had led to out-and-out conflict in certain dioceses (Molé, p.265)

 According to the Oratorian Pierre Lebrun:
Dispensation to wear a wig to the Altar ...should only be asked for in cases of serious inconvenience and then with clear limitations laid down as to length, curls, colour and secular styling;  otherwise there is a danger that the rules of canon law on modesty of hairstyle  will be violated entirely. Most people agree that it is less harmful to wear a cap during Mass than a wig, which is often seen as a mark of worldliness.  For this reason several cathedral chapters have forbidden all priests and deacons to officiate at the altar in the choir whilst wearing a wig. See Mr Thiers for relevant statutes, disputes and judgments. 
 Lebrun, Explication ....des prieres et des cérémonies de la Messe (1718), p.103 nt.

The interdiction remained theoretically in place. In 1769 Voltaire enjoyed himself hugely by trying to persuade Cardinal Bernis to seek papal dispensation for Father Adam to wear a wig, so that he could keep warm in church when saying Mass. 
Huber, Voltaire and Father Adam playing chess at Ferney
Perhaps, in a world of glacial churches and cheerless presbyteries, the need was not so far fetched. It is recorded that in 1794, Father Joseph Raoulx, martyr of the faith, suffered from such violent headaches that he was permitted to wear a wig in the tumbril on his way to the guillotine.


A series of medals ("jetons") commemorate the doyens of the Faculty of Medicine.  By end of the 17th century they are shown in enormous wigs.  With  E.-F. Geoffroy (1726-30) and his successors, the size is more modest but extravagant curls still sweep the shoulders -  as was the case with the wigs in the medical engravings of Hogarth.  At the mid-century Hyacinthe-Théodore Baron (1750-54) [left] wears an elaborate perruque à marteaux.  In later years, the wigs of the doyens were still elaborate, but generally shorter and more swept back in line with the fashions of the age.

 The Dictionaire des sciences médicales notes that certain elderly medical men persisted in wearing  massive old-fashioned wigs, of horsehair or black in colour, well into the new century.  Guérin, chief surgeon of the hôpital de la Charité and of the Gardes-Françaises, retained his until his death in 1742. Certain physicians affected such wigs as a protest against their diminished status under the Regency.

The Surgeons,  in contrast, eagerly adopted the fashions of the Regency era.  Maréchal, first surgeon of the young king, was the first among his colleagues to sport the splendid new wigs. His example was  was followed by his assistant François Gigot de Lapeyronie, painted by Rigaud in 1743 [right]. Portraits of later surgeons - .J.-L.Petit, Ladran fils, Levret, Lecat, Lafaye, Houstet - show the same adherence to modern styles.  The finest wigs of all among the surgeons belonged to La Martinière, Hévin and Louis.

For both physicians and surgeons, a fine wig soon became an essential accessory for the medical man in fashionable society, "the first item of a practitioner's equipment"." Choice was dictated by the wearer's purse.  The preferred wigs of doctors and surgeons  could be extremely expensive since they required "live" hair, prematurely grey for preference.  It was joked that  Bucquet and Vicq-d'Azyr (the profession's trend setters in the 1770s and '80s) had ruined the doctors and surgeons of Paris.

The common wig of the medical man was the perruque à trois marteaux.

Pupils and masters, candidates and senior doctors alike, all sported wigs:  "It was an amusing spectacle to see young men of eighteen or twenty lost in huge, magisterial wigs which contrasted singularly with their baby faces."

A few prominent doctors -  Antoine Petit,  Hallé, Corvisart - were considered eccentric because they insisted on wearing their own hair (presumably on their rounds, since they are bewigged in their portraits).  Corvisart was said to have been refused the post of doctor to the hôpital Necker, because Mme Necker refused point blank to appoint a man who was so badly coiffured.  During the Revolution, the profession generally abandoned their wigs and their black costumes:   Dr. Guillotin, for example, was well-known for his unadorned white hair.  The Dictionnaire of 1820 reports that there survived but one aged officier de santé in the Marais, whose black coat and tiered wig might serve to recall the sartorial traditions of the past.

"Perruque" in Dictionaire des sciences médicales, ed. Panckoucke, 41, 1820, p.9-10.

Paul Delaunay, La Vie médicale aux XVIe, XVIIe et XVIIie siècles (1935), p.154-5.

The Law

The magistrates of the Parlement of Paris in their wigs, 1786 

The gens de Robe were the only professionals to persist in wearing long wigs.  The majority of them adopted perruques quarrées, but they still took glory in hair that descended right down to their belts.  For greater convenience they took the hair from each side and secured it at the back between the shoulders;  hence hairstyles "en pyramide renversée", or "les perruques pointues". (Molé, p.298-9). 

These perruques naturelles or perruques naissantes were adopted as the preferred wig of "young men of the law" [Left: Dupaty].

As was the case with medical men, lesser legal functionaries - solicitors, notaries and clerks,  -  were obliged to wear black, so that their clothes were constantly soiled by powder and pomade.  The problem was made more acute because, unlike the "cheveux naissants" of magistrates and avocats, their wigs, whether round or knotted, reached only to their collar.

The Army

Wigs were confined to army officers: from the mid-century soldiers let their hair grow and greased it to hold it in the regulation hairstyle. They would use chalk as hair powder.  Since the officer corps was part of aristocracy, it was never subject to strict regulation.

The German Nicolai, whose history of wigs translated into French in 1801, noted the tenacity of full wigs in senior military circles. Generals and their adjutants wore heavy wigs in the field: Prince Eugene, Marlborough, George II at Dettingen (1743), Charles of Lorraine at Czaslau (1742) and the Austrian Field-Marshal von Daun during the Seven Years War - all fought in perruques à noeud or perruques à l'Espagnole.  Officers of the French état-major, from the time of the Regency, until the mid-century  wore full perruques carrés, or à l'Espagnole, with long curls down their backs. These can be seen in portraits of the Marshals of France, Belle-Isle, de  Maillebois, de Noailles.  (Nicolai, p.140-141) 

The principal wig of the 17th-century officer corps, the perruque à la Brigadière, also continued to be worn into the new century: only fifty years ago, notes Nicolai, all senior French officers and many in Germany still wore this thick wig from the back of which hung two boudins, or tirebouchons.(Nicolai, p.143-144)  With its heavy rolled curls,  was said to make officers who used white powder look like “sheep on two legs”.  The Encyclopédie confirms: by the mid-century only “old military men” wore it.  The Brigadière was particularly associated with the grenadiers, who cut a fine figure on horseback in their wigs and bonnets.  See “Perruque à la brigadière”  in Dictionnaire de l'armée de la terre (1861)

The perruque à deux queues or à cadenettes, was another old-fashioned wig of military origin, in which the hair was confined into two long pendant plaits.  This style fell out of favour by the 1720s, though, according to Nicolai, it was retained by aging courtiers until the time of Louis XVI. The Encyclopédie quipped that it was much favoured by Germans:  no-one, young or old, dared to present himself before the Emperor Charles VI without his "deux queues". The maréchal de Richelieu, who was the ambassador to Vienna, wore a wig with two long queues to his belt, right to the end of his life.  At the coronation of Louis XVI in 1774 the marshals of France were privileged to appear in traditional wigs which boasted three "queues" [Maréchal de Brissac, left]

In contrast French cavalry officers wore short wigs with a bourse until the War of Austrian Succession . Marchand’s satirical Encyclopédie perruquière of 1757 has two wigs (no. 16 à la Dragone and no.19 à la Mousquetaire) whose names suggested to Nicolai that the troops of the royal household also sported the bourse (Nicolai, p.142). From the mid-century,  however, many young officers abandoned wigs altogether and wore their own hair with a  tricorne hat. "Soldiers soon became tired of knotted styles, indeed they ceased to favour wigs at all. Perruques à la brigadière were soon put aside.  Officers, like the simple soldiers, started to wear their own hair" (Molé, p.297) An ordinance of 25 August 1767 confined the wearing of pigtails to cavalry officers.  The officers of the infantry wore the cadogan, often confined in a crapaud. There followed a whole series of ruling in 1775, 1777 and 1788 concerning military hairstyles;  finally in 1792 the ribboned pigtail imposed throughout the army.  During the Revolution, officers often favoured short hair whilst outside France, "the stiff pigtail has become the invariable hairstyle for all the armies of Europe" (Nicolai, p.145)

Christoph Friedrich Nicolai , Recherches historiques sur l'emploi des faux cheveux et des perruques dans les temps ancien et modernes (1801, French translation 1809).

Tuesday 14 January 2020

Wigs from the Art du Perruquier and the Encyclopédie.

Plate from the Art du perruquier
The wigs of the mid-century are illuminated by two major technical publications, the Art du perruquier sponsored by the Académie des sciences, published in 1761 and the article "Perruquier" which appeared in Volume 12 of the Encyclopédie in December 1765. As the 19th-century historian of fashion Quicherat observed, the information for the Encyclopédie article was largely "furnished by the Corporation" (p.575-6). 

These quasi-official trade publications placed less emphasis that did Molé on the passing whims of the petits-maîtres. In the Art du perruquier Antoine Quarré observed that there were currently seven or eight basic types of wig available, some of which had gone out of vogue, though "like all fashions in France" they were likely to return to favour (p.6). The two sources both include engravings which showed the various different styles: these illustrations are very similar, even though the  plates for the Encyclopédie did not appear until 1771.The list of wigs is the same, save only that the Encyclopédie adds an extra, the perruque à cadogan

Non-literary sources confirm that these wigs do indeed represent the kind of choices available to respectable consumers, both in Paris and the provinces.  The Rouen wigmaker Le Tellier, whose mid-century account book has been studied by Michael Kwass, offered an array of shorter and neater wigs at a range of different prices. The cheapest was the perruque en bonnet - the simple round bob wig of the gentleman farmer, bourgeois, doctor or surgeon - at 12-20 livres. This was the wig that Rousseau adopted when he quit Parisian high society for the simple life of the countryside. The perruque à bourse, or bagwig, was also popular and inexpensive, although there were elegant versions as well.  Le Tellier's most expensive wig was a perruque à noeuds (27-35 livres), which featured knotted hair hanging down the back ( Kwass (2006) p.646-7)

Encyclopédie Plate VII
Types of 18th  century wigs.

1 and 2: Interior and exterior of a bonnet wig
3 and 4: Interior and exterior of a bag wig.  A the bag.  BB Buckle and strap.
5 and 6: Interior and exterior of a knotted wig.  AA the knots.  B. spiral curl.
7. Knot of the same wig.
8. Spiral curl of the same wig.
9. Bag, A. Rosette, BB. cords.
10. and 11:  Interior and exterior of a natural wig.
12 and 13: Exterior and interior of an abbé wig.  
AA the tonsure.
14 and 15:  Interior and exterior of a Brigadier wig.  AA spiral curls.  B. Rosette
16. Spiral curls of same wig.
17. Rosette of same wig.  AA cords.

Plate VIII
1 and 2:  Exterior and interior of wig with two tails.  AA Tails;  BB rosettes
3 and 4: Exterior and interior of a squared wig. AA spiral curl.
5 and 6: Interior and exterior of a Catogan wig.  AA the Catogan.

The remaining wigs on this page are women's.


The Wigs illustrated:

Bonnet or Perruque courte

A round wig, the hair lengthening to a greater or lesser degree at the back (Art du perruquier A; Encyclopédie, fig.1 and 2)

Perruque en bourse 

The classic bagwig, with long flat hair at the back (m) gathered at the nape of the neck  into a little bag of black taffeta (n).  According to Quarré, these wigs, together with the short "bonnet" wigs, were "very much in fashion" (Art du perruquier, B).  According to the Encyclopédie, it was "the most modern" of all.

The illustration in the Encyclopédie shows the additional strap and buckle (fig 3, BB) that was  required to hold the wig in place; the bourse has a decorative rosette (Fig 9, A) and chords to fasten it (BB).

Charles-Antoine Coypel, Portrait of
 the painter's brother, 1732 (Louvre)

It seems to me that these are already quite old-fashioned versions of the bonnet and  bourse wigs.  Even the bagwig is relatively loose fitting, the curls are unstructured and the front only lightly swept back.  

The portrait left, by Coypel, painted in 1732, shows exactly this style, with a  continuous set of fluffy curls round the front of the head, a hefty bourse and a decorative black ribbon at the neck.  Interestingly, the dark-haired sitter has elected to have his hair powdered to grey rather than bright white.

Perruque nouée

This style of wig was more elaborate than the first two and required more hair. It was  finished at the back on each side with long straight hair tied into a simple knot.(ss)  The space between the two side pieces was occupied by fat corkscrew of horsehair [sometimes known as le boudin - the sausage](r) 

The section marked "P" in the first illustration is the toupet, a section of flat hair which was a characteristic feature of the perruque nouée  and perruque quarrée. The term "toupet" was also used for the central part of a short wig which swept straight back from the forehead, to end in a queue or bourse.

(Art du perruquier, C; Encyclopédie: fig. 5 and 6; fig.7 and fig. 8 are the knot and corkscrew)

 Quarré comments that the perruque nouée was very popular, even though it was highly stylised and departed from nature.

Perruque d'abbé

The typical ecclesiastical wig, round in shape and similar to the bonnet, with the addition of a tonsure(w).  Quarré noted that it required quite a different method of construction.(Art du perruquier, D, Encyclopédie: fig. 12 and 13)

Perruque naturelle

This style was intended to imitate long natural hair.  At the front curls framed the wearer's face as in other wigs, but at the back the hair hung lose and straight to the centre of the back. It  was either finished to a point (a)  or squared off with a "tress", that is a row of small curls (bb). [The pointed version was also termed a perruque naissante.] This was the favoured wig of the "young men of the law".
(Art du perruquier E,  Encyclopédie: fig. 12 and 13)

Perruque quarrée

These wigs were similarly in construction to the perruques nouées, with the same big central toupet of horse hair (p) finished off with a boudin. Instead of of the knots, there were layers of tight curls which fell squarely onto the shoulders (tt).  This was the preferred wig of magistrates and "serious men".
(Art du perruquier F,  Encyclopédie, fig. 4 and 5)

Perruque à la Brigadière

 The perruque à la Brigadière was constructed like the bonnet and was finished with two corkscrews of horsehair(d), drawn together and tied with a rossette of black ribbon (e).  This was a traditional military wig;  Quarré notes that it was the wig favoured by horsemen, since it "sits well".
(Art du perruquier G,  Encyclopédie: fig. 14 and 15)

Perruques à cadenettes

This wig was similar to the perruque naturelle, except that the long hair was divided on each side and confined into two braids or "cadenettes"(rr). This, writes  Quarré, was an old-fashioned style, now rarely worn.
(Art du perruquier H,  Encyclopédie: fig. 1 and 2)

Perruques à catogan [or cadogan]

This wig, with its single club knot, was based on a military hairstyle, probably named after William Cadogan,  First Earl Cadogan (1671-1726).  It is mentioned in the Art du perruquier though an illustration is not included. According to Molé, the style enjoyed a brief vogue but intense vogue around the middle of the century,  when it was often worn in a round bag known as a crapaud (ie. a"toad").


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

Article "Perruque" from the Encyclopédie
Exhibition of plates at MIT Libraries:

Sunday 12 January 2020

Fashions in Wigs - Early 18th-century

Eighteenth-century men  had a strong sense of the growth of consumer choice and fashion in wigs.  

One of the main literary source for this era is the satirical "history of fashions"  by the Parisian barrister Guillaume François Roger Molé, written in 1773. Molé is concerned with the wigs worn by the trend-setters of the capital, the petits-maîtres, rather than those of ordinary men in the provinces.  He sees changing fashion as important, even in the first years of the century. The driving force was the Parisian wigmakers' corporation, whose power had been consolidated by the renewal of its statutes, and the creation of new licences in 1706 and 1714.  Constant revolutions in hairstyle gave it members new scope, since each demanded a different set of curls (p.123). "The number of curled styles was almost infinite.  Each year, each month, each year, each week produced a  new one.... (p.299): "Thanks to the Perruquiers, the heads of French petits-maîtres became little works of art, beautiful jewels". (p.298-9)  The growth of hairdressing was part of the same development; due to the inconvenience of maintaining one's own hair, it  added to rather than diminished the demand for false hair (p.299-300)

Wigs of the early 18th century

After the mid-1690s, the massive wigs of the Grand Siècle were already on the decline. Wigs ceased to extend over the chest and shoulders and were confined in bouchons, boudins, or in curls. The mass of hair on the back gradually decreased in volume.

Louis XIV's regulations of 1706 laid down set prices for wigs, which give a clue as to the styles current among the population at the time:

10 livres and below: common wigs, brown, short and without additions.  
10-30 livres: brown wigs à l'espagnole and à la cavalière [styles of full-length wig] and ecclesiastical wigs (perruques d'abbé).
30 livres and above:  wigs à l'espagnole and à la cavalière in other colours and generally perruques quarrées of all colour and length.
  [The perruque quarrée - "square wig" -represented a new style, still full length but flat on top. Also of note is the premium commanded by wigs "other than brown"]

To  observers like Molé, the collective sense of relief at the end of Louis XIV's long reign, was expressed by a general sloughing off of heavy periwigs:

Men of the court, Merchants, and Financiers judged that it was time to abdicate great heads of hair.  Louis XIV, who loved them so much, no longer existed: a young prince ascended the throne and in-folio wigs were disgraced.  New editions were made, which were more convenient, more portable....
(Molé: p.297-8).

The Regent, lover of pleasure, sumptuous celebrations and luxury in dress, soon banished the sad, lugubrious costumes of the old Court.  He was the first to rid himself of the old embarrassing and ridiculous perruque;  the style he substituted, whitened by powder and impregnated with beautiful odours, soon opened a new career of activity, interest and profit for the 850 wigmakers of Paris.  Some adopted point de Milan lace, some invented even more convenient fabrics;  all dedicated themselves to bringing elegance to a form of headwear that, until then had scarcely been more than a shapeless mass of horsehair.
("Perruque" in Dictionaire des sciences médicales  ed. Panckoucke,1820)

In fact full wigs persisted for formal attire until at least the mid-century although the trend was towards shorter variants. As the German writer Fredrich Nicolai later pointed out, the Regent himself is usually depicted in the relatively full perruque à l'espagnole, as were  members of his Court.(Nicolai, p.141) Senior soldiers and magistrates (those who "wanted to be taken seriously") also favoured long wigs. These more formal styles  were often associated with particular professions and had splendid names (perruque à la cavalière, à la financière, quarrée(carrée), nouée, à la naturelle).

Wig powder
Powdered white wigs were not completely unknown in the 17th century but it was in the Regency period that they became widespread.  According to Molé, although women had used hair powder, men had mostly contented themselves with washing and perfuming.   The petits-maîtres now began to appear with both their natural hair and wigs powered.  Moreover,  it became the practice not merely to mix powder into the hair but  to spread it profusely all over the head.  Soon this became the general fashion: "Men, women, infants, old people; all began to use powder; every head became white". Apart from a short phase in the 1750s, when blond and grey wigs briefly gained favour, heavily powdered white hair  remained the norm throughout the century.

Fashionable styles of the era:  

Knotted wigs - Perruques nouées
At the beginning of the century, writes Molé, the petits maîtres began to notice the inconvenience of large heavy wigs, even though wigmakers put much effort into making them light and comfortable.  The first departure was to divide the hair at the back and knot the two parts together in summer.  Gradually the knots became part of the wig and les perruques nouée were born.(Molé  p.296-7):

 Saint-Simon reports that, on the death of the prince de Condé in 1709, reluctant mourners showed their lack of respect by turning  up in "perruques nouées, poudrées de blanc".  Knotted wigs at this stage were clearly considered indecently informal.

Watteau's Enseigne de Gersaint, painted in 1720-21, captures a splendid fashion moment: the man on his knees to the right of the scene wears a gleaming white knotted wig,  complete with the central corkscrew or boudin, straight out of the plates of the Encyclopédie:

New styles demanded technical innovation in design. According to the Art du perruquier (1761),  flat wigs -  perruques quarrées and perruques nouées required a  "toupet", an single expanse of flat hair which extended from the middle to the back of the head, usually made or stiffened with horsehair. (p.44).   Toupets were again at first considered informal but gained rapidly in respectability; the full  perruque quarrée was the preferred wig of judges throughout the 18th century.

Bagwigs - Perruques en bourse 

The greatest  innovation of the early 18th century was the adoption by the fashionable of military-style wigs tied into pigtails or "quenes",  above all "bagwigs" in which the hair was confined in a taffeta bag or bourse (sometimes also called a crapaud ie. a "toad".) These  perruques en bourse became so much a symbol of the age that they were commonly known as perruques à la régence.

Everyone (even the German wig historian Nicolai) concurred that the bagwig was a quintessentially French invention.  Frederick William of Prussia imposed the queue on his troops (and wore it himself); in France the Regent imposed the bourse on his cavalry.  This, thought Nicolai, was the first step towards diminishing the size of wigs (Nicolai, p. 141).  The consensus was that "bags" had originally been used for horse's tails half a century earlier.  By the 1710s they become common for the wigs of young officers, and soon entered general civilian attire (Quicherat, p.563).  According to Molé, such wigs were at first reserved for travel or for undress, or for wear during inclement weather, but soon became eminently respectable (Molé, p.119-20)  Walther's Manuel de toilette of 1776 confirms that  they were appreciated because of their convenient and rapidly adopted as part of fashionable dress (quoted Kwass, p.15) .  Nicolai remarks on the irony that a style invented for the army was universally adopted by the Courts of Europe (p.141).

 Bourses were typically of black gummed taffeta, with a rosette or bow of the same colour for decoration. Earlier example were square, medium sized and appeared to be full of hair - they were often stuffed with horsehair to achieve this effect.  Later bourses became narrower at the top and flatter (Quicherat, p. 563). A smart perruque à la régence classically featured ribbons which ended in a second bow tied under the chin.  Here is a young gent in just such a wig.....

Engraving after Nicolas Cochin showing dress of about 1725

The new short wigs were characteristically divided into three sections; two side pieces (sometimes known as "cadenettes") and a central portion, the queue proper, sweep back from the forehead to be tied at the nape of the neck.  The variants were endless;  the queue could be worn as a pony tail or plaited into a long thin "bout-de-rat". At one point in the 1720s men of fashion wore false hair intermingled with their own to produce long, thick queues. The sides could be curled or trimmed and shaped into flaps commonly known as "ears" (Quicherat, p.562-3).
English wigs with ridiculous "ears", from Bernard Lens, The Exact Dress of the Head (1725-6)

The Art du perruquier explains that different types of mounts had to be employed,  depending on whether the wearer's ears were to be left showing: these were called montures pleines, montures à oreille and montures à demi-oreille. The monture à oreille was invented for the bag wig. Since it sat less firmly on the head, extra straps were required to keep the wig in place. (Art du perruquier (1761), p.22)

From the Mercure of 1730, we learn that, at this date, long wigs were no longer much worn by the fashionable.  It was already important for wigs to imitate nature: hair would be allowed to grow at the front and be combed into the wig to disguise the seam.  At this time dandies affected exaggerated "ears" called "oreilles de chien barbet" after the lop-eared barbet dogs.

Long "Perruques quarrées" are hardly in fashion at all, even among Magistrates, who now wear their wigs much shorter.  Crimped wigs no longer exist.  Wigmakers have lately become much more skilled in the art of imitating natural hair...indeed it is impossible not to be fooled, even close up...especially if one is prepared to wear one's own hair at the front combed up and mixed with the hair of the wig.  The so-called "mustard-seed" powder, which is used to excess, serves to hide the artifice still further.

Natural wigs, "en bourse" or "en queue", are generally in fashion, principally among the young.  They imitate nature well and cost very little;  but it has to be said that the type that let your ears show, known "ears of the Barbet Dog", are really ridiculous.

The Perruques à l'Espagnole [a sort of heavy periwig] are again not much in fashion;  such wigs are worn less long and are called Bonnets.  In Summer everyone wears them, some longer, others shorter.

Knotted wigs "à la cavalière" hold their own among serious people with no pretensions to youth.  There are also hunting wigs called "bichons";  these are a little longer than the "perruques d'abbé", tied behind with a ribbon and ending in a curl.

Then there are broken Wigs ("perruques brizées) or "three-piece wigs", that people who have their own hair wear when it is really cold.  These are most usually worn indoors to hide paper curlers.

Bourses for wigs are now being worn very wide and high, almost at the roots of the hair, so that some of the neck is uncovered.  Over the bourse is a large knot of gummed ribbon; a ribbon goes round the neck and ends under the chin....
Mercure, October 1730, p.2319-20.

When the perruque en bourse became accepted formal wear,  new  casual styles were popularised.  In the 1740s the queue, with a ribbon  twisted and pulled tight around it, was  worn as long as possible. (Thus "ruban de queue" entered the French language to mean a distance that never seemed to end.  See Quicherat p.563) By about 1755 the horizontal curls at the side had been reduced to two layers and the ears could just be seen. 

Novelty wigs

Certain materials were prohibited by the statutes of the Corporation:  artificially bleached hair, hair of prohibited animals (most wigs included some horsehair), wool and cotton.  or fil-de-fer wigs. Most confrontations over banned products took place in the 1750s.  Perversely there was a fashion for wool wigs in Paris in the early 1750s.  At the same time fil-de-fer wigs made from silver or brass thread began to appear. According to Molé: 
Upon their appearance, alarm spread among the wigmakers. One must admit these hairstyles, actually hairpieces, took on a frightful exterior: they gained the imposing name of economical wigs and promised to cause neither pain nor embarrassment to those who adopted them. Rain, wind, hail, &c, they were able to defy them all: a single fil-de-fer wig sufficed for the most robust of men & would accompany him all the way to the grave.  (p.304-5)

In December 1750, in a landmark ruling,  the Lieutenant General ruled in favour of the guild officers' confiscation of a fil-de-fer wig.

Wigs made of glass and foliage were "pure  curiosities" (p.303)
One might suppose they didn't exist, but the Rochefort historian Pauline Bord, has found one for sale in a Paris antique shop.
Pauline Bord, "La coiffure masculine", Rochefort en histoire [blog] post of 10.06.2015.


Guillaume François Roger Molé, Histoire des modes françaises (1773),  p.251-310: "Histoire des perruques",
Entry for Molé in the Dictionnaire des journalistes:

Christoph Friedrich Nicolai , Recherches historiques sur l'emploi des faux cheveux et des perruques dans les temps ancien et modernes (1801, French translation 1809).

Jules Étienne Joseph Quicherat, Histoire du costume en France (1877)
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