The first episode of Marie Antoinette (2022), the Canal+ series about the famous 18th-century French queen, has finally come to American shores. It’s already aired in France and on the BBC in the UK, but now PBS is showing it over here. Created and written by Deborah Davis, who wrote The Favourite (2018), the series attempts to show the real story in a specifically feminist lens. This is the first of three planned seasons, and you KNOW I needed to be all over it, given how much the 18th century and Marie Antoinette specifically is my jam.
The whole series and its costumes needs an in-depth review, and I’ll be doing that later. But I have enough to say about the hair and wigs in the series that separate posts are required! Because, as longtime readers may know, I’ve done enough research into the history of 18th-century hair/wig styling and worked out my own recreations, that I wrote a book, 18th Century Hair & Wig Styling: History & Step-by-Step Techniques. The book has been out of print for several years, but I’ve finally gotten organized enough to do a second printing, which will come out in July 2023. If you’re interested in the why’s and how’s of 18th-century hair and wigs, the stylistic differences of different eras, and/or how to recreate these hair/wig styles taking advantage of modern products, you should know that I’m offering a discount on presale orders up until the book is released (you’ll save $15, and if you live outside of the U.S., you’ll also save $10 on shipping).
With that in mind, let’s get into the hair and wigs in Marie Antoinette (2022)! Now, I’ve managed to watch the whole series, so there will be hair spoilers here. If that bugs you, save this post and come back to it when you’ve watched the whole series!
I haven’t yet been able to figure out who was the official lead hair/wig designer(s) on the show (IMDB only lists stylists). The costumes were designed by two people: Madeleine Fontaine (Versailles, Casanova, A Very Long Engagement) was the costume artistic director, while Marie Frémont (costume supervisor on Versailles and The Last Duel) was the official costume designer.
The first thing I’m going to say is that the hair and wig styling is beautiful. No crappy “what died on her head” face-eating wigs here! The second point I need to make is they got a lot of things right but flubbed some details, which of course drives me crazy; and they made something of a mishmash of the timeline, with characters switching between mid-1770s and mid- to late-1780s styles and back.
In this post, let’s look at our main character, Marie Antoinette. She starts off in very sweet styles with only a bit of height, some romantic waves and curls, and zero powder:
I liked this style for showing her youth and freshness, and because they got the key element of hairstyling in the second half of the 18th century: for both men and women, the front was up to the crown of the head, but the back was longer.
That being said, even this style isn’t quite right for the era. What should she be wearing? The “tête de mouton” or sheep’s head style, which involves lots of regular curls across the front half of the face, and the back pulled up smoothly.
My guess is they looked at something like this bust of Madame du Barry where the back of her hair isn’t styled (i.e., a boudoir look):
At her wedding (1770), the dauphine wears something more along the lines of the tête de mouton with structured rolls and curls, plus a touch of powder:
The main problem is that the back of her hair isn’t straighter and pulled up as it should be (look at the back of the du Barry bust again):
She goes back and forth between these two looks during her time as dauphine; here’s another more-accurate-to-the-specific-period look that again is all curls in the back (although the hanging ringlet helps). The other annoying thing is that in this period of the show, they’re trying to hammer home the point that Versailles is ALL FORMAL ETIQUETTE — although they talk about it more than show it. One great way they could have shown it was through hair powder, but there’s almost none throughout the series.
Things continue in that vein until 1774, when Louis XV dies and Louis XVI becomes king. Suddenly out of nowhere, Marie-Antoinette starts rocking a beautifully styled, but completely incorrect on several levels, frizzy mid-1780s style:
First, what did hairstyles look like in 1774?
Second, if you ARE going to put her into a 10-years-too-early frizzy “hedgehog” style (note, it wasn’t actually called that, read my book for more info), it wouldn’t be a beach ball:
We then start going back and forth between the two eras’ styles, like here where Marie-Antoinette performs at the Trianon:
She goes back and forth between these two looks through the period of her pregnancy and birth of her first child (1778):
Things go to extra crazytown with this look:
At some point, she finds her powder, but it doesn’t stick (ha ha) around very long:
The final episode really embraces the mishmash. You’ve got:
Then for a formal event, we go full Basket Weaving 101:
And all in the same period, she also rocks this soft, romantic take on mid- to late 1780s hair:
Next, I’ll do a long post about the costumes and plot, and then yet another post where I talk about the hair and wigs on all the other characters in Marie Antoinette (2022)!