Regular readers will know that I’m all about the 18th century, baby. I can’t totally explain it, except that it’s 1. fabulous, 2. gorgeous, and 3. better than all your other eras. (Okay, so there are deeper and more complex reasons why I love it, but go with me here). I’m also totally into 18th-century hair and wigs, because they are so 1. fabulous and 2. RIDICULOUS. In fact, I’ve decided that if an era doesn’t have over-the-top hair, I’m not interested in it!
This interest in 18th-century hair may just have led me to years of experimentation on hairstyling and wigs and may have just led me to write a book about both:
So in honor of my geekitude, let’s take a look at my personal top 5 18th-century hair movies. I’m not going to number these, because it’s hard to say that one is necessarily better than another. They all have a lot of fabulosity going on, and that’s what’s important. (Also, there are probably other great 18th-century hair movies/TV series that I just haven’t seen yet!)
Marie Antoinette (1938)
This movie isn’t included on this list because it’s so historically accurate. Yes, there is a LOT of shiny white wigs that are very Old Hollywood and not the powdered/grey look that you would actually see in the period. But that’s not why I love this movie. Not only is a great example of a classic Hollywood take on historical costume, but the hair and wigs are FUCKING GORGEOUS. So they didn’t get the details right! Take a look at just how beautiful these styles are, and weep that your hair will never look as good.
The hair/wigs were designed by Sydney Guilaroff, and according to his obituary, “he called [Marie Antoinette] his greatest challenge … [It] required 2,000 court wigs (some with actual birds in cages), lesser wigs for 3,000 extras, and Norma Shearer’s monumental bejeweled and feathered artists’ ball creation” (Sydney Guilaroff, 89, Stylist to Stars, Is Dead).
The Lady and the Duke (2001)
It was a toss-up for me whether I’d include this film or The Affair of the Necklace — this one only won out because I already had two 1780s films on my list (below), plus I wanted to talk about a movie that’s less frequently mentioned. And this movie is amazing, and you really should see it if you haven’t. The Lady and the Duke tells the story of Englishwoman Grace Elliot who was mistress to the duc d’Orléans and focuses on her experiences during the French Revolution. It’s a great film for many reasons, but in particular because the costumes and hair are so spot-on for the period and because all of the exterior shots were done with the actors digitally superimposed into paintings, which sounds like it could be weird but in execution is REALLY COOL.
Hair-wise, what I love is that they really captured the transitional hairstyles of the early 1790s. Many designers seem to say “fuck it” when it comes to the hair of this era, and just put the actresses into vague, long, curly ‘do’s, and the actors into 20-years-too-early Regency/Empire styles. But this film’s designers understood that the cuts and styles of the early 1790s were very similar to those worn before, they were just more toned down.
According to IMDB, the hair stylist was Véronique Hebet.
Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Not many films get pre-1770s hair right, so I’m pretty damn happy with what they came up with for the late 1750s/early 1760s setting of Dangerous Liaisons. Okay, so the women’s hair could use a whole lot more powder, and I question Valmont’s own hair being so long when most men of the era cut their hair short or shaved it to work better under wigs. But beyond that, they did a great job of sticking to that era, and of getting most of its details right — and what they came up with is really pretty and works well story/character-wise.
IMDB lists three credits: Peter Owen (wig designer), who has also worked on The Draughtsman’s Contract, The Age of Innocence, The Portrait of a Lady, Sleepy Hollow, all three of the Lord of the Rings movies, and The Other Boleyn Girl; Malou Rossignol (hair stylist); and Pierre Vadé (hair stylist), who also worked on the competing film Valmont. There’s a great article about Peter Owen over at The Independent that shares a few tidbits about his work on Liaisons:
The wig they made for Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons was 12- denier, which meant it could be drawn back into a sleek chignon without anyone spotting the fake hairline…
In the closing scenes of Dangerous Liaisons, for example, when John Malkovich’s urbane and treacherous character, Valmont, breaks off his relationship with Michelle Pfeiffer, and then goes to report to Glenn Close, Owen switched the two wigs he’d designed for Malkovich. Throughout the rest of the film Valmont wears the artificial wig when with Close, the natural one when with Pfeiffer. By swapping them, Owen made Valmont seem unexpectedly confused and vulnerable…
Initially [Dangerous Liaisons‘s director] Frears had reservations about giving Malkovich such theatrical wigs, ‘but when I saw what they’d come up with I thought, ‘yes’. They were so elegant, you could understand why these people wore them’ (All the World in a Wig).
Jefferson in Paris (1995)
Probably the best depiction of the late 1780s on screen, when women’s hairstyles had turned away from the tall and wide styles we associate with Marie-Antoinette and into the faux-naturalistic, post-coital, frizzy styles of the 1780s. There are one or two missteps, and they definitely stay on the BIG end of the hairstyle spectrum, but otherwise Jefferson in Paris gets 1780s hair and wigs right. Oh, and there’s a hilarious and fascinating scene where we actually get to see an actress have her hair styled!
According to IMDB, Catherine Leblanc was the key hair stylist, while Sophie Asse was assistant hair stylist, and Carol Hemming is credited for hairdressing/makeup. Hemming has worked on a number of other Merchant-Ivory productions, including A Room with a View and Howards End, as well as recent hits like Cinderella and Suffragette, while Leblanc’s credits include Titanic and Midnight in Paris.
An article on the film’s costumes from the LA Times gives us some details about the hair and wigs:
“Big hair” doesn’t begin to describe the towering masses of curls — the more enormous the better — worn by wealthy Frenchwomen. Hair designer Carol Hemming notes that a decade earlier in the period, wigs had reached heights of 2 to 3 feet; vases tucked inside the hair held fresh flowers. Later, such decorations as stuffed birds, jewels, and yards of ribbon and lace were seen.
Marie-Antoinette (Charlotte de Turckheim) lusts for a miniature ship at full sail in her tresses. Maria Cosway (Greta Scacchi, pictured) wears three or four hairpieces at once, all oiled and powdered. The actress washed her hair no more than once every 10 days to avoid a sheen.
“There was such a cry for false hair(pieces), there was a healthy trade of corpses. Wigs were incredibly expensive,” Hemming says of the period (Costumes of the Rich and French).
The best scene in the movie is when Patsy Jefferson, who is deeply suspicious of all this French froo-froo nonsense, gets her hair styled by a French hairdresser. You get to see all the various false hairpieces added to her hair:
And you get another sense of the false hairpieces when she tears the style apart!
La Revolution Française (1989)
I raved about the hair and wig styles when I reviewed this movie, but let’s look at it again. This film joins Jefferson in Paris in really getting the late 1780s right, and what I love is how well they matched the actors’ hair/wig styles to the real people they were portraying.
Unfortunately, while IMDB lists various makeup artists, it doesn’t tell us who was responsible for the hair and wigs.
Which other films feature great 18th-century hair and wigs?