What is a Fontange?

Sonal Panse

A fontange is an elaborate French hairstyle that was very popular in the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, from the late 1600s to the early 1700s. The fontange hairstyle was named after Marie Angélique de Scorailles de Roussille, Marquise de Fontange, who was, for a short period, the King's mistress.

The fontange was a popular hairstyle at Versailles.
The fontange was a popular hairstyle at Versailles.

According to popular lore, fontanges came into vogue after the Marquise, on losing her cap during a horse ride with the King in 1680, tied her hair on top of her head with a ribbon. The King liked the way she had done her hair and, to please him, she began wearing it like that on an everyday basis. The style caught on in the French court and was followed by fashionable women around the European continent.

The fontange was a popular French hairstyle during the court of King Louis XIV.
The fontange was a popular French hairstyle during the court of King Louis XIV.

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Initially, this 17th century hairstyle was rather a simple affair consisting of a beribboned hair bun with a ribbon-trimmed lace cap worn on top; a version with a veil was known as fontange à la sultane. After a time, women began wearing taller, more complicated fontanges. Tiered wire-frame elevations, often 12 inches (30.48 cm) high, were set up on top of the head, and real hair as well as false hair extensions were arranged in curls and tall piles about the framework. The whole was copiously decorated with a lace cap, silk, muslin and lace frills, ribbons, flowers, feathers, and jewels.

It could take a long time to set up this hairstyle, with the hair needing to be stiffened with egg whites to keep it in desired place. Often, instead of going through the daily bother, a fontange, once in place, was left on for weeks on end. Special care had to be taken to preserve it at night, and it was usually necessary to spray on scent liberally to divert attention from the smelly, unwashed aspect. If this and the stiff necks that came from the heaviness of the hairstyle weren't enough, the women often had to contend with hair lice that found the complex hair structure a haven.

King Louis XIV eventually came to dislike the excesses of the fontange hairstyle, but his attempts to rid the French court of it were not successful. Fashionable women continued wearing fontanges and invented even more elaborate hairdos. In the 18th century hairstyle took a turn towards the Rococo fashions, and fontanges were finally laid to rest.

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