À la Belle Poule

One of the most fashionable hairstyles of the eighteenth century, À la Belle Poule, commemorated the victory of a French ship over an English ship in 1778. À la Belle Poule featured an enormous pile of curled and powdered hair stretched over a frame affixed to the top of a woman's head. The hair was then decorated with an elegant model of the Belle Poule ship, including sails and flags.

The style resembled, in size and extravagance, other hairstyles popular among women during the century. Just like the À la Belle Poule, each style had its own unique name. One style was created to represent the first vaccine; another showed the solar system. To create a particular style a woman's long hair was pulled up and over a frame or a bundle of wool or horsehair, and topped with flowers, shrubbery, whole birds or other animals, or small model boats or houses, among other things. The tall, wide masses of hair were meticulously curled, smoothed, frizzed, and powdered. Although the fashionable French queen Marie Antoinette (1755–1793) preferred to wear her own hair, other women added false hair to achieve the desired height or width for their hairstyles. The skill and time needed to create these styles meant that women carefully preserved their styles for several weeks at a time. This practice caused the women to get headaches from having to sleep in awkward positions and also created a perfect environment for lice to grow.

The hairstyles became so large that hairstylists climbed ladders to finish the styles; doorways were heightened to accommodate them; they were banned from the general seating area of theaters because they blocked people's view of the stage; and women were forced to stick their heads out of carriage windows or to sit doubled over because their hair was taller than the carriage roof. These elaborately constructed hairstyles were replaced by the 1790s with less cumbersome masses of curled hair.


Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.

Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. 4th ed. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 2002.

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