When it comes to styling hair and setting trends, the sky is the true limit for women. Since time immemorial, women around the globe have been adopting many attractive, funny, and even weird hairstyles. Whether exciting or uncomfortable, one thing they have in common is that they all leave people talking. The fontange hairstyle is one such exclusive hairstyle that European ladies primarily practiced during the late 17th century. Unfortunately, it faded away almost as quickly as it got popular and set the world abuzz. Here is everything you may want to know about this extinct hairstyle.
What is a Fontange?
‘Fontange’, also known as ‘Frelange’ or ‘Top-Knot’, is one of the most complicated hairdos of all time. In his book ‘The History of World Costume and Fashion’ (2011), Author Daniel Delis Hill describes: “The French fontange, or commode as it was called in England, was a small round or oval cap pinned to the back of the head. Attached to the top of the cap was a tall wire frame over which were arranged tiers of lace, ribbons, cutwork, and linen ruffles.”
On the other hand, the definition given by ‘The Dictionary of Fashion History’ (2010) says, a fontange is: “an indoor linen cap with a small, flat crown behind and a tower of lace or lace and linen frills in front, kept erect by the commode, a tall wireframe.” (1)
A fontange is a considerably high headdress with a half-opened fan-like appearance. In this, the curls are tied with beautifully folded ribbon bows right on the crown. It is again a part of the assembly where the base is created by underpinning a ‘commode’ (a structure formed by wire) and supported by a linen cap adorned with lace or linen frills. The cap is usually worn flat and pinned to the back of the head. (2)
In her book ‘Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style’ (2012), the author Susan Brown writes, “The fontange cap was worn flat at the back of the head, rising up high above the crown in layers of lace and ribbon, often supported by a wire-frame commode.”
Origin of the Fontange Hairstyle
According to medieval French history, the fontange hairstyle was named after Marie Angélique de Scorailles de Roussille, Marquise de Fontange, the Duchesse de Fontange. She was the mistress of King Louis XIV (1638–1715) of France for a short period of time. It is said that this hairstyle was the result of nothing but a ‘hunting accident’.
One day in 1680, while the King and his mistress were returning on a horse from hunting, her hat fell off the head, and her hairdo got ruined. Being embarrassed, she hastily tried to fix her disorderly hair by gathering the curls on top of the head and tying them up at the crown with a ribbon from her outfit. The King liked this hairstyle of her mistress very much and made her opt for this style all the time. So when Marquise de Fontange attended the court by piling up the hair with a hint of a curly fringe, other women started following her right away. Soon the hairstyle with royal approval was imported to England from France, subsequently spreading across the European continent.
The fontange became a high fashion from the late 1600s to the early 1700s and dominated the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King before overwhelming the entire world. The elaborate French hairstyle needs long hair as well as enough time and patience to master it.
How to Create the Fontange Hairstyle?
Here are the simple steps involved in creating a basic fontange hairstyle (3):
- Curl up the hair at the front
- Raise the curls high above the forehead
- Pin the curls to the wireframe (commode)
- Add false curls (Tower or Tour) to the fontange
- Add ribbons and bows to the curls just above the forehead
- Fix a starched linen frill in the front
- Also, fix a starched linen cap underneath the commode
The Fontange à la Sultane is a more fashionable version of the regular Fontange hairstyle. It includes two curly locks hanging from either side of the head with a veil attached to the top of the hairdo.
Evolution of the Fontange Hairstyle
The traditional fontange hairstyle started merely as a simple arrangement of beribboned hair curls at the top of the head with a lace cap worn over it. Then, however, the style transformed a lot to create as high a hair silhouette as possible. Check out below how the fontange became more elaborate and complicated over time (4):
- Initially, women used to make a center bun and many face-framing curls. Gradually, the short curls turned into shoulder-length ones.
- In 1680, the fontange was characterized by center parting with temple-high hair. However, within 10 years, the parting became out of fashion, and all the hair was stacked high by creating several rows of locks.
- Slowly, women started making taller fontanges with tiered wireframe elevations (around 12 inches high) surrounded by curls or tall piles of real hair or false hair extensions.
- Frills or caps with lots of lace, silk, muslin, ribbons, flowers, feathers, etc., were used for decorating the fontange copiously.
- Sometimes, even a shining layer of diamond-headed pins was used as a firmament to enhance the appearance of the fontange.
- Women began to name the arrangement of curls around the commode based on different styles. These include bois, cruches, favorites, crèvecœurs, and so on, which were chosen to match the colors of dresses.
Drawbacks of the Fontange Hairstyle
As the fontange turned taller and more complex over time, its disadvantages started coming to light. Here is what made the hairstyle difficult, annoying, and eventually a fail:
- The extreme height was the biggest drawback of this old-fashioned hairdo. The elevation made it challenging for a woman to balance and secure the pile of hair on her head.
- Preparing the hair for wearing a fontange was also quite cumbersome and time-consuming. The white portions of eggs were applied to the locks for several weeks to make them stiff and keep them in the right place. It smelled terrible as the hair could not be washed during this phase.
- Lots of spray perfumes were also used to ensure that people do not understand the ‘messy’ (smelly) secret of the unique hairdo.
- The fontange was often left on for weeks to avoid the hassle. One needed to sit all night to keep the hairstyle intact.
- The usage of too much starch and too many wires often caused issues like the neck’s heaviness and/or stiffness.
Sometimes, fontanges even became breeding grounds for lice.
All these features of fontange made women frustrated, and the style became out of fashion slowly. However, the practice of this hairstyle may still be found in theme parties.
Fontange includes a considerably high headdress on the crown of the head with curls tied to it with folded ribbon bows. It also consists of a wireframe named ‘commode’, supported by a linen cap adorned with lace or linen frills. Fontange was named after Marquise de Fontange, the mistress of King Louis XIV of France. During a hunting accident, the King saw her mistress in beribboned hair pile with a hint of a curly fringe and got enchanted by it. The royal approval made it a high fashion in no time. The style evolved a lot to create as high a hair silhouette as possible and slowly overwhelmed the entire European continent. However, the annoyingly elaborated hairstyle frustrated women over time, and it eventually became a fail.