Daily Archives: July 8, 2010

Coiffure v. Coiffeur

Easily confused with one another, coiffure and coiffeur have the same letters, only rearranged. Unlike blond and blonde, they have also two distinct meanings, however closely related. 

Coiffure (ending in e) is a hairstyle.  In the latter 18th century we hear the term pouf, a coiffure that refers to the elaborately constructed hairstyle teased over pads with the addition of horsehair for volume and the essential ribbons/decorations to produce towering effects.  Powder is, of course, used. 

Coiffeur, on the other hand, is a male hairdresser.  Marie Antoinette had her favorite, Léonard Autié, the man responsible for the essential Antoinette style – the pouf.  Translated into English in 1909 and full of anecdotal Louis XV and XVI court references, his book, Recollections of Léonard Autié: Hairdresser to Marie Antoinette is available here on google books.


One might say there were as many pouf styles as there were aristocratic women.  Poufs celebrated social and political occasions; one’s love of a collection of items, be they portraits or dogs or whatnot (called pouf au sentiment); the queen with feathers a la reine.  One of Antoinette’s most fondly remember coiffures was the “pouf a la Belle Poule.”  Complete with a model of a frigate at full mast, floating atop curls and powder, it celebrated the triumph of the eponymous French ship over an English vessel Arethuse off the coast of Brest  in 1778.

Middle to Late 18th Century Coiffure Evolution

Notice the difference between Madame de Pompadour’s coiffure in the 1750’s and Marie Antoinette’s in the 1770’s – it’s striking. 

by François Boucher, 1757

Pompadour wears her natural hair closer to her head.  Brushed back from the forehead and temples, the hair is twisted in a small bun at the crown.  The detailing, pearls and ribbons(or in this case, flowers), is simpler than the vast ornamentation displayed in the pouf.


Marie Antoinette by Jacques-Fabien Gautier d’Agoty, 1775

Antoinette first wears the pouf to Louis XVI’s coronation in 1774 and starts a trend of neck-breaking coiffures that only mellows (at least in terms of height) when her fondness for the petite trianon and the queen’s hamlet call for more natural styles.  Instead of tall and ungainly, the coiffure now frizzes from the temples and fat sausage curls cascade down the neck.  In lieu of feathers or figurines, the top of the head is covered with a large  puffy hat secured with a band of ribbon.  


Vigée Le Brun, 1785, Konopiste Castle, Prague

For a great b&w sketches of coiffures worn in France during the 18th century, see americanrevolution.org.  Also worth a looksie is ladyreading.net for a collection of Antoinette portraits through her life.