By the mid 1780s, the towering Georgian headdresses that had been so popular in the earlier decade were slowly being replaced by less lofty creations. It was also during this time that hairstyles became wider and loaded with curls. The front portion of the hair was often styled away from the face and the top portion of the hair was either crimped, frizzed, or curled. The lower portion of the hair was usually arranged in cascading ringlets or large curls that sometimes flowed to the waist and added a note of carelessness to the overall arrangement. Marie Antoinette’s friend and confidante was princess Marie Thérèse of Savoy. She was better known as the princesse de Lamballe. She wore a style similar to the Lamballe Headdress created by the French hairdresser Henri de Bysterveld, illustrated to the right.
One reason the towering Georgian headdresses declined slowly had to do with the expectation that women should still appear in court wearing them. This meant in the early portion of the 1780s women continued to embellish their hairstyles with anything and everything. Decorations included vegetables, lace, ribbons, pearls, feathers, and sometimes even baskets of fruit or bunches of flowers. For instance, in the 1872 journal of Frances Burney (better known as the English novelist Madame d’Arblay), Burney describes a friend’s head as being “full of feathers, flowers, jewels and gewgaws, and as high as Lady Archer’s.”
Eventually the more outlandish decorations gave way to colossal hats, as shown in the drawing of the straw hat of 1790. These giant hats, with their wide brims and stiff crowns, were usually worn either straight on or at formidable angles. Adding to the stunning eye-popping effect were plumes of large ostrich feathers that were often dyed to match the hat’s color. A prime example of such a hat, and one that created a torrid sensation throughout Europe, is shown to the right and was worn by the celebrated beauty Georgina Cavendish, better known as the Duchess of Devonshire. She created it herself and wore the ostrich-feather and black-brimmed creation when she was painted by the well-known artist Thomas Gainsborough in 1785. When the painting was hung at the Royal Academy, women dashed to their hat-makers demanding similar hats, and Gainsborough’s painting became thereafter known as the ‘portrait’ or ‘picture’ hat.
- Burney, Fanny, Diary and Letters of Madame d’Arblay, 1842
- Henri de Bysterveld, Album de Coiffures Historiques, (Paris), 1864