In 1781, Marie-Antoinette lost much of her hair after the birth of the dauphin. Famous coiffeur Léonard Autie later claimed that he created for her the coiffure à l’enfant, which she wore, along with her chemise à la Reine, in the famously reviled painting by Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun. Growing interest in what were considered “natural” fashion, brought about by the Enlightenment, created what was a more “natural” style in the 1780s
The hedgehog style was fashionable in the 1780s and 1790s. During 1779-81, the shape of the hair started to become rounder and height began to diminish. This lower form of the pouf tended to be worn with fatter side curls than previously. This became you can see it all the time in Thomas Gainsborough portraits.
This is the very big enormous hair full of curls that seems easily done and wildly styled, The hair was cut shorter to form a large curly or frizzy halo around the head, which was wider than tall. A small hank of much longer hair, either left straight, in ringlets, or braided, hung down the back or was worn looped up. These styles could still be very large, and false hair continued to be used to fill out a woman’s natural hair.
In keeping with this more “natural” look, powdering began to fall out of favour, although it still appears frequently in paintings and fashion plates. Powder fell definitively out of fashion in France with the Revolution of 1789; in England. In keeping with the mood of the period, ornamentation became more restrained, generally a ribbon, or a few feathers, flowers, or jewels.
A bergére was a low crowned, wide-brimmed hat, usually of straw, but sometimes made of other materials covered in silk. Bergére hats first appeared in the 1730s, and were popular in various forms throughout the 18th century.
Bergére literally means shepherdess (the masculine shepherd is a berger), and the style has a strong link with 18th century pastoralism and pastoral fashions.
Bergére hats are also sometimes called milkmaid hats. It’s easy to see how a simple, wide-brimmed straw hat would be a useful part of a shepherdesses or milkmaids costume, protecting the skin from the sun and the eyes from glare.
Even though this particular hat would have been the preserve of the wealthy this style owes itself to the practical attire of the working woman in Georgian Britain.
Straw hats are not something we associate today with status, wealth and craftsmanship yet Bergère were worn by the aristocracy – initially the fashion for straw amongst the European aristocracy was firstly born out of a romantic idealism for the rural existence of the lower classes and secondly the popularity of straw as a material was also due to its practicality and durability against the elements whilst ladies went walking or visiting.
They would be concerned with the high quality of the straw and the quality of the plaiting which is what made the hats expensive at the time. Straw in the eighteenth century was a desirable, and expensive, commodity. The best hats were made of a superior quality straw called Leghorn straw from Tuscany. The straw was carefully plaited by hand. The intricacy of the work demanded skilled labour and this skill was taught in the plaiting schools that sprung up in regions in Britain such as the Midlands, Bedfordshire and Herefordshire. plaiting was the predominantly the work of women and children and considered one of the better paid cottage industries. . Children as young as three were sent to these schools in exchange for a very poor standard of education. Plaiting schools in Britain eventually died out in the late 19th century and this is owing to the Education Act of 1870.
On the Cheap
There were also a type of knock-off Bergere hat – some hats were a plaited material not straw but a cheaper alternative chip made from fine slivers of wood. They also used thick fawn paint and varnish as an early means of weather proofing so it is fashionable and practical.
Decorating my Bergere
To decorate my bergere I looked at paintings and watched a few period films including “Dangerous Liaisons” with Glenn Close, “The Duchess” with Keira Knightly and “Marie Antoinette” with Kirsten Dunst. Although there are original examples found in museums, most are quite delicate.
I bought my pretty bergere from Nehelenia which is an online Germany company who supplies period patterns, fabric, and haberdashery and reproduction accessories. I would certainly recommend them – if you require details I can supply them at the end of my talk.
I have decorated my hat with silk flowers, beading and feathers. I have also included a matching headband created of the purple silk leftover from the petticoat.
In the 18th century nothing went to waste. When ladies made a new gown of silk they used the fabric scraps for bows and various trims to embellish their sleeves, bodices and hats. Underneath, at the top of the crown, two long silk ribbons were attached. These are tied at the back of the head, at the base of the skull, to keep the hat in place on a windy day.
I think this hat is a simple but very attractive item when worn with a simple gown or something more ornate! The style of this hat is very fashionable for its time.
N.B (A nineteenth century version of the bergère hat formed part of the Dolly Varden ensembles popular in the early 1870s, as summed up in Alfred Lee’s novelty song Dolly Varden(published Cleveland, 1872) which contains the lyrics: Have you seen my little girl? She doesn’t wear a bonnet/ She’s got a monstrous flip-flop hat with cherry ribbons on it.)
If you would like to see the items I have mentioned plus an ornate and extravagant Pink Silk Court Gown, a pretty La Reine Chemise and 18th century underwear please come to my talk with costume display – it is called Marie Antoinette and What She wore to the Revolution – I look forward to seeing you there!