top of page
  • Madeleine Perham

What was Louis XIV's hair made of?

- Madeleine.

Yes, my elite force of semi-interested pre-teens.

- You know Louis the Fourteenth.


- His hair. Was that really his? Or did he behead everyone who said curls were out of fashion -

- And then use their hair for more wigs -

- Until he was wearing all his enemies’ hair like an evil umbrella -

- Or is he balancing a poodle on his head -

Wigs and their wearers have an immense and excellent history so this post focuses on Louis. First of all: the kids are right, Louis is wearing a wig in all royal paintings from anytime between 1658 and 1678, and the moment his hair began to thin he had forty servants in charge of the royal mane.

Louis wasn't loyal to his wives, but he was certainly loyal to his stylist.

Credit to Frockflicks/Wikimedia Commons

In 1600s England King Charles II started a similar hair trend, which lives on in the mildly majestic King Charles spaniel.

Someone get that dog a crown and a crispy Swan roast asap.

Credit donjd2/CreativeCommons

So what were King Louis' hair-hats made of? His arch-nemeses? Evil poodles?

Louis' wigs were naturally made of the most expensive stuff: human hair. Up to 10 different people would give their hair to one of Louis' wigs. For the poorer folk of Paris, wigs were generally made of animal hair (we know wigs had a huge popularity boost after Louis started wearing them, because the French had wig guilds - official groups of wigmakers - who had rules like, No, You Can't Wear Goat Hair As A Hat, Now Put Down The Shears And Leave Billy Alone).

According to researcher Georgiana Hill, Louis swapped to wigs to hide his balding head/keep him warm in the cold French breezes, but before Louis, wigs were generally worn by courtesans and redheads, or those with a major lice problem. After Louis, they were worn by everyone who wanted to be best mates with the king - the number of wigmakers in Paris shot from 200 in 1673 to 835 in 1765. After all, what better way to buddy up with the king than to chat about wig care - though wigs were rarely washed. Their styles were so intricate, why would you risk it? Except for, you know, the sweat, the stink ... and even more headlice ...

When the French Revolution arrived, years after Louis had spent huge amounts of the French public's money on stylish headgear, wigs were seen as a sign of unnecessary expense and an easy way to be arrested as a rich (and soon-to-be-beheaded) noble. But this was a very late change: even the most revolutionary thinkers still appreciated the fashion - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who lived ten years before the Revolution but created several key ideas like 'who actually wants a king anyway?', wore cheap clothes but kept the wigs. Yes, he was a revolutionary mind, but he still felt curls were classic.

Credit to Wikiwand

So in conclusion, Louis was definitely wearing someone else's hair, and with locks good enough for the king, they would have been paid well enough not to become his arch-enemy.

The poodle-balancing theory is still in contention.

bottom of page