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Cheeky Actress

How to make a Late 17th Century Fontange/Fontage

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The Fontange or Fontage is a very unique headdress of the 17th Century. From 1690–1710, originating in France then making its’ way to England by the early 1690s.

A fontange was a lady's headdress named after Marie Angélique de Scorailles de Roussille, duchesse de Fontanges (1661–1681), mistress of Louis XIV of France and worn by women of the late 17th century and early 18th century. It is said that the Duchess tied her hair up with a ribbon after losing her cap while horseback riding. The king liked the look and it soon became fashionable.

Though this fad started around 1680, when relatively low, ribbon-trimmed caps appeared (e.g. the "fontange à la sultane", worn with a veil), it reached its height in the 1690s with very high towers of lace, and degraded both in height and popularity until about 1710.

It is well known though, that Louis XIV, for all his absolutistic dictatorship, did not succeed in abolishing this hairstyle, no matter what he did or threatened with. The King was not in favour of such excess, but while he himself had sparked the fashion, it grew up beyond his power to command.

Its popularity only waned in the 2nd decade of the 18th century, when all the lines and looks of fashioned changed towards the Rococo anyway.

The terminology is a tad bit confusing where the Fontange is concerned, as some authors/writers refer to it as the cap of that period, others for the hairstyle or combination of both. The use of commode/coiffure is also used.

As for the terminology of the commode and coiffure, many sources are not in agreement. Some state that the commode means a cap, while coiffure could denominate either the cap or the combination of the cap and its accompanying hairstyle. As the English "head of lace" usually referred to the cap.

The next two paragraphs describe the Fontange/Commode in detail. Note the height of each one.

In the appearance of the Fontange, or commode as it became known in England, was a striking note in women's ever-changing attire. Tiers of lace, rising to the height of twelve inches, were fastened one above the other on a wire frame covered with a thin silk such as "tiffany," and set well forward on the head. The hair was parted in the middle, forming small curls over the temples called "confidents," and then drawn into a knot on the crown of the head behind the commode, with long curls falling over one shoulder. High lace caps were also worn with falls of lace each side of the face.

It was a framework of cap wire about half a yard in height, divided into tiers and positively covered with bands of muslin, ribbons, flowers, chenille, and upstanding aigrettes. To each tier of the structure names were given such as the Duke, the duchess, the Capuchin, the Solitary One, the Asparagus, the Cabbage, the Cat, the Organ Pipe, the First or Second Sky and the Mouse. The last a little bow of "nonpareil" fixed in the fringe of crisply waving hair that was arranged below the curled "fontange."

Again, other source use the term commode for the high hairstyle which appeared at the same time as the Fontange, yet, the term as also been used to a bum roll (rump). It is quite possible that period terminology/slang for this item indecisive.

Depending on the decade you are researching, the commode, if we agree that it refers to a cap, could take on just about any shape or size. At the beginning of the 1690 the lace-surmounted cap, which we now refer to as a Fontange.

Edited by Cheeky Actress

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It said page not found... Maybe this?

Thanks for the how too, it's fabulous! =)

Edited by LadyBrower

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Yes, Lady Bower...that it tis!

There are other blogs related to this topic. Please make sure you check those out too!

** I just realized that you have to be a member of the site to view this blog. If that be the case, I will post the topic here.**

Edited by Cheeky Actress

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From the 1690s and into the early 18th century, the Fontange/Fontage was the choice of headdress for the middle-sort and court lady. We have examples of such items in paintings of famous gentry, engravings of ladies in every day affairs, and even a fashion doll (The Old Pretender) which is on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London (see previous blog page).

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These exquisitely high, narrow towers of lace and linen were so high on its base of fluffed up natural hair and hair extensions, that the ladies' heads looked as if they were rather in the middle of the person than on top of the figure! By the end of the 17th century the Fontange took over the palissade form and style; wide and forward-tilted.

To construction the Fontange of the 1690, you will need the following materials:

• Unbleached white linen for the foundation – (light weight linen works the best - 2.8 oz.);

• Measuring tape;

• Millenary wire (16 gauge Rayon Wrapped Hat Wire Hat);

• Horse hair braid;

• Thin white ribbon for lacing cap;

• Scissor, pliers, and wire cutters;

• A steam iron;

• Cardboard or Kraft paper for a template/pattern;

• 100 percent cotton lace for trimming edges of the layers (no poly-plastic lace please);

• 1- ½ inch (or wider) 100% cotton lace for the long cornets which will flow down the nape of the neck/back (optional); and

• Starch, Sizing Spray or Fabric Stiffener /Draping Liquid.

Now that you have your materials, you need to decide on what kind of Fontange you wish to make. There are several different styles to choose from. There is the round style fontange and the one I like to call 'the Sky-Scraper' which is more of a narrow tower.

Here is an example of a towering High Court Fontage:

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Today, I will be making a round, fan style Fontange.

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There are two parts to this headdress: 1) the Fan-like tower that makes the Fontage; and 2) the bag or hair-bag, which you gather your hair into a bun.

The Fontage can be created from light-weight to medium-weight linen (28. to 3.5), lace (cotton or cotton blend), satin ribbon or a combination of linen and lace.

First, you will need to measure your head in order to get the correct fit for your Fontage and round bag. With a measuring tape you will need to measure; 1. From one ear – measuring over the top of your head - to the other ear; 2. From the center of the top of your head to the back nape of your neck; and 3. Measuring from the bottom of one ear lobe –crossing over the back of your skull (the nape) to the bottom of the other ear. These three (3) measurements will help with the size of the 'bag' and the size of the Fontage.

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By using measurements from step 2 & 3, make a pattern of your round bag and increase it by 2-inches. Cut out the round bag. On the round bag, sew a casing strip - approx. 1-inch wide all round the bag. You can use a strip of linen or binding tape. The casing opening can be located at the top or the bottom of the bag. Either way will work when putting on your Fontage. Place this aside for now.

The Fontage itself is supported by wire and fabric, which helps to hold the fan-like hat erect from behind. To make the Fontage, make a pattern from measurement 1, and how high you want your Frontage. Looking at etchings from the time period (1690s), I have noticed that most of designs are several layers of linen incorporated into one. Therefore, I will join two (2) of them together. I have decided that the maximum height for this one will be 12 inches. Making a pattern from the width of your head (ear-to-ear) and the desired height, you will need to add 2 inches on each side for seam allowance.

Next, trim off the top edge of your Fontage with your lace of choice. Remember, cotton lace looks much better and take fabric stiffener (I will get to that shortly), much better than on the poly-plastic type-trim.

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After you finish trimming the outer edge of your Fontage, take both 6-inch Fontanges and layer them together as one. A good guide would be to find thr center for both then stagger a measurement of approximately 3 inches (from the top of the lace to the bottom of the second layer) and pin it together for sewing.

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Once you sew them together, trim off the extra fabric from the center or 'headband' area.

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Next….the pleating! You will need to make sure that you do a center box pleat first. Using an iron and a little spray starch, press your pleats into place. You will then sew your pleats into place at the bottom. You may wish to do this by hand or machine. Either way, you want to make sure that the bottom of your pleats are secure.

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With the pleated fabric Fontage done, now you can incorporate the millenary wire into the Fontage. Cut six (6) to eight (8) lengths of millenary wire long enough to fit behind each of the folds of your Fontage minus 1-inch. Taking each piece of millenary wire, bend over both edges so the ends are rounded and tuck them into the fold of your Fontage pleat. Sew each wire into each fold until the whole Fontage is completed. Make sure to hide the wires in the pleated folds of the linen Fontage. This takes a bit of time. I make sure I tack down the pleat once the wire support is in place.

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The 'headband' area can be covered with a two-inch wide piece of linen or lace to hide the mechanics of the pleating. To help make sure that your Fontange stays on your head, take a piece of 'horse-hair braid' and sew it to the headband - long enough for it to go ear-to-ear. This is a great trick for securing the Fontage into your hair/wig/fall/rat with bobbie-pins. Now attach your Fontage bag to the headband by sewing it to the linen strip, being careful not to catch the drawstring in the process.

This is the 'sticky' part. Apply 'fabric stiffener' spray to both sides of the Fontange. There are several types of this item on the market. Though you may purchase heavy starch for this task, I have found that spray starch it not as reliable as fabric stiffener.

This product you can find at any craft store in the glue area. This stuff is wonderful. Spray it on both sides of your Fontange until it is completely saturated and leave to dry over night. I like to hang mine on a door knob. It helps keep the pleated fan straight while it dries.

Now you have your Fontage any Middle Sort Woman or Court Lady would be proud to wear!

Edited by Cheeky Actress

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Yes, Lady Bower...that it tis!

There are other blogs related to this topic. Please make sure you check those out too!

** I just realized that you have to be a member of the site to view this blog. If that be the case, I will post the topic here.**

Yea Cheeky, one does have to be a member to view anything including blogs on Living History Worldwide... I'm still not sure how I feel about it... On one hand it keep the whole system very re-enactor focussed, on the other hand, it makes it hard to share info from there with re-enactors who don't feel like signing up for yet another social network...

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Here is the completed round Fontange/Fontage I did for Haunting Lily Alexander.

I do hope she's pleased with the finished product! ;)

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OOOOOH Pretty!

So what is appropriate to wear with this? Would my red outfit be OK? Or do I need something fancier to pull it off? (you know, if I want to play princess for a day....)

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So what is appropriate to wear with this? Would my red outfit be OK? Or do I need something fancier to pull it off? (you know, if I want to play princess for a day....)

These are good questions, LadyBrower.

Women of the new 'middle-class' also known as the 'middle-sort', would wear such things. Depending on the years you protray (1680s? 1690s? or later 1710?) would all depend upon the look and height of your Fontange/Fontage.

I would say 'yes' to the red stays/mantua that you made. If you would like, a fancy stomacher would dress up the look of your red stays and mantua so you could pass as a 'Lady' of position...thus, a more elaborate Fontange/Fontage would also be something to think about.

Once you make a fancy court gown, a grand Fontange/Fontage would be best for that look.

It's all up to you...have fun with it!

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Thank you! I think the little one there is very pretty. =) I was thinking about making a nicer stomacher too, I will have to do that now.

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I was at Joanne's today and found the horsehair braid stuff....linen....they had some cotton (mostly blends) lace....no wire....and then I couldn't remember what color linen I was going to make it....duh.

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I was at Joanne's today and found the horsehair braid stuff....linen....they had some cotton (mostly blends) lace....no wire....and then I couldn't remember what color linen I was going to make it....duh.

The wire I used was millinery wire from Farthingales. I purchased a coil of 16 gauge wire. This, of course, is much more than you need for one project, but check the web, I am sure they sell this in smaller amounts.

Hat Wire

Kate,

As far as colour of linen. Stick with whites/unbleached or optic. It will go with everything!

Edited by Cheeky Actress

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Where these made in colors other than white? (I'm making mine in white once I get the wire) I'm just curious...

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Now that's a good question. Those examples which have been found (the Old Pretender Fashion Doll for one), have been white (off-white/unbleached) linen. I do not know if they did or not?

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I'm working on my fontage now... It's well... Um... we'll see what happens.

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