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Fashioning Heads: Valorising Novelty in Eighteenth-Century France

Project description

A closer look at 18th-century French fashion

The 18th century was not only the ‘Age of Reason’, but it was also a period that showed a growing taste for fashion. The fashion trade underwent a major boom, permanently transforming both production and consumption practices. Among the goods subject to the vagaries of fashion, women’s hairstyles stand out for their constant renewal, maintaining the taste for novelty of an increasingly varied public. The EU-funded AXIONOVI project will investigate the innovatory strategies involved in the commercialization of fashionable coiffures, customer practices and the role of government agencies. The findings will be showcased in a recreation of historical coiffures in a fashion museum. This hands-on research methodology, documented in a blog, will provide insight into how these hairstyles were produced.


This research investigates innovatory practices and the importance of novelty in eighteenth-century France by considering the specific case of fashion in women’s coiffures. At the crossroads of cultural and material history, it will examine how the search for novelty governed the coiffures trade and how these practices contributed to shape the concept of novelty, at a crucial moment when it became a core attribute of modernity. By focussing on the innovatory strategies of the different actors involved in the creation and the commercialisation of fashionable coiffures, the research will attempt for the first time to map a field, which is still uncharted despite its importance during the Ancien Régime. Drawing on a wide range of primary sources, from merchants’ account books to fashion plates and advertisements, and combining different historiographical approaches, this project will shed light on the relations between merchants in different trades, fashion journal editors, customers and government agencies. The investigation will also address the importance of novelty in global trade and foreign imaginaries, by analysing the relationship between economic and symbolic conceptions of value. This undertaking will reassess the role of fashion in the culture and economy of eighteenth-century France: through new archival research it aims to re-connect fashion with the wider philosophical and economic reflexion on the notion of novelty in the Ancien Régime The project also includes a practical component through the recreation of historical coiffures in a fashion museum. This hands-on research methodology, documented in a blog, will not only offer a better understanding of how these hairstyles were made, but it will also reflect on the utility of re-creation both in historical research and in museum exhibitions. Thus, this investigation will propose an embodied critical reflexion on the value of novelty, a timely attempt to address an issue in urgent need of historicization.


Net EU contribution
€ 175 673,28
50014 Fiesole

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Centro (IT) Toscana Firenze
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 175 673,28