Mantua Madness: Fontanges

I thought I'd do a general post about fontanges before I get to my experiments with making one.  So exactly what is a fontange?  It's that weird tall headdress that you see worn with the mantua from the 1680s to the early 1700s.  If you look through portraits and etchings of the period you can find a wide range of styles from ones look similar to 18th century caps with lappets, wide ruffles, and a (maybe sometimes wired?) scarf to very tall and narrow headdresses with no lappets.  Here are just a few of the many variations:

Femme de qualité en sultane" 1687
Femme de qualité en sultane 1688

Anne de Souvré 1695 
Olympe Mancini 1695
But there are so many more! has a great run down of the multitudes of iterations the fontange takes including the names for the various hair curls, bows and frills.

The only extant fontanges I've found are on dolls at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The first doll's fontange is a circular fabric crown that covers the hair, much like an 18th C cap, with two ruffles of fabric edged in bobbin lace.  The  taller ruffle is held upright by loops of covered wire; there is a smaller ruffle in front of that with a ribbon bow in between.  A ribbon encircles the crown and is tied in a bow behind the tall wired ruffle.

Doll's cap 1690-1700 Victoria & Albert Museum
Doll's cap 1690-1700 Victoria & Albert Museum
The shape of this fontange is face framing, more of a rounded off rectangle.  There are two lappets of lace hanging down just behind the ears. The fabric of the crown and frills is a spotted lawn.

The second doll's fontange is more sheer and much taller and narrower than the other doll's. There is less information on the V&A website about this fontange, but it looks to also be a circular crown with two pleated frills of fabric edged with lace.  There is no obvious wiring holding the taller tier up but it's possible there is a wire in the center back under what looks like the frayed remains of a line of bows.  It's hard to tell but it looks like there are two rows of lappets on this fontange as well, and you can see the frayed remains of a bow in front of the smaller frill right at the hairline.  The fontange appears to be two layers of fabric: a windowpane check and a plain weave lining.  The frills are both pleated with a center box pleat.

Doll, 1680 Victoria & Albert Museum
Doll, 1680 Victoria & Albert Museum
Next up, my fontange experiments.


  1. I have a (vintage) fontage fan, so named because it unfolds to the shape of the 1687 headdress above. Because the side sticks are gradually shorter than the center one it is pretty even when folded.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. And re commented after some proofreading - oops
    I bought it because I loved it without knowing anything about it. At the time I was told it was vintage but your question made me do a little detective work. On the back what I assumed was Miss is actually Mifs Marion Marshall, Portage La Prairie and the price 9.30 frs. The "long s" wasn't used after about 1900 and the historical currency converter puts 9.30 French francs at around $50 Canadian.
    My best guess is that Miss Marshall travelled to Europe around or before 1900 and brought home a lovely and unusual fan as a souvenir.
    Portage la Prairie is a small town in southern Manitoba.


Post a Comment