In today’s world, women sport different hairstyles; some traditional, some interesting, and some radical. In the past, French women who had short hair did it for a reason. What could that reason be?
The Titus cut was a trendy female haircut during the French Revolution. It was inspired by the way executioners chopped the hair of those about to face the guillotine.
French Hairstyles of the 18th Century
The second half of the eighteenth century is notably associated with hair and makeup, which developed into potent symbols of nobility throughout the Enlightenment and French Revolution. France was the era’s fashion leader. (Source: Demode Couture)
The 18th century is primarily linked with wigs, but men predominantly wore these throughout this period. In the 17th century, Wigs were invented when King Louis XIII of France, who had allowed his hair to grow long, experienced early baldness at 23. Courtiers quickly copied the trend, which expanded to England during the reign of Charles II. Specific wig styles became connected with various occupations over time and were thus considered de rigeur for men of the middle and upper classes.
Hairstyles emphasizing height first appeared in the 1760s. This height is frequently shaped like an egg. Huge hair became fashionable in the mid-to-late-1770s. The height of these styles was usually 1 to 1 1/2 times the length of the face, and they were styled in a pyramid shape. (Source: Demode Couture)
During the late years of the French Revolution, many fashionable upper- and middle-class young men and women began cutting their hair short. The Titus hairstyle, or coiffure à la Titus, became popular. (Source: Amusing Planet)
What is the Link Between This Iconic Hairstyle and Ancient Rome?
The unique link between an ancient Roman nobleman and a late-18th-century French hairstyle begins in 1729, with the French Enlightenment writer Voltaire had just finished writing Brutus, a five-act play. The drama is based on the legendary account of Lucius Junius Brutus, who sentenced his son Titus to death for his involvement in a plot to restore the monarchy and restore the ousted king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus to the throne.
Brutus was played on May 30, 1791, the 13th anniversary of Voltaire’s death, at both the royalist Théâtre de la Nation and the rival Théâtre de la République. François-Joseph Talma played Titus. He was dressed in ancient Rome clothing, with a short crop of hair.
Within days of the play, all of Paris’s young people had their hair cut short, à la Titus, or “like Titus.” (Source: Amusing Planet)
The Titus cut was a layered, short haircut. Bangs were left long across the forehead, while the hair in the back was chopped to the top of the neck. (Source: Shannon Selin)
The Titus Cut and the Symbolism Behind It
The Titus cut, despite it becoming a fashion statement à la Titus, also bore a symbolic meaning during the French Revolution.
The French Revolution lasted from 1789 to the late 1790s. It was and continues to be one of France’s most radical revolutions. The rebels were able to change the way their country was run fundamentally. Century-old regimes, such as absolute monarchies, were abolished, which was the first step toward democracy.
At the time, the French people had grown tired of the king, queen, and the rest of France’s aristocrats. Taxes were high, and it appeared as though the money was spent on lavish parties at Versailles rather than on food for the starving citizens. Not to mention that France had recently aided in funding the American Revolutionary War against the British. (Source: Discover Walks)
The guillotine became the principal symbol of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. It was used to execute thousands of people, including King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. And this was when the French started having the Titus cut to show support for those who the guillotine had executed. (Source: Brittanica)
The short hair was intended to resemble how the executioner shaved the hair of revolutionaries approaching the guillotine for the blade to cut neatly through the neck. Short hairstyles were combed up and away from the neck, and the exposed neck was draped in a scarlet ribbon to represent the guillotine victims’ sacrifice. (Source: Encyclopedia)
The guillotine was still used in France long into the twentieth century. However, its use declined in the 1960s and 1970s, with only eight executions between 1965 and 1977. In September 1981, France abolished the death penalty and phased out the use of the guillotine. (Source: Brittanica)