Dating to about 1695, this elaborate lace headdress reflects the height of elite fashion in the final decade of the seventeenth century (fig. 1). The vogue for such headdresses can be traced to about 1680, when Louis XIV’s mistress, Marie Angelique d‘Escorailles de Roussille, Duchesse de Fontanges (1661–1681), introduced a style at court consisting of a simple ribbon tied in a bow and worn on the top of the head (fig. 2). Initially quite modest, within a few years, this headdress, coined the fontange or fontanges, evolved, growing in size and complexity. Successive layers of ribbons and lace edgings were added; as the overall structure increased in height and width, a fabric-covered wire frame or commode was employed to provide support. Ultimately, the term fontanges—once used to refer specifically to the ribbon bow or bows that decorated the hair—came to be used generally to describe the various hairstyles and headdresses characterized by the inclusion of such bows. By the mid-1690s, the bonnet à la fontanges was the coiffure of choice (fig. 3). In this iteration, one or more long panels of lace comprised the tallest part of the headdress, arranged in the form of a tiered tower or pleated like a half-open fan, and held in place with wire and pins. Two long lace lappets extended from the headdress, falling over the shoulders or down the wearer’s back. Behind this lace “crown,” or frelange, ribbons were tied in bows and the hair was pulled back into a chignon and covered by a bonnet. The lace accessory on view in Bard Graduate Center Gallery’s Threads of Power: Lace from the Textilmuseum St. Gallen is an exceptionally rare surviving example of a frelange, and thus offers valuable insight into the fashionable dress of the time. Worn with the mantua, an open gown with the front skirts pulled back into a bustle and revealing an underskirt, this towering edifice further emphasized the vertical silhouette of the 1690s.

Made in the Orne region of France, this linen needle-lace headdress also speaks to the emergence, and subsequent dominance, of the French lace-making industry. In the seventeenth century, lace was an integral fabric accessory and an important status symbol; men and women of the French elite exhibited their wealth, rank, and fashionability by donning exquisite trimmings of Venetian needle or Flemish bobbin lace into their ensembles. In 1665, under the leadership of King Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683), the French government established state-sponsored lace industries in an effort to develop local production and curb the costly imports from Venice and the Southern Netherlands. The new French creations, as described in Colbert’s “Declaration to Establish a Manufacture of All Kinds of Threadwork,” would include both needle and bobbin lace that would be known as points de France. While early examples of needle-lace point de France closely imitated Venetian models, the French lacemakers quickly developed their own style. Abandoning the heavy baroque volutes and sculptural rigidity of the Venetian lace in favor of lighter, more delicate designs, French lace became characterized by subdued floral patterns arranged along vertical axes of symmetry. This lace featured a hexagonal background mesh covered with buttonhole stitches and embellished with tiny projections known as picots. These designs and technical attributes can be observed in this frelange. Small-scale motifs including C- and S-scrolls are arranged between flowers, buds, and rambling leaf tendrils. The motifs on the lappets are axially symmetrical and the mesh background features picots on four sides (fig. 4).

Although state sponsorship of the lace industry ended in 1675, France continued to dominate the lace market until the end of the century and its finely made products remained desirable until the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789. Indeed, French lace proved especially popular in the fourth quarter of the seventeenth century, when new accessories, such as the cravat and the frelange, which required lighter lace that draped more easily and could be ruffled, gathered, and crimped, came into fashion. Thus, in addition to its function as a sartorial ornament, this lace headdress reflected French ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and the importance of luxury textiles to the national economy.


Ariana Bishop
(BGC MA 2022) was a student in Professor Michele Majer’s Threads of Power seminar, offered Fall 2021 in conjunction with the Bard Graduate Center Galley exhibition.
1. Justine De Young, “1690-1699,” FIT Fashion History Timeline, published July 23, 2020,
2. Elizabeth Seaton Davis, “Visualizations of Fashion in Seventeenth-Century French Prints,” (PhD diss., Cornell University, 2012): 232.
3. Daniel Delis Hill, History of World Costume and Fashion (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011), 413.
4. Davis, “Visualizations of Fashion in Seventeenth-Century French Prints, 232-33.
5. Scholars disagree about the usage and meaning of the term frelange. The English diarist, John Evelyn, in his 1690 publication Mundus Muliebris: or the Ladies Dressing-Room Unlock‘d and her toilette spread defines the frelan as “Bonnet and pinner together,” the “bonnet” referring to the soft head covering and the “pinner” likely referring to the French cornette, the edging of lace worn around the face that was fashionable in the late 1670s. Today, many scholars agree with fashion historian Diana de Marly who argues that the terms frelange or frelan describe the raised headdress with lace lappets while the fontanges describe the ribbon bows. Elizabeth Seaton Davis, in her more recently-published dissertation, “Visualizations of Fashion in Seventeenth-Century French Prints,” offers a counter-argument. She explains that the term frelange is actually an English corruption of the French term fontanges. She states, “the word frelange became the acceptable word in English for the lace, ribbon and wire constructions that in France was labeled the fontanges.” John Evelyn, Mundus Muliebris: Or, the Ladies Dressing-Room Unlock’d, and Her Toilette Spread (London: printed for R. Bentley, in Russel-Street in Covent-Garden, 1690), 18. Diana de Marly, “The Vocabulary of the Female Headdress, 1678-1713,” Waffen-und Kostümkunde (1975): 67. Davis, 337.
6. Davis, 262.
7. Denis Bruna, “Lace, an Economic Factor in France during the Reign of Louis XIV,” in Emma Cormack and Michele Majer, eds., Threads of Power: Lace from the Textilmuseum St. Gallen (New York City: Bard Graduate Center and New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2022), 198–99.
8. Ibid.
9. Santina M. Levey, Lace: A History (Leeds, England: Victoria and Albert Museum in association with W. S. Maney & Son Limited, 1983), 37.
10. Bruna, “Lace,” 207.