When the smallpox vaccine was first introduced in the 18th century, not everyone was eager to get inoculated. Many French people were suspicious of the new procedure, which was banned in Paris for five years. But after a celebrated royal inoculation, a new fashion helped advertise vaccination and ease vaccination fears.
Image: King Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Atlantic's Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell relates the fascinating story of the pouf à l'inoculation, a headdress that was made to commemorate the vaccination of King Louis XVI. After King Louis XV died of smallpox in 1774, Louis XVI was determined not to succumb to the same painful fate. So, while the debate over vaccinations was still raging in France, the new king received a smallpox vaccine, as did his two younger brother.
Chrisman-Campbell explains the fashion that followed:
The procedures were a success. The milliners of Paris, attuned to current events that could be translated into quick profits, commemorated the momentous event with an allegorical headdress dubbed the pouf à l'inoculation. Perched atop a woman's powdered and pomaded coiffure, it depicted the serpent of Asclepius, representing medicine; a club, representing conquest; a rising sun, representing the king; and a flowering olive branch, symbolizing the peace and joy resulting from the royal inoculation. In commemorating the royal inoculation, the milliners and their female clients helped to publicize it, and the practice—like the pouf—instantly became all the rage.
Essential, the pouf à l'inoculation was a glam version of the modern "I voted" sticker, and the effect was to not only remind people that the king himself had sat for his vaccine, but also to normalize the idea of vaccines. As the pouf became more fashionable, so too did vaccination.
Head over to the Atlantic to read more about the history of this French fashion and Chrisman-Campbell's thoughts on what we can learn from the pouf when it comes to swaying modern folks who are suspicious of vaccines.
How Fashion Helped Defeat 18th-Century Anti-Vaxxers [The Atlantic]