A Brief History of the Wig: Part III

February 14th, 2013 | Posted by kylep in Real Wigs

short wigsAs we left off last time, the wig had gone from being a virtually unused, archaic accessory to an all but essential part of noble and legal life during the 16th and 17th centuries. As the 18th century dawned, it became fashionable to powder men’s wigs to give them the gravitas associated with white hair. Women occasionally wore wigs during this time as well, but more often, they supplemented their natural hair with extensions and used powder to achieve a grey color. Powdering wigs proved to be a messy and inconvenient practice, however, so men’s wigs were eventually created white to begin with, often from horse hair.

Powdering both wigs and natural hair began to fall out of the fashion as the 19th century approached, and when the British government created a hair powder tax in 1795, it was essentially the death knell of the fashion.

In Versailles, large, elaborate long wigs (like the distinctive “boat pouf”) remained in vogue for women. These overly-ornamental hair styles eventually came to symbolize the decadence of French nobility, and as such, quickly fell out of fashion at the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789.

Meanwhile, men’s wigs became smaller and less elaborate as well, allowing many professions to adopt them as part of their official uniforms. In the Commonwealth, this tradition continues to this day, especially in courts of law where judges and lawyers occasionally still don short wigs in white.

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