History of Wigs

The word wig is short for Periwig and first appeared in the English language around 1675.

Wigs have been worn throughout history and not just as a fashion item. Looking through history we can see that wigs were worn to demonstrate wealth and importance as well as having a more practical purpose as protection against cold and rain. Wigs were even worn in wars to impress the enemy!

The ancient Egyptians wore them to shield their hairless heads from the sun and for ceremonial occasions.

In the 16th century a wig would have been worn as a means of compensating for hair loss or improving one's personal appearance. They also served a practical purpose: the unhygienic conditions of the time meant that hair attracted head lice, a problem that could be much reduced if natural hair were shaved and replaced with a more easily de-loused artificial hairpiece.

Queen Elizabeth I of England famously wore a red wig, tightly and elaborately curled in a "Roman" style and King Louis XIII of France pioneered wig-wearing among men from the 1620s onwards.

Periwigs for men were introduced into the English-speaking world when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660. The wigs worn at this time were shoulder-length or longer, imitating the long hair that had become fashionable among men since the 1620s. Their use soon became popular in the English court.

With wigs becoming virtually obligatory garb for men of virtually any significant social rank, wigmakers gained considerable prestige. A wig-makers' guild was established in France in 1665, a development soon copied elsewhere in Europe. Their job was a skilled one as 17th century wigs were extraordinarily elaborate, covering the back and shoulders and flowing down the chest; they were extremely heavy and often uncomfortable to wear. Such wigs were expensive to produce. The best examples were made from natural human hair. The hair of horses and goats were often used as a cheaper alternative.

In the 18th century, wigs were powdered in order to give them their distinctive white or off-white colour. Wig powder was occasionally coloured violet, blue, pink or yellow.

By the 1780s, young men were setting a fashion trend by lightly powdering their natural hair. After 1790, both wigs and powder were reserved for older more conservative men, and were in use by ladies being presented at court. In 1795, the English government levied a tax of hair powder of one guinea per year. This tax effectively caused the demise of both the fashion for wigs and powder by 1800.

At the beginning of the 20th Century more freely arranged hairpieces were being used. In the 1920’s, short hair cuts became fashionable and the trend for wigs almost disappeared overnight until the 1960’s when the hairpiece as a fashion item became a must and were not being sold in just specialised shops but also in department stores. The strong demand for wigs led to mass manufacture and the development and production of synthetic hair.

Now in the 21st Century there is still a need for wigs and hairpieces for reasons such as; hair loss due to a medical reason; fashion, with a growing trend for hair extensions; parties, and religious requirements.