“Why do they wear those crazy wigs?”
My son asked me this one night when he came upon me watching the modern-day British legal drama, Silk. Judges and barristers in British courtrooms still wear wigs, continuing a tradition that started hundreds of years ago, when everyone of “quality” wore a wig.
On our recent visit to Colonial Williamsburg, the living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia, we visited the Wig Shop where we learned that the wig-wearing fad started with King Louis XIII of France.
Louis was losing his hair, and in those days, nobility frowned upon the Vin Diesel shaved head look. Manly, virile men were expected to have a full, luxurious head of hair.
And so, the king started wearing wigs, thus setting a new fashion trend, especially among the wealthy.
King Charles II, who lived in exile in France for a time, brought the fashion for wigs back to England when he was restored to the throne.
Four types of hair
Wig makers used four types of hair to create these 18th century wigs: horse, goat, yak, and human. (And I’m not sure which is which in this picture I took at the Wigmaker’s Shop in Colonial Williamsburg.) The most expensive wigs were made from white human hair. Brown wigs were the cheapest.
Today, we wear wigs mostly to cover for hair loss, but in the 17th and 18th centuries, a wig was a showing of wealth. Working people couldn’t afford such luxury.
Hard at work
Here is our colonial wig maker hard at work. She informed us that all the wigs displayed at the top of the post were made at the Colonial Williamsburg wig shop.
Images: All images are the authors except the picture of Louis XIII which is in the public domain.