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A History Of Wigs

September 28, 2018

Tako Phanoraj

History of wigs

When we think of wigs we think of the aristocratic era of European history however the use of wigs stretch back further than that and have been proven to be used since ancient times. In Ancient Egypt as a sign of nobility in most kingdoms, the upper class would shave their heads to prove their aristocracy and also this status proved handy as to stop the infestation of lice and would use wigs to shield and block off the harsh rays of the sun. Wigs were worn in place of headdresses and during special occasions, their headdresses would be adorned elaborately with thin gold plating, coloured ribbon and beads. Wigs were usually black and made from human hair, wool, flax, palm fibres, felt or other materials to keep them sturdy.

However, over time, some royal members would change the wig colour depending on the festivity with dyes; Queen Nefertiti who was quite fashion forward would rock dark blue wigs. By Royal decree and Egyptian law, slaves and servants were prohibited from shaving their heads and wearing wigs. As wigs were known to be prized possessions and had symbolic meaning in regards to status and social ranking, the wigs would be buried with their owner too so as to join them in the afterlife.

Ancient Egytian Art showcasing a wig

In Ancient Rome shaved heads were also common practice to rid the infestation of lice and wigs were made. Real human hair wigs were extremely expensive, but if you had the money and the slaves this would be possible. Natural red-haired slaves were the most expensive due to their rare hair colour. Blonde wigs and Black wigs were more common and would be taken from captive slaves of course and would be decorated and up- styled with discreet wires or have tight ringlets woven into the wig by the use of crude curling irons. And if they wanted to go that extra mile for a special occasion an ornate sprinkle of gold dust would be placed on the hair.

A bust of a Flavian woman with hair styled in Ancient Rome

Heading over to the Eastern part of the world the Orient, the use of wigs were popular in China during the Spring and Autumn period (771-476BC). In Japan, only the upper class would wear such elaborate wigs and this was due to the women with superior ranking in social circles. Wigs were used more for social standing to keep up appearances compared to being used in ceremonial occasions. Japanese women would also use hair extensions to either add-on volume or bulk to keep up with the fashion trends of elongating their hair as this was a sign of supreme beauty during the Heian period (9th- 12h Century). The longer the hair, the prettier and admirable you were. Some women would even have hair longer than their height and with this, to keep their hair clean and from dragging on the floor, a special multi-layered robe called the Junihitoe was worn where the hair would sit on top of the robe with an extended metered long train if need be to save the hair from sweeping the palatial floors.

In Korean civilisations the Gache was used by ladies at court; it was an extremely big and heavy wig that could wear up to 3-4kgs. The trend of wearing the gache was used for centuries up until the eventul banning of it due to religious reasons.

During the modest Middle Ages, wigs were discouraged to be worn out in public and eventually pushed out of fashion during this time due to lack of modesty and what the wig represented. As the wig was noted to be a badge of the devil. Those who wore a wig to church the blessings would remain on the wig and would not penetrate to the wearer.

With the turn of the 15th century, the wig once again came back in fashion within Europe; due to issues of hair loss, the infestation of lice, improving one’s appearance and status once again. King Henry the III of France would wear a curled wig to disguise his thinning hair. Queen Elizabeth the I of England bought the wig trend back in for women, in particular making her natural red flaming hair on trend and tightly curling her wig in the Roman style of tight curls, sparking more women wearing and dying their wigs red to compliment and show support towards her reign.

In the 17th and 18th century men were bringing the trend of wig wearing, predominantly thanks to King Louis the XIII of France who wore his hair down started to use wigs to disguise his prematurely balding head. The trend spread like wildfire throughout Europe and with the aide of his successor, his son King Louis XIV, he would still encourage the fashion necessity and statement piece. The wigs were long, full and curly and would go past their shoulders. However, later on during the 18th-century wigs started to become shorter and neatly styled for men and powdered often with either a white or off-white colour. Women during this time would prefer their hair extremely coiffured and have extensions woven in to add bulk and volume with the addition of light powdering and extreme embellishments to outdo each other with ribbon, fresh flowers, strands of pearls, jewels, ostrich feathers and even miniature figurines of boats and ships.

Rest assured during this time being a wig maker was a sought-after trade as such wigs were expensive to produce. Natural human hair was best but cheaper alternatives where non-human hair was taken from horses and goats. Basically, if you didn’t have a wig back in the day? Who were you?

If you guys loved the historical aspect of this blog please leave me comments down below to let me know if you want more blogs like these.

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