The Evolution of Wigs: A brief hair-story on how it all began

Do you ever wonder how wigs began?

Who even started it and how it actually looked like in the past?

Were coloured or ombre type of wigs a thing in the past, as well?

In this article, we’ll be walking you down on memory lane as we talk about the origins of wigs before it started slaying the fashion and beauty industry that we all come to love today.

WIGS IN ANCIENT TIMES

It all started in the Old Ancient Egypt where men and women were known to have shaved heads for comfort because of the scorching hot weather in the Egyptian desert. In addition to that, some report, it is said that infestation of lice was a major problem during that time. Apparently, the only way to solve these problems was to shave all of their hair off. However, in absence of hair, they have come up with an alternate solution which led to the creating of wigs. They might have shaved their hair for the sake of comfort, yet they needed an alternative to not only protect their bald heads, but also to look aesthetically appealing, as well. It has become a daily wear for Egyptians. Not only that, wigs have become as a way to indicate a person’s status and their role in the society or politics. For women, their wigs are mostly adorned with braids and gold, hair-rings and some ornaments with precious stones making it more fashionable than men’s wigs. Additionally, those with higher ranks could afford wigs made from human hair, wool, and there were some which were made of silver. In due course, the more elaborate-looking the wigs were the higher their social rank is.

Here are some examples of ancient wigs:

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From Wikipedia: Ushabti of a Concubine; nude except for jewellery and a heavy wig. Painted wood, Middle Kingdom of Egypt
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From Wikipedia: Egyptian couple wearing formal wigs of the 4th or 5th dynasty
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From Wikipedia: Wig Headdress, Wari People, 600–1000 CE, Brooklyn Museum

There were also other ancient civilizations who wore wigs aside from Ancient Egyptians. The  Greeks, Romans, Assyrians, and the Phoenicians were among reported of the early use of wigs. The Romans, for one, were known to wear wigs which the hair was made from slaves. Similarly, wealthy Roman women have also adorned their wigs with hairpieces to make it more aesthetically appealing of their hairstyles.

Contrastingly, the citizens of the eastern ancient civilization, such as China, Korea and Japan, rarely wore wigs unless if one is an actor in a traditional theatre such as Noh or Kabuki. For women, if they are a geisha (Japan) or a kisaeng (Korea).

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From Wikipedia: Noh —derived from the Sino-Japanese word for “skill” or “talent”—is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century.

Unfortunately, during the Middle Ages, there has been a decline of the usage of wigs due to difficult living situations. Not only that, because of Christian influences, wigs were discouraged as it is said to be connected with the devil. Additionally, women were ordered to have their head covered, therefore, rendering wigs useless during that time. However, as the Middle Ages has slowly come to an end, more and more people have started to use wigs for fashion and beauty which became a big deal in society.

WIGS IN 16TH and 17TH CENTURIES

It is reported that one of the main reasons why wigs became popular again was because of royal patronage. One notable figure was Queen Elizabeth I of England who was known for donning a red wig with tight and elaborate curls. With that striking do, no wonder a lot of women in all classes and ages wanted to cop her look.

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Queen Elizabeth I of England
Image via http://uploads.neatorama.com/

Another prominent figure was King Louis XIII of France who went prematurely bald, therefore, has decided to use wigs. As reported, he was considered to be one of the pioneers of wig-wearing in 1624. Consequently, his son and successor; Louis XIV of England, followed suit and was responsible for promoting this trend across the European and European-influenced countries.

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King Louis XIII of France
image via https://d3d00swyhr67nd.cloudfront.net/
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Louis XIV of France
image via http://images1.fanpop.com/

In the same century, the moment that perukes or periwigs were introduced to the English-speaking world, it became an immediate hit among gentlemen and even affluent households have required their butlers and coachmen to wear them.  Peruke is a kind of wig with long hair and curls on the sides and back. It was Charles II of England responsible for the popularity of periwigs.

Due to the popularity of wigs, wigmakers have also gained prestige. Because of this, a wigmaker’s guild was established in France in 1665. This was also copied all across Europe. A wigmaker required great skills as wigs were extremely elaborate and long, which usually falls around the back, shoulder, and chest. In this regard, these kinds of wigs were tremendously heavy and uncomfortable to wear. In addition to that, they were also quite expensive as they’ve used natural hair. If one chooses to buy a cheaper one, then these kinds of wigs were usually made hair of horses and goats.

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image via http://images.mentalfloss.com/
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Charles II of England
image via https://upload.wikimedia.org/

WIGS IN 18TH CENTURY

Men during this century have continued wearing periwigs, however, powdered to give them their distinctive white or off-white look. On the hand, women have opted not to wear wigs, but a coiffure that uses mostly artificial hair or other types of hair from different sources. In contrast to men, women have powdered their hair grey. These wig powder was made from starch which are normally scented with different kinds of flowers or herbs such as lavender. It also had different kinds of colours like pink or yellow, but most people would opt for white or off-white.

These kinds of wigs have become essential to any social gathering. As mentioned earlier, the more elaborate and intricate the hairstyles are, the higher the rank he or she has in the society.

Of course, the usage of powder also has its drawbacks as it was messy and inconvenient. Not only that, at that time they have started taxing these wigs making it more expensive not only to the common people but nobility as well. In addition to that, there were also some reports that have mentioned that there has been a shortage of flour and starch therefore cannot produce any more bread due to the high demand of these ingredients for wig powder. That is why they have decided to produce more white or off-white wigs that require no application of powder. Only those older and more conservative gentlemen and ladies continued to use powder wigs.

Elaborate and themed wigs have also become popular during this century. One trendy style during that time were the distinctive “poufs” and were quite popular among women.  It was usually styled with such complexity that it would take hours to finish one look. They were also very heavy and added a lot of ornaments. This was to show status in French nobility.

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From Wikipedia: Marie Antoinette wearing the distinctive pouf style coiffure: her own natural hair
is extended on the top with an artificial hairpiece.
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image via https://tiarasandtrianon.files.wordpress.com/

On the other hand, men’s wigs became smaller and shorter. They have mainly used these wigs as an inclusion of their official uniforms. Bishops, judges, and senior barristers were among the types of men who would wear their signature wigs in formal ceremonies.

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From Wikipedia: Charles-Alexandre de Calonne by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun(1784), London, Royal Collection.
The Vicomte de Calonne is shown wearing a powdered wig; the powder that has fallen from the wig is visible on his shoulders.

WIGS IN 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES

During this time, there has been a decline in the usage of wigs. Most people no longer use them as a symbol of rank and power. However, there were some notable people in the United States, four presidents, had worn wigs to continue the tradition of the 18th century; but with the exception of George Washington; as he had worn his own long hair instead of a wig.

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The first U.S. President, George Washington
image via https://www.thefamouspeople.com/

It’s a different story for women, as it was recorded that there was a fast decline in the popularity of wigs among them. Mostly older women, specifically those who had started to lose their hair, would don a wig. However, during the late nineteenth and around early twentieth century, postiches became widely popular. A postiche is a smaller and shorter wig that is usually curled are used to attached to hairstyles giving it an elaborate look without going through a lot of inconveniences when it comes to styling women’s hair.

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image via https://i.pinimg.com/
History-of-Wigs
image via https://i.pinimg.com/

Unfortunately, as time went by, women have chosen for a much shorter hairstyle therefore it came to no surprise that it has complete went out of fashion during this century. By the time it became obsolete, synthetic wigs were introduced in the market making it more affordable for everyone. Reid-Meridith was known as the first company to be able to sell a lot with this kind of wig accommodating different kinds of clients from men to women, young or old.

History-of-Wigs
image via http://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/

WIGS IN MODERN TIMES

Nowadays, wigs have become tremendously popular.  Dolly Parton, Sia, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Cher, just to name a few, are some of the people have contributed to its popularity. Cher, specifically, was known to be sporting different kinds of wigs in her 40 years and more in the show business. She was actually known for her sophisticated and striking wigs.

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image via http://www.hairlosshell.com/

Speaking of striking, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry would probably be two of the people who have definitely pushed the trend of coloured wigs, showcasing elaborate and fun wigs in their music videos or even when they perform live.

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Katy Perry and Lady Gaga
image via https://www.fuse.tv/

On a serious note, in British court, courtroom wigs and robes are still worn by judges and British lawyers although it is less ornate. Additionally, courtroom wigs are mostly worn during criminal cases.

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The British Court
image via http://host.urbo.com/

Going back, unlike before, wigs are not being donned to show economic status, but as a means to show one’s individuality. Take Drag Queens, for example. Wigs are a necessary means for them to complete their transformation, donning different kinds of wigs for different looks and occasion.

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Trixie Mattel and Katya
image via https://www.billboard.com/

In retrospect, wigs have indeed come a long way over the years. It is quite interesting to know how wigs have started and their uses. It had started as a stamp for social and financial ranks and status in the community in some parts of the world. Perhaps for the reason that it would be able to bring the right attention to the wearer. Or it was simply out of the sense of comfort. Regardless, wigs gave definitely served its purpose for different people.

In addition to that, wigs have transformed tremendously aesthetic-wise. For centuries, books have recorded and mentioned the evolution of wigs. Consequently, wigs have definitely made an impact in everyone’s lives noting its significance and importance. Even citizens of lower ranks were no exception, as they too, have shown their fascination in this trend.

Now that it’s already 2018, wigs popularity have continued to keep its popularity spot. With millennials, we are sure to be looking forward to styles they can come up with that we can cop.

Be ready to have your weave snatched and let the magic unfold before your eyes. With wigs, of course.

 

 

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