Toupee: Wikis


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A toupée (pronounced too-pay) is a hairpiece or partial wig of natural or synthetic hair worn to cover partial baldness or for theatrical purposes. While toupées and hairpieces are typically associated with male wearers, some women also use hairpieces to lengthen existing hair, or cover partially exposed scalp. The desire to wear hairpieces is a response to a long-standing bias against balding that crosses cultures, dating to at least 3100 BC. Toupée manufacturer's financial results indicate that toupée use is an overall decline, due in part to alternative methods for dealing with baldness, and to greater cultural acceptance of the condition.


Toupées and wigs

While most toupées are small and designed to cover bald spots at the top and back of the head, large toupées are not unknown..

Toupées are often referred to as "hairpieces", "units", or "hair systems" by those seeking to avoid the negative connotations that the word "toupée" conjures up. Many women now wear hairpieces rather than full wigs if their hair loss is confined to the top and crown of their heads.

It has been stated that many men often know they are fooling no one with the use of the toupée, but that the bias in Western culture against baldness is so strong that they feel the need to have hair on their heads. Unfortunately, in their desire for their baldness to be unnoticed, toupée wearers often become noticed for their toupées. Modern hair systems however, have advanced to the stage where they can be undetectable to the naked eye (especially lace systems) - and so go unnoticed, where only cheap alternatives only ever becoming obvious.

Origin of the word

According to various sources referenced by[1], toupée is related to the French words "top," or "tuft;" tuft as the curl or lock of hair at the top of the head, not necessarily relating to covering baldness. Toupée is related to the diminutive toupe more recently (as of the 17th century). [2][3]

History of toupées

An engraving of Julius Caesar showing both pattern baldness and signature wreath, which he used to cover his scalp.[4]

While wigs have a very long and somewhat traceable history, the origin of the "toupée" is more difficult to define, but one can reasonably infer that the first toupée was a piece of hair, worn on the head, with the intention of deceiving the viewer into believing the hair was natural, rather than a wig worn for decorative or ceremonial purposes.


Toupée use and attitudes in ancient history

The desire for men to wear hairpieces is a response to a long-standing cultural bias against balding men that crosses cultures. Between 1 BC and AD 1, the Roman poet Ovid wrote Ars Amatoria ("The Art of Love") in which he expressed “Ugly are hornless bulls, a field without grass is an eyesore, So is a tree without leaves, so is a head without hair.”[5] Another example of this bias, in a later and different culture, can be found in The Arabian Nights, circa AD 800-900, in which the female character Scheherazade asks "Is there anything more ugly in the world than a man beardless and bald as an artichoke?" [6]

The earliest known example of a toupée was found in a tomb[7] near the ancient Predynastic capital of Egypt, Hierakonpolis. The tomb and its contents date to (ca. 32003100 BC.)

At least two ancient Greek statues of men wearing toupées survive today, one identified as a Capitoline type, presently located in Thorvaldsens Museum in Copenhagen. [8]

Julius Caesar is known to have worn a toupée. In dismay at his pattern baldness, he tried both wearing a toupée, and shaving his head. [9] Some state that he wore his trademark ceremonial wreath to disguise his shrinking hairline. [10] Roman men of the era were also known to paint their bald heads to appear to have locks of hair. [11]

Toupées in the 19th century

In the United States, toupée use (as opposed to wigs) grew in the 1800s. One researcher has noted that this is in part due to a shift in perceptions over the perceived value of aging that occurred at that time. Men chose to attempt to appear younger, and toupées were one method used.

...since 1800, the U.S. Census generally shows far more 39-year-olds than 40-year-olds. Furthermore, the costume of men switched from a design clearly intended to make the young look older to one that was clearly intended to make the old look younger. For example, this era saw the decline of the wig and the rise of the toupée. [12]

Toupées in the 20th century

By the 1950s, it was estimated that over 350,000 U.S. men wore hair pieces, out of a potential 15 million wearers. Toupée manufacturers helped to build credibility for their product starting in 1954, when several makers advertised hair pieces in major magazines and newspapers, with successful results. Key to the promotion and acceptance of Toupées was improved toupée craftsmanship, pioneered by Max Factor. Factor's toupées were carefully made and almost invisible, with each strand of hair sewed to a piece of fine flesh-colored lace, and in a variety of long and short hairstyles. Factor, also a Hollywood Makeup innovator, was the supplier of choice for most Hollywood actors. [13]

By 1959, total U.S. sales were estimated by Time Magazine to be $15 million a year. Sears-Roebuck, which had sold Toupées as early as 1900 via its mail order catalog, tried to tap into the market by sending out 30,000 special catalogs by direct mail to a targeted list, advertising "career winning" hair products manufactured by Joseph Fleischer & Co., a respected wig manufacturer.[14] Toupées continued to be advertised in print, likely with heavier media buys (Advertising media selection) taking place in magazines with the appropriate male demographic. A typical "advertorial" can be found in Modern Mechanix.

By 1970, Time Magazine estimated that in the U.S., toupées were worn by more than 2.5 million men out of 17 - 20 million balding men. The increase was chalked up once again to further improvements in hairpiece technology, a desire to seem more youthful, and the long hairstyles that were increasingly in fashion. [15]

Toupées in the 21st century

Toupée and wig manufacture is no longer centered in the U.S., but in Asia.[16] Aderans, a firm owned by Steel Partners (a fund run by Warren Lichtenstein) based in Japan, is one of the world’s largest wigmakers, with 35% share of the Japanese domestic market.

From 2002-2004, new orders from Aderans’s male customers (both domestic and international) slipped by 30%. Researchers at both the Daiwa Institute and Nomura Research - two key Japanese economic research institutes - conclude that there is “no sign of a recovery” for the toupée industry. [17] Sales for male wearers have continued to fall at Aderans in every year since [18].

These numbers confirm the media consensus [19] hypothesis that toupée use is an overall decline. No reliable sources have stated numbers for the estimated population of toupée users in the U.S. or internationally, so comparisons to past eras are difficult to make with any accuracy. Regardless, hairpiece manufacturers and retailers continue to market their goods in print, on television, and on the internet[20].

Toupée manufacture

Toupées are often custom made to the needs of the wearer, and can be manufactured using either synthetic or human hair. Toupées are usually held to one's head using an adhesive, but the cheaper versions often merely use an elastic band.

Toupée manufacture is often done at the local level by a craftsman, but large wig manufacturers also produce toupées. Both individuals and large firms have constantly innovated to produce better quality toupées and toupée material, with over 60 patents for toupées.[21] and over 260 for hairpieces [22] filed at the U.S. Patent Office since 1790.

Interestingly the first patent for a toupée was filed in 1921, while the first patent for a "hairpiece", was filed in 1956[23]. One may reasonably speculate, based upon the date of the first hairpiece patent and the fact that over 400% as many patents have been filed using the term "hairpiece", that the word "toupée" carries a relatively poor brand image, that the word "hairpiece" lacks, or does not share fully.

Hair weaves

Hair weaves are a technique in which the toupée's base is then woven into whatever natural hair the wearer retains. While this (it is often promised) results in a less detectable toupée, the wearer can experience discomfort, and sometimes hair loss from frequently retightening of the weave as one's own hair grows. After about six months a person can begin to lose hair permanently along the weave area, resulting in traction alopecia. Hair weaves were very popular in the 1980s & 1990s, but are not usually recommended because of the potential for permanent hair damage and hair loss.

Toupée use and maintenance

While toupée dealers attempt to match the toupée's color to the natural hair color of the wearer, sometimes the colors are not identical. This color mismatch is often exacerbated when a toupée is poorly cared for and fades, or the wearer's hair color turns gray while the toupée retains its original color.

While toupée dealers and manufacturers usually advertise their products showing men swimming, water-skiing and enjoying watersports, these activities can often cause irreversible wear to the toupée. Saltwater and chlorine can cause a toupée to "wear out" quickly. Many shampoos and soaps will damage toupée fibers, which unlike natural hair, cannot grow back or replace themselves.

While dealers of toupées can in fact help many customers to care for their toupées and make their presence virtually undetectable, the hairpieces must be of very high quality to begin with, carefully fit and maintained regularly and carefully. Even the best-cared-for toupée will need to be replaced on a regular basis, due to wear and, over time, to the growing areas of baldness on the wearer's head and changes in shade to remaining hair. Some recommend that if one chooses to use a toupée, three should be owned at any one time - one to wear while its counterpart is being cleaned, and a spare.

Alternatives to toupées

Men typically wear toupées after resorting to less extreme methods of coverage. The first tactic is to make remaining hair appear thick and widespread through a combover. Other alternatives include:

Medications and medical procedures

Propecia, Rogaine and other pharmaceutical remedies were approved for treatment of Alopecia by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the 1990s. These have proven capable of regrowing or sustaining existing hair at least part of the time.

However, hair transplantation, which guarantees at least some immediate results, has often replaced the use of toupées among those who can afford them, particularly onscreen celebrities.

Baldness as fashion, acceptance of hair loss

Other trends leading to the decline in toupée use include a rise in acceptance of baldness by those men afflicted with it. Short haircuts, in fashion since the 1990s, have tended to minimize the appearance of baldness, and many balding men choose to shave their heads entirely - a trend sparked in part by famous male pattern baldness sufferer Michael Jordan.

Toupées, chemotherapy, and injury

An important exception to the typical reasons for wearing a toupée is that recovering chemotherapy patients sometimes wear toupées. This type of hairpiece is technically referred to as a hair prosthesis. A positive self-image has often been said to assist in the recovery process, and doctors often help direct recovering patients to find hairpieces to help project their usual healthy appearance. This effort is particularly made when the recovering patient is a child, or a woman.

Another exception is that if a person's head has been damaged by an accident, or through a surgical procedure, the victim or patient may wish to conceal scarring. Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band wore a toupée in his role on The Sopranos to cover scarring he had received after a car accident several years prior. While performing onstage, and in his personal life, Van Zandt favors a bandanna.

There are at least four charities that specialize in providing hairpieces for children that have lost hair due to Chemotherapy, medical treatment or head injury:

Toupées in popular culture

Toupées have a long and often humorous history in Western culture. The toupée is a regular butt of jokes in many media, with a typical toupée joke focusing on the wearer's inability to recognize how ineffective the toupée is in concealing his baldness. An early instance of "toupée humor" was an illustration by George Cruikshank in "The Comic Almanack" in 1837, in which he drew the effect of a strong wind, with a man's toupée whipped from his head.[24]

In the 20th century, toupées were a source of humour in virtually all forms of media, including cartoons, films, radio and television. In the 21st century, toupées continue to be a source for humor, with a variety of internet sites devoted to toupées, with a special emphasis on suspected celebrity hairpiece wearers.


Thadeus Stevens, famed 19th century U.S. Congressman and abolitionist, was known for his humor and wit. On one occasion while in the Capitol, a woman requested a lock of his hair (collecting locks of hair was common at this time). Since he was bald and wearing a toupée, he ripped it off and gave it to her. [25]

J. Hamilton Lewis, US Congressman and US Senator from Illinois, was famous for his old fashioned dress and "wavy pink toupée" in the US Senate of the 1930s. [26]


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

In Chapter 21, the Schoolmaster - a minor antagonist in the book, and a taskmaster that drove his students - is made the object of fun during a School presentation. With all in town present, the Schoolmaster - unsteady from an evening of sneaking alcohol - is attempting to draw a map of the US on the chalkboard. From above him in the attic, a cat is being slowly lowered through a trapdoor directly above his head. As soon as the cat can reach it, the cat snags the schoolmaster’s toupée, revealing his bald head.


Toupées have been a source for humor since the early days of cinema, in part due to the lack of sound and the strong visual componenent in any "loss of toupée humor". Some notable examples include:

Harold's Toupée[27]

A 1913 black and white silent film starring Louis Simon, a silent film comedian.

Safety Last

Harold Lloyd's classic 1923 film includes a sequence in which a mouse crawls up the leg of Lloyd's trousers while he dangles from the outside of a building, sending him into contortions. When he finally shakes it out, the mouse falls down the wall of the building and in the process removes a toupée from a spectator peering out of a lower window.

Laurel and Hardy Short Subjects

Laurel and Hardy did not make a particular film devoted to toupée humor, but it was included in many of their films in the 1920s and 1930s. Their frequent supporting actor, Jimmy Finlayson, would often make an appearance wearing an outrageous mustache or humorously obvious toupée. [28]

The Wings of Eagles

Notable for being the only film in which John Wayne intentionally showed his naturally balding head. After Wake of the Red Witch (1948), John Wayne wore a toupée for every film, with the exception of later scenes of The Wings of Eagles (1957), in which he played Frank Wead, (aka Spig Wead) a naval aviation pioneer and screenwriter. In the World War II-era scenes, the older Spig Wead has a noticeably bald head - Wayne's own. In both The Fighting Kentuckian (1949) and North to Alaska (1960), Wayne's hairpiece is knocked off during a fight scene, unnoticed until after each film's release. A similar occurrence happens in The Quiet Man, only this time Wayne's cap falls off after a punch, and he's not wearing his rug underneath. Wayne never denied wearing a hairpiece and during the Harvard Hasty Pudding Club roast of him he answered a student's question about his "phony hair with the reply "It's not phony. It's real hair. Of course, it's not mine, but it's real." [29]

An Everlasting Piece

A 2000 comedy with dramatic elements, set in Belfast in the 1980s. It features a pair of door-to-door toupée salesmen - one Catholic, one Protestant. The pair build an unlikely business and friendship, and a book of customers on both sides of the conflict.


Jack Benny made himself the butt of many jokes on his radio show, including jokes about his cheapness and his toupée. In fact, he only wore a hairpiece for certain character roles in films, but he recognized the laugh value and since it was radio, no one could tell he wasn't wearing one.

George Burns also admitted that he wore a toupée on his radio show with Gracie Allen but it was not played up on the show except when the joke called for it.

Ron Santo, the color commentator for Chicago Cubs radio broadcasts, wears a toupée, and often jokes about it with his on-air partner Pat Hughes, hinting that he has different toupées for different occasions. They also refer to incidents such as Santo leaving a toupée in his hotel room, or when he accidentally scorched his toupée by standing near an overhead heater at Shea Stadium.


TV comedy writers often resort to the toupée as a joke involving episodes involving blind dates, television personalities, vanity or all three. Typical scenarios involve either the wearer having a "sudden embarrassing reveal" or "obliviously not realizing his toupée is missing or askew." Notable, and more creative, uses of the toupée for TV comedy include:

The Dick Van Dyke Show

Toupées were perhaps most famously used for comedy in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Episode 128 "Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth”. During the episode, Mary Tyler Moore, playing the part of Laura Petrie, wife of Rob Petrie played by Dick Van Dyke accidentally reveals to a television audience that Rob's boss, the famous television comedian Alan Brady, played by Carl Reiner, wears a toupée. This running gag about Alan Brady's toupée on The Dick Van Dyke Show was based on Max Liebman, the producer of Your Show of Shows (1950), who also wore a toupée.[30]

Monty Python's Flying Circus

Episode 41 of Monty Python's Flying Circus, which first aired on November 7, 1974, featured a skit named "Toupée Department" in which all the employees of the store are wearing atrocious toupées, but none of them realize that their fellow employees are bald. (They all think they're the only one wearing a toupée.) When Eric Idle walks in with a full head of real hair, they all believe he is wearing a toupée and try to convince him to buy a better one.


In Season 6, Episode 99 of Seinfeld, "The Scofflaw", George Costanza wears a toupée for the first time. In Episode 102, "The Beard", George wears his toupée to a date set up by Cosmo Kramer, only to find that the woman, Denise, is bald. When he turns her down and tells Elaine about it, she yells "YOU'RE BALD!" to George, who replies "I was bald". Elaine then tears the toupée from George's head and throws it out the window, with George nearly jumping out after it. Later, George decides to continue seeing Denise, who after realizing George is bald, turns him down. Jason Alexander, the actor portraying Costanza, wore a small toupée for his part as the agent Albert J. Peterson in the 1995 TV movie of Bye Bye Birdie.[31]


It was revealed that Sam Malone wore a toupée over the bald spot on the back of his head, in the episode called "It's Lonely at the Top."

The Sopranos

The Sopranos used toupées for dark humor twice during the run of the series. First during Season Two, in Do Not Resuscitate, when Tony has the Director of the "Green Grove" retirement community whacked, and the State Trooper coming across the crime scene finds the toupée before the body. Second, during Season Four, in Whoever Did This, when Ralph Cifaretto's toupée slips off his dismembered head.


In Season One, mobster Alphonse Giardella, a nemesis of NYPD Detective Andy Sipowicz is seen wearing a Toupee. Sipowicz frequently points out Giardella's "rug" and is seen violently removing it from his head during a drunken assault against the mobster following a dismissed case in court (brought on by Sipowicz's harassment of the mobster). Giardella's wig would be removed two more times when Sipowicz would throw a plant pot at him and during his murder when rival mobsters gunned him down for his role in testifying to United States' Attorneys.

Wheel of Fortune

At the end of the April 1, 2008 episode, Pat Sajak says to Vanna White that he "lives the lie" and wears a toupée. She thinks he is kidding and he dares her to rip it off his head. After much hesitation, she does and Pat is shown with a shaved head. He then makes a reference to Howie Mandel of Deal or No Deal. Whether this was the truth or an "April Fool's" joke (i.e. Pat shaved his head or put a skin-colored scalp mask over his hair while putting a very large toupée on) is not known.

Spitting Image

Puppets of Paul Daniels and his wig with a life of its own were often featured on Spitting Image.[32] On his own website, Daniels says that he laughed at the sketches and used his wig humorously in his own work.[33]

Golden Girls

A Toupée would often be the joke when talking to Dorothy Zbornak's ex-husband, Stan Zbornak. Sophia Petrillo used to tease Stan all the time about his Toupée.


Songs and Albums featuring toupées are rather rare, but include:

Known and deceased toupée wearers

Wearers of toupées take pains to keep their use secret, but all too often, its presence is obvious, or at least evident enough to engender suspicion. Film and television stars of both past and present often wear toupées for professional reasons, particularly as they begin to age and need to maintain the image their fans have become accustomed to. However, many of these same celebrities go "uncovered" when not working or making public appearances.

This list is presented for illustrative purposes, to show the prevalence of toupée use throughout history: it is not intended to mock the wearers. Due to sensitivities regarding the living, only deceased, publicly known (and often, self-admitted) toupée wearers, are listed here. These include:


  1. ^ toupee - Definitions from
  2. ^ "toupee." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 13 Aug. 2007. <>.
  3. ^ "toupee." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 13 Aug. 2007. <>.
  4. ^ Looking Good: Male Body Image in Modern America; by Lynne Luciano'Hill and Wang; (January 9, 2002)
  5. ^ The Love Books of Ovid Index
  6. ^ NYTimes Book Review of "Looking Good";
  7. ^ "The Ancient Near East", Amelie Kuhrt;Routledge (September 1995)
  8. ^ "Ancient Greek Portrait Sculpture: Contexts, Subjects, and Styles", Sheila Dillon, Cambridge University Press 2006
  9. ^ Change and Permanence in Men's Clothes A. Hyatt Mayor The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 8, No. 9 (May, 1950), pp. 262-269 doi:10.2307/3257422
  10. ^ a b Looking Good: Male Body Image in Modern America; by Lynne Luciano'Hill and Wang; (January 9, 2002)
  11. ^ ibid
  13. ^ Glamour For Sale,Time Magazine,Aug 23, 1954;,9171,823544-2,00.html
  14. ^ Proper Toppers, Time Magazine, Mar 30, 1959;,9171,892460,00.html?iid=chix-sphere
  15. ^ "Rugs and Plugs", Time Magazine, June 10, 1970;,9171,909329,00.html
  16. ^ "Bald Truth brings Wig Slump to Head", The Times,Sep 18 2004;
  17. ^ "Bald Truth brings Wig Slump to Head", The Times,Sep 18 2004;
  18. ^ Aderans Financial Reports, Sales by Products, available at
  19. ^ "Bald Truth brings Wig Slump to Head", The Times,Sep 18 2004;
  20. ^ Hair-Necessities;
  21. ^ Patent Database Search Results: toupee in US Patent Collection
  22. ^ Patent Database Search Results: hairpiece in US Patent Collection
  23. ^ ibid
  24. ^ Cruikshank, Thackeray and the Victorian Eclipse of Satire
  25. ^ Trefousse, Hans L. Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian (1997)
  26. ^ McCullough, David: Truman. Simon and Schuster, New York, New York. 1992. P. 214
  27. ^ Harold's Toupee (1914)
  28. ^ Charley Chase
  29. ^ John Wayne (I) - Biography
  30. ^ Sitcoms Online - The Dick Van Dyke Show
  31. ^ Bye Bye Birdie (TV Movie - 1995) | TV Review | Entertainment Weekly
  32. ^ Interview: Paul Daniels | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited
  33. ^ Paul Daniels - Setting the Record Straight Page 2
  34. ^
  35. ^ Theatre in the Fifties
  36. ^ Sans Toupée in The Sunshine Boys and Two of a Kind
  37. ^ Howard Cosell Dies at 77
  38. ^ "Bing to Bataan" Time Magazine,Feb. 09, 1942;,9171,777621,00.html
  39. ^ Bobby Darin - Biography
  40. ^
  41. ^ My Three Sons
  42. ^
  43. ^ Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Warner Books. (1998).
  44. ^ Movie Reviews, Showtimes and Trailers - Movies - New York Times
  45. ^ James Stewart (I) - Biography
  46. ^ The Wings of Eagles


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