Wig: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A wig.
Modern wigs on display.

A wig is a head of hair made from horsehair, human hair, wool, feathers, buffalo hair, or synthetic, worn on the head for fashion or various other aesthetic and stylistic reasons, including cultural and religious observance. The industry choice, however, is yak hair, which is not only inexpensive, but close in consistency and appearance to human hair as well. [1] The word wig is short for periwig and first appeared in the English language around 1675.

Some people wear wigs to disguise the fact that they are bald; a wig may be used as a less intrusive and less expensive alternative to therapies for restoring hair. Wigs may also be used as a cosmetic accessory, sometimes in a religious context. Actors, on the other hand often wear costume wigs in order to better portray a character.



Wigs 17th century
Nicolas de Vermont
Queen Elizabeth I, pictured in 1588.

The ancient Egyptians wore them to shield their shaved, hairless heads from the sun. Other ancient cultures, including the Assyrians,[2] Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, also used wigs. Wigs are principally a Western form of dress—in the Far East they have rarely been used except in the traditional theatre of China and Japan. Some East Asian entertainers (Japanese Geisha, Korean Kisaeng) wore wigs (Katsura and gache respectively) as part of their traditional costumes. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the use of wigs fell into abeyance in the West for a thousand years until revived in the 16th century 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. Fur hoods were also used in a similar preventative fashion.

Royal patronage was crucial to the revival of the wig.[citation needed] Queen Elizabeth I of England famously wore a red wig, tightly and elaborately curled in a "Roman" style while King Louis XIII of France (1601-1643) and King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) pioneered wig-wearing among men from the 1620s onwards. Perukes or periwigs for men were introduced into the English-speaking world with other French styles when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, following a lengthy exile in France. These wigs 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. The London diarist Samuel Pepys recorded the day in 1665 that a barber had shaved his head and that he tried on his new periwig for the first time, but in a year of plague he was uneasy about wearing it:

"3rd September 1665: Up, and put on my coloured silk suit, very fine, and my new periwig, bought a good while since, but darst not wear it because the plague was in Westminster when I bought it. And it is a wonder what will be the fashion after the plague is done as to periwigs, for nobody will dare to buy any haire for fear of the infection? that it had been cut off the heads of people dead of the plague."

Wigs were not without other drawbacks, as Pepys noted on 27 March 1667:

"I did go to the Swan; and there sent for Jervas my old periwig-maker and he did bring me a periwig; but it was full of nits, so as I was troubled to see it (it being his old fault) and did send him to make it clean."

With wigs virtually obligatory garb for men of virtually any significant social rank, wigmakers gained considerable prestige. A wigmakers' 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; not surprisingly, they were also 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 was often used as a cheaper alternative.

The Vicomte de Calonne is shown wearing a powdered wig; the powder that has fallen from the wig is visible on his shoulders.

In the 18th century, men's wigs were powdered in order to give them their distinctive white or off-white color. Contrary to popular belief, women in the 18th century did not wear wigs, but wore a coiffure supplemented by artificial hair, or hair from other sources. Women mainly powdered their hair grey, or blue-ish grey, and from the 1770s onwards never bright white like men. Wig powder was made from finely ground starch that was scented with orange flower, lavender, or orris root. Wig powder was occasionally colored violet, blue, pink or yellow, but was most often used as off-white. Powdered wigs (men) and powdered natural hair with supplemental hairpieces (women) became an essential for full dress occasions and continued in use until almost the end of the 18th century. The elaborate form of wigs worn at the coronation of George III in 1761 was lampooned by William Hogarth in his engraving Five Orders of Periwigs. Powdering wigs and extensions was messy and inconvenient, and the development of the naturally white or off-white powderless wig (made of horsehair) for men is no doubt what has made the retention of wigs in everyday court dress a practical possibility. By the 1780s, young men were setting a fashion trend by lightly powdering their natural hair, as women had already done from the 1770s onwards. Often they would use their own hair and not a wig. After 1790, both wigs and powder were reserved for older, more conservative men, and were in use by ladies being presented at court. After 1790 women hardly powdered their hair anymore. In 1795, the English government levied a tax on hair powder of one guinea per year. This tax effectively caused the demise of both the fashion for wigs and powder by 1800.[citation needed]

Marie Antoinette wearing the distinctive pouf style coiffure: her own natural hair is extended on the top with an artificial hairpiece.

Among women in the French court of Versailles in the mid-to-late 18th century, large, elaborate and often themed (such as the stereotypical "boat poufs") were in vogue for women. These combed-up hair extensions were often very heavy, weighted down with pomades, powders, and other ornamentation. In the late 18th century these coiffures (along with many other indulgences in court life) became symbolic of the decadence of the French nobility, which helped to fuel the French Revolution[citation needed] (although its influence is highly exaggerated).

During the 18th century, men's wigs became smaller and more formal with several professions adopting them as part of their official costumes. This tradition survives in a few legal systems. They are routinely worn in various countries of the Commonwealth. Until 1823, bishops of the Church of England and Church of Ireland wore ceremonial wigs. The wigs worn by barristers are in the style favoured in the late eighteenth century. Judges' wigs are, in everyday use as court dress, short like barristers' wigs (although in a slightly different style) but for ceremonial occasions judges and also senior barristers (QCs) wear full-bottomed wigs.[citation needed]

The wearing of wigs as a symbol of social status was largely abandoned in the newly created United States and France by the start of the 19th century, although it persisted a little longer in the United Kingdom.

Women's wigs developed in a somewhat different way. They were worn from the 18th century onwards—although at first only surreptitiously—and full wigs in the 19th and early 20th century were not fashionable. They were often worn by old ladies who had lost their hair. In the film Mr. Skeffington (1944), when Bette Davis has to wear a wig after a bout of diphtheria, it is a moment of pathos and a symbol of her frailty.[citation needed]

Military Wigs

From the late 17th to early 19th Centuries, European armies wore uniforms more or less imitating the civilian fashions of the time, but with militarized additions. As part of that uniform, officers wore wigs more suited to the drawing rooms of Europe than its battlefields. The late 17th Century saw officers wearing full-bottomed natural-coloured wigs, but the civilian change to shorter, powdered styles with pigtails in the early 18th Century saw officers adopting similar styles. The elaborate, over-sized court-styles of the late 18th Century were not followed by armies in the field however, as they were impractical to withstand the rigours of military life and simpler wigs were worn.

Whilst officers normally wore their own hair short under a powdered wig, the rank and file of the infantry were not afforded such luxury. Instead of wigs, the men grew their hair long and according to the prevailing fashion in a nation’s army, hair was either allowed to grow long with simple modeling, as in the French army of the 1740’s, or else was elaborately coiffured as in Prussian and British armies. In the case of British soldiers of the 1740’s, contemporary artwork suggests that they cut their hair short, which was not the case. Instead, the men used tallow or other fat to grease the hair, which was then fashioned into pigtails and tied back into the scalp hair to give the impression of short hair. It was then liberally dusted with powdered chalk to give the impression of a powdered wig. Later in the century, hair was likewise tied back, greased and powdered, but false hair pigtails were adopted, kept in a tubular queue and tied back with ribbons to the soldier’s own hair. The overall effect was that of a wig with a long tail and bow. The Prussian army took personal hairstyles to an extreme during the time of Frederick The Great, each soldier commonly having a long pigtail hanging down the back nearly to waist level.

By contrast, in the 1780’s Russian General Potemkin abhorred the tight uniforms and uncomfortable wigs and powdered coiffures worn by his soldiers and instigated a complete revision of both. As well as comfortable, practical, well fitting uniforms, his reforms introduced neat, natural hairstyles for all, with no wigs, powder and grease or hair-tying evident.

Formal military hairstyles lasted until beyond the end of the 18th Century and it was the French Revolution which spelled the end of wigs and powdered, greased hairstyles in modern, Western armies. However, powdered hair and pigtails made a brief return during Napoleon’s reign, being worn by infantry of his Foot Grenadiers and Foot Chasseurs of the Old Guard and the Horse Grenadiers of the Guard.

Current usage

Colourful wigs for costume parties

In Britain and most Commonwealth nations, special wigs are also worn by barristers, judges, and certain parliamentary and municipal or civic officials as a symbol of the office. The original purpose of the legal wig was said to provide a form of anonymity and safety (i.e. disguise)[3]. Today, Hong Kong barristers and judges continue to wear wigs as part of court dress as an influence from their former jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Nations. In July 2007, judges in New South Wales, Australia voted to discontinue to wearing of wigs in the NSW Court of Appeal. [4] New Zealand lawyers and judges have ceased to wear wigs except for special ceremonial occasions such as openings of Parliament or the calling of newly qualified barristers to the bar.

A number of celebrities, including Dolly Parton and Raquel Welch have popularized wigs. Cher has worn all kinds of wigs in the last 40 years- from blonde to black, and curly to straight. They may also be worn for fun as part of fancy dress (costume wearing), when they can be of outlandish colour or made from tinsel. They are quite common at Halloween, when "rubber wigs" (solid bald cap-like hats, shaped like hair), are sold at some stores.

Orthodox Jewish religious law (Halakha) requires married women to cover their hair for reasons of modesty. Some women wear wigs, known as sheitels, for this purpose.

Wigs are used in film, theater, and television. In the film and television genre Jidaigeki, wigs are used extensively to alter the cast's hair styles to reflect the Edo Period when most stories take place. Only a few actors starring in big-budgeted films and television series will grow their hair so that it may be cut to the appropriate hair style, and forgo using a wig.

Today, wigs are worn by some people on a daily or occasional basis in everyday life. This is sometimes done for reasons of convenience, since wigs can be styled ahead of time. They are also worn by individuals who are experiencing hair loss due to medical reasons (most commonly cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy or those who are suffering from alopecia areata).

Another use seen in modern day society is for men who crossdress as women, wigs are used to make the men have more feminine hair in all sorts of styles.

A common form of wig that has resurfaced since pre-historic times is the Native American Indian Chieftain's headpiece. Although some public commentators would classify this as a 'simple headpiece', denoting said garment as anything other than a wig is extremely insulting and grossly inaccurate in the context of wig literature. It is widely accepted amongst wig scholars that the chieftain's headpiece is a wig.


Historical reenactment of wig making in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.

There are two methods of attaching hair to wigs. The first and oldest is to weave the root ends of the hair onto a warp of three silk threads to form a sort of fringe called a "weft". The wefts are then sewn to a foundation made of net or other material. In modern times, the wefts can also be made with a specially adapted sewing machine, reducing the amount of hand labour involved. In the 19th century another method came into use. A small hook called a "ventilating needle", similar to the tambour hooks used for decorating fabric with chain-stitch embroidery at that period, is used to knot a few strands of hair at a time directly to a suitable foundation material. This newer method produces a lighter and more natural looking wig. High quality custom wigs, and those used for film and theatrical productions are usually done this way. It is also possible to combine the two techniques, using weft for the main part of the wig and ventilating hair at the edges and partings to give a fine finish.


Making custom wigs starts with measuring the subject's head. The natural hair is arranged in flat curls against the head as the various measurements are taken. It is often helpful to make a pattern from layers of transparent adhesive tape applied over a piece of plastic wrap, on which the natural hairline can be traced accurately. These measurements are then transferred to the "block", a wooden or cork-stuffed canvas form the same size and shape as the client's head. [5][6]


Depending on the style of the wig, a foundation is made of net or other material, different sizes and textures of mesh being used for different parts of the wig. The edges and other places might be trimmed and reinforced with a narrow ribbon called "galloon". Sometimes flesh colored silk or synthetic material is applied where it will show through the hair at crown and partings, and small bones or elastic are inserted to make the wig fit securely. Theatrical, and some fine custom wigs have a fine, flesh colored net called "hair lace" at the front which is very inconspicuous in wear and allows the hair to look as if it is coming directly from the skin underneath. These are usually referred to as "lace front wigs".[7]

Hair preparation

Natural hair, either human or from an animal such as a goat or yak, must be carefully sorted so that the direction of growth is maintained, root to root, and point to point. Because of the scale-like structure of the cortex of a hair shaft, if some hairs get turned the wrong way, they will ride backwards against their neighbors and cause tangles and matting. The highest quality of hair has never been bleached or colored, and has been carefully sorted to insure the direction is correct. For less expensive wigs, this labour intensive sorting process is substituted for by "processing" the hair. It is treated with a strongly base solution which partially dissolves the cortex leaving the strands smooth, It is then bleached and dyed to the required shade and given a synthetic resin finish which partially restores the strength and luster of the now damaged hair. Synthetic fiber, of course, is simply manufactured in the required colors, and has no direction. The wigmaker will choose the type, length and colors of hair required by the design of the wig and blend them by pulling the hair through the upright teeth of a brush-like tool called a "hackle" which also removes tangles and any short or broken strands. The hair is placed on one of a pair of short-bristled brushes called "drawing brushes" with the root ends extending over one edge, and the second brush is pressed down on top of it so that a few strands can be withdrawn at a time, leaving the rest undisturbed.[7]

Adding the Hair

Weft structured wigs can have the wefts sewn to the foundation by hand, while it is on the block or, as is common with mass produced wigs, sewn to a ready-made base by skilled sewing machine operators. Ventilated (hand knotted) wigs have the hair knotted directly to the foundation, a few strands at a time while the foundation is fastened to the block. With the hair folded over the finger, the wigmaker pulls a loop of hair under the mesh, then moves the hook forward to catch both sides of the loop. The ends are pulled through the loop and the knot is tightened for a "single knot", or a second loop is pulled though the first before finishing for a "double knot". Typically, the bulkier but more secure double knot is used over the majority of the wig and the less obvious single knot at the edges and parting areas. A skilled wigmaker will consider the number of strands of hair used and the direction of each knot to give the most natural effect possible.[8]


At this point, the hair on the wig is all the same length. The wig must be styled into the desired form in much the same manner as a regular stylist.[6]


The subject's natural hair is again knotted tightly against the head and the wig is applied. Any remaining superfluous wiglace is trimmed away. Hairpins can be used to secure the lace to the hair and occasionally, skin-safe adhesives are used to adhere the wig against bald skin and to better hide any exposed lace. Finishing touches are done to the hair styling to achieve the desired effect.[6]

Notable wig designers

  • Nina Lawson, ran the Metropolitan Opera wig department from 1956 to 1987. Some African American enslaved people became barbers for the white men and powdered masters wigs as well.

Notable wig wearers

See also

External links

Sister projects


  1. ^ http://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/34899/costume_wigs___let_them_go_to_your_head/costume_wigs___let_them_go_to_your_head.html
  2. ^ Dumuzid and Jectin-ana
  3. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/jan/05/law.ukcrime
  4. ^ Woolly headed? Not this verdict - National - smh.com.au
  5. ^ "The Art and Craft of Hairdressing", Wolters.
  6. ^ a b c "Wigs". How It's Made. Discovery Channel Canada. No. 71, season 6.
  7. ^ a b "The Art and Craft of Hairdressing" Wolters
  8. ^ "The Art and Craft of Hairdressing" ed. N.E.B. Wolters, The New Era Publishing Company, Ltd. London, 1963

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

WIG (short for " periwig," an alternative form of " peruke," Fr. perruque; cf. Span. peluca; conjecturally derived from Lat. piles), an artificial head of hair, worn as a personal adornment, disguise or symbol of office. The custom of wearing wigs is of great antiquity. If, as seems probable, the curious headcovering of a prehistoric ivory carving of a female head found by M. Piette in the cave of Brassempouy in the Landes represents a wig (see Ray Lankester, Science from an Easy Chair, fig. 7) the fashion is certainly some ioo,000 years old. In historic times, wigs were worn among the Egyptians as a royal and official head-dress, and specimens of these have been recovered from mummies. In Greece they were used by both men and women, the most common name being rnvi ri or OEViucn, sometimes lrpoKOµeov or Kbuac irpbv6Eroc. A reference in Xenophon (Cyr. i. 3. 2) to the false hair worn by Cyrus's grandfather " as is customary among the Medes," and also a story in Aristotle (Oecon. 4.14), would suggest that wigs were introduced from Persia, and were in use in Asia Minor. Another origin is suggested by Athenaeus (xii. 523), who says that the Iapygian immigrants into Italy from Crete were the first to wear srpoKbµca irepdkret, and the elaborately frizzled hair worn by some of the figures in the frescoes found at Cnossus makes it probable that the wearing of artificial hair was known to the Cretans. Lucian, in the 2nd century, mentions wigs of both men and women as a matter of course (Alex. 59, Dial. mer. i i). The theatrical wig was also in use in Greece, the various comic and tragic masks having hair suited to the character represented. A. E. Haigh (Attic Theatre, pp. 221, 239) refers to the black hair and beard of the tyrant, the fair curls of the youthful hero, and the red hair characteristic of the dishonest slave of comedy. These conventions appear to have been handed on to the Roman theatre.

At Rome wigs came into use certainly in the early days of the empire. They were also known to the Carthaginians; Polybius (iii. 78) says that Hannibal used wigs as a means of disguise. The fashionable ladies of Rome were much addicted to false hair, and we learn from Ovid, Amores, i. 14.45) and Martial (v. 68) that the golden hair imported from Germany was most favoured. Juvenal (vi. 120) shows us Messalina assuming a yellow wig for her visits to places of ill-fame, and the scholiast on the passage says that the yellow wig was characteristic of courtesans. The chief names for wigs were galerus, galericulum, corymbium, capillamentum, caliendrum, or even comae emptae, &c. Galerus meant in the first place a skull-cap, or coif, fastening under the chin, and made of hide or fur, worn by peasants, athletes and flamines. The first men's wigs then would have been tight fur caps simulating hair, which would naturally suggest wigs of false hair. Otho wore a wig (Suetonius, Otho § 12), which could not be distinguished from real hair, while Nero (Dio Cass. lxi. 9) wore a wig as a disguise, and Heliogabalus also wore one at times (ibid. lxxix. 13). Women continued to have wigs of different colours as part of their ordinary wardrobe, and Faustina, wife of Marcus Aurelius, is said to have had several hundred. An amusing development of this is occasionally found in portrait busts, e.g. that of Plautilla in the Louvre, in which the hair is made movable, so that by changing the wig of the statue from time to time it should never be out of fashion.

The Fathers of the Church violently attacked the custom of wearing wigs, Tertullian (De cultu fem. C. 7) being particularly eloquent against them, but that they did not succeed in stamping out the custom was proved by the finding of an auburn wig in the grave of a Christian woman in the cemetery of St Cyriacus. In 672 a synod of Constantinople forbade the wearing of artificial hair.

Artificial hair has presumably always been worn by women when the fashion required abundant locks. Thus, with the development of elaborate coiffures in the 16th century, the wearing of false hair became prevalent among ladies in Europe; Queen Elizabeth had eighty attires of false hair, and Mary queen of Scots was also in the habit of varying the attires of hair she wore. The periwig of the 16th century, however, merely simulated real hair, either as an adornment or to supply the defects of nature. It was not till the 17th century that the peruke was worn as a distinctive feature of costume. The fashion started in France. In 1620 the abbe La Riviere appeared at the court of Louis XIII. in a periwig made to simulate long fair hair, and four years later the king himself, prematurely bald, also adopted one and thus set the fashion. Louis XIV., who was proud of his abundant hair, did not wear a wig till after 1670. Meanwhile, his courtiers had continued to wear wigs in imitation of the royal hair, and from Versailles the fashion spread through Europe. In England it came in with the Restoration; for though the prince of Wales (Charles I.), while in Paris on his way to Spain, had " shadowed himself the most he could under a burly perruque, which none in former days but bald-headed people used," he had dropped the fashion on returning to England, and he and his Cavaliers were distinguished from the " Roundheads " only by wearing their own flowing locks. Under Charles II. the wearing of the peruke became general. Pepys records that he parted with his own hair and " paid 3 for a periwigg "; 1 and on going to church in one he says " it did not prove so strange as I was afraid it would." It was under Queen Anne, however, that the wig attained its maximum development, covering the back and shoulders and floating down over the chest. So far, indeed, whatever the exaggeration of its proportions, the wig had been a " counterfeit hair " intended to produce the illusion of abundant natural locks. But, to quote the inimitable author of Plocacosmos, " as the perukes became more common, their shape and forms altered. Hence we hear of the clerical, the physical, and the huge tie peruke for the man of law, the brigadier or major for the army and navy; as also the tremendous fox ear, or cluster of temple curls, with a pig-tail behind. The merchant, the man of business and of letters, were distinguished by the grave full bottom, or more moderate tie, neatly curled; the tradesman by the long bob, or natty scratch; the country gentleman by the natural fly and hunting peruke. All conditions of men were distinguished by the cut of the wig, and none more so than the coachman, who wore his, as there does some to this day, in imitation of the curled hair of a water-dog." 2 1 This was cheap. The author of Plocacosmos says that " when they first were wore, the price was usually one hundred guineas "; and the article in Diderot's Encyclopedic says that it sometimes cost as much as 1000 ecus. 2 Plocacosmos, p. 203. The writer goes on to describe the fashions on the stage. " So late as King William's reign, in one of Rowe's pieces, Lady Jane Grey, the Lord Guildford Dudley is dressed in all the modern fashion of laced coat, cravat, high peruke, &c., while the heroine is simply drest, her hair parted in the middle, hanging carelessly on her shoulders.... Nearer our time, in the tragedy of Cato, Mr Booth is dressed a-la-mode, with the huge peruke.... Mr Quin This differentiation of wigs according to class and profession explains why, when early in the reign of George III. the general fashion of wearing wigs began to wane and die out, the practice held its own among professional men. It was by slow degrees that doctors, soldiers and clergymen gave up the custom. In the Church it survived longest among the bishops, the wig ultimately becoming a sort of ensign of the episcopal dignity. Wigs were first discarded by the bishops, by permission of the king, at the coronation banquet of William IV., the weather being hot; and Greville comments on the odd appearance of the prelates with their cropped polls. At the coronation of Queen Victoria the archbishop of Canterbury, alone of the prelates, still wore a wig. Wigs are now worn as part of official costume only in the United Kingdom and its dependencies, their use being confined, except in the case of the speaker of the house of commons and the clerks of parliament, to the lord chancellor, the judges and members of the bar (see Robes). Wigs of course continue to be worn by many to make up for natural deficiencies; and on the stage the wig is, as in all times, an indispensable adjunct. Many of the modern stage wigs are made of jute, a fibre which lends itself to marvellously perfect imitations of human hair.

See F. W. Fairholt, Costume in England, 2 vols., ed. Dillon (1885); C. F. Nicolai, Uber den Gebrauch der falschen Haare and Perriicken (1801); the articles " Coma " and " Galerus " in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquites. There is an admirable article on wigs and wig-making in Diderot's Encyclopedic (1765), t. xii., s.v. " Perruque." James Stewart's Plocacosmos, or the Whole Art of Hairdressing (London, 1782) also contains rich material.

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Simple English

A wig is an artificial covering of hair. The word is short for periwig and appeared in the English language around 1675. Some people wear wigs to hide the fact that they are bald, which means they have very little or no scalp hair. Actors often wear wigs to disguise their appearance or get into character. In Britain and other Commonwealth nations, some public employees, such as judges and barristers, wear wigs.

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