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History of Wigs

October 6, 2013

Mankind’s obsession with hair has perhaps been ageless and timeless. Right from the time we are born till the time we die, in some form or the other, there has always been an attempt at doing something or the other with our hair – shaving it, cutting it, coloring it, using it for making various objects or items and so on.

But what does one do when the hair itself is missing – or significantly reduced?

Well, that is where wigs came to the fore – a conception which has stood the test of time and only continues to grow in stature!

So where did all of this start? Indeed, what is the history of wigs? These are aspects which this article will touch upon.

Ancient Egyptians

Believe it or not, wigs have in fact been around for thousands of years! Some of the earliest recorded civilizations such as the Egyptians are widely considered as the pioneers as well as the earliest patrons of wigs. You see Egypt has always been known for its very hot and humid weather. Under such extreme and harsh climatic conditions, many Egyptians preferred to have a clean (viz. bald) pate by shaving the hair off and then covering it with a wig which was affixed with beeswax.

 

Wigs like these as worn by Cleopatra depicted above, were commonplace in Ancient Egypt

 

Ancient Greeks and Romans

When it came to wigs, ancient Greeks and Romans were just as prolific. For them in particular, wigs held immense importance symbolically. So for a variety of rituals and occasions, they would have wigs of all kinds being affixed on to their heads. Not only that, hair as a whole also had its significance for various occasions. As an instance, on the occasion of the death of an individual, ancient Greeks would have mourners cut their hair and place it on the corpse.

A Greek wig as depicted on a figurine

 

As far as the Romans were concerned, wigs were practically central to them. Take any mythical, mystical, mythological Roman character, and you will find that wigs did indeed have a prominent place in their lives. As an instance, Roman women were particularly renowned for the elaborate wigs they wore. Julius Caesar apparently wore a wig to hide his baldness. Roman prostitutes wore yellow wigs to make their profession very clear. Caligula wore a full wig….the instances are simply endless!

 

A modern day depiction of Julius Caesar and the wig that he (possibly) wore

Middle Ages

The middle ages were an era of reasonable decline for wigs as a whole. The clergy condemned them and therefore their usage as a whole declined considerably. Individuals who denounced this trend and sported wigs included Henry the Eighth in England as well as Henry the Third in France.

Eventually, by the end of the sixteenth century, wigs became particularly very popular in England, especially among women for whom wigs were tantamount to being an integral part of their overall appearance.

A late 16th Century English Woman sporting a wig and hairdo that was common at that time

 

Then in the 17th Century came an absolute spurt in wigs with various Kings and Queens or Heads of State sporting wigs of their own. Notable among them included French Kings Louis the Fourth as well as Louis the Eighth. Eventually, clergymen and others in the ranks started sporting wigs as well whereby they practically became a part of dress code.

Louis the IV with his trademark wig

 

Women were never left behind along the way, mind you! Just as in the earlier times wigs had become fashionable for women, they remained so in the eighteenth century as well.