Fashion: The history of the wig: On a wig and a prayer

Susannah Conway
Sunday 17 January 1999 00:02 GMT

The wigs worn today - associated with positions of power or fancy dress- but the art of wig-making dates back to Egyptian times. They were made from human hair or sheep's wool and consisted of a bulky mass of plaits or braids. Men had shaved heads under their wigs and women wore their hair short. In Roman times, wigs were worn by women as a fashionable accessory. Since blond hair was in vogue then, expensive wigs were made from blond hair obtained from the conquered people in the north.

It was not until the 16th century that wigs became prominent again in historical records. In the second half of the century, both men and women started wearing wigs more and women often dyed their hair red or gold in an effort to imitate the wigs worn by Elizabeth I. She herself is reported to have owned more than 100.

With the Restoration in 1660 and the arrival of Charles II from the French court, the fashion for "periwigs", as they were known, began. By 1665 all fashionable men were wearing wigs in blond, brown or black and heads were shaved to accommodate wigs that were hot and uncomfortable. Long, curly and dressed with perfume and powder, the wigs grew more artificial in appearance until the end of the century, when wig styles for men started following women's hair fashions.

From around 1730 the toupee became fashionable, worn with the wearer's own hair mingled in with the fake hair. Hair powder continued to be used until 1795 when a tax was imposed on it.

By the 19th century men had almost ceased to wear wigs and they began to wear their hair short. Women continued to use hairpieces to accessorise their hairstyles as they still do today.

Nowadays wigs are worn to cover baldness and for fun. They are cheaper then they were in the 1980s and are more commonly used for fashionable purposes. In a recent Vivienne Westwood show, model Honor Fraser caused a stir when she wore a bright blue hairpiece.

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