Friday, April 16, 2010


I have a fascination with 17th and 18th century wigs. Especially men's wigs.

The women's were extravagant, lavish, excessive and an outlandish expenditure. Many wives nearly bankrupt their husbands by trying to keep up with this fad. The men's were somewhat more reserved. To a degree they served a purpose but mostly they were a fashion statement, a measure of wealth and class status. In the 17th and 18th centuries there was an extreme preoccupation with one's appearance that resulted in the excessive attention to clothing and hair dress. Vanity, thy name be MAN and woman. Men's adherence to current fashion was followed as faithfully by them as by women. Wig wearing was hygienic in nature. Heads could be shaved and then be washed to prevent lice. It was not common to wash your hair very frequently in the 17th and 18th centuries so wearing a wig solved this problem.
King Louis XIV of France started to wear a wig when his hair began to fall out. This started a fashion frenzy in his court. Guess poor Louie didn't have Rogaine, Propcecia or Bosley's Hair products to help him with his fallout. Anyway,the fad eventually found its way to England. Of course King Charles II in 1663 had to be fashionable so he began to wear a large black wig. Leave it to France to start all our fashion trends. Apparently Queen Elizabeth I owned 80 or more auburn, orange and gold wigs. You go girl! Some thought that after the plague no one would dare buy any hair for wigs. It was feared that the hair would have been cut off the heads of plague victims. Yuck! Apparently that did not matter because the fashion thrived better after the plague than before it. Wigs peaked under Queen Anne's reign. Men's long curls covered their shoulders and backs and flowed down their chests. The cost could be staggering. A man could buy himself a hat, coat, shirt, breeches, hose, and shoes for almost what his wig could cost. In the 18th century women rarely wore wigs but instead wore a coiffure (to arrange hair) supplemented by artificial hair or human hair. The French woman usually had an elaborate and often themed hair designs such as the boat poufs. Wigs were powdered with men's predominately white or off white. Wigs for both men and women could be colored: violet, blue, pink or yellow. Wig powder was finely ground starch that was scented with orange flower, lavender or orris root. In the 1727 the French Encyclopedie Perruquiere listed only 45 wig styles. However, in 1764 it listed 115 styles. Wig making was a BIG business. Wigs were made from human hair or they could also be made from horse or yak hair or from even hemp. During the 18th century men's wigs became smaller and more sedate and even some professions adopted them as part of their official dress. Then in 1795 the English government levied a tax on hair powder(1 guinea per year) and this started the end of the "fashion of the wig". By 1800 it had mostly disappeared.

I know that I prefer to wash my hair daily and periodically go to the hair salon to get it cut and dyed. And maybe if I ever get up enough nerve I might even have it dyed blue. But THAT is the extent of my own personal hair adventure.


  1. This is wonderful, Donna.
    I love learning how powdered wigs all came about~
    I'm thinking indigo blue...

    your photo is amazing~ I love that wonderful wig!

    I'm also quite enamored of the panels behind the wooden gentleman and his wig.

  2. Christine,

    Hi! Thank you for your kind words. Inidgo blue would be good. Were you thinking for my next hair appointment? The panel behind the wig is acturally the back of one of my settles. Both the barister wig and the settle are English, 18th century.


    PS I'll let you know if I go blue.

  3. I have a peculiar fascination to old wigs as well. According to my Literature professor, wigs were insignia for men's social status. It depends on the style, the curls, and the stands used. I love old-school wigs, especially those used to beautify the male hair. Replacement systems then were quite different, but tracking back the techniques used and comparing it to today's procedures, several similarities could be seen.
    I Hope to read more here in your blog. I enjoy it so much!

  4. I need choose a beautiful wigs for my friend. And I looked for one, I don't know if she like it. How about this one?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hi Donna-
    your blog is fasinating!...I'm actually a colonial williamsburg employee that is currently working in the Wigmakers shop on the Duke of Gloucester street.
    We are always on the look out for authentic 18th century wigs... did you happen to say you have an 18th century mens wig in your personal collection? if so we would love to know more about it!
    (heres my email: