wig, arrangement of artificial or human hair worn to conceal baldness, as a disguise, or as part of a costume, either theatrical, ceremonial, or fashionable. In ancient Egypt the wig was worn to protect the head from the sun; short-haired and in many tiers or long and thickly plaited, the wig was an ingenious structure and rather formalized in appearance. Roman women, who favored light hair, often wore blond wigs. The wig came into popular fashion in Europe in the 17th cent. First worn in France during the reign of Louis XIII, who himself wore a wig of long curls that was meant to simulate real hair, the fashion became widespread during the reign of Charles II of England. As human hair was both difficult to obtain and expensive, the hair of horses and goats was often used. The natural wig eventually gave way to the formal peruke or periwig. Later (c.1690) scented pomade and white powder of starch and plaster of Paris were used on the wigs; pink, gray, and blue powder were fashionable as the fad grew. At its height during the reign of Louis XV, the powdered wig was out of fashion by 1794. The periwig gradually gave way to a smaller wig with horizontal curls above the ears and with the back drawn into a loose queue and tied with a bow. By 1788 men began to wear their own hair tied at the back (and sometimes powdered) in imitation of a wig; wigs however continued their hold on the professional classes and can be seen today in the official dress of English courts. After 1800, as long hair for men lost favor, the wig became a part of women's fashions. Today the use of the wig is dictated by fashion.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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