WIG (short for " periwig," an alternative form of " peruke," Fr. perruque; cf. Span, peluca; conjecturally derived from Lat. pilus), 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,ooc 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 ITTJCIKIJ or <t>tva.Kri, sometimes TTpoKoiuov or KOJUCU irpbaOtToi. 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 lapygian immigrants into Italy from Crete were the first to wear irpoKOfiia irepiOerd, 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. n). 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, capillamentrtm, caliendrum, or even comae emptae, etc. 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 jiamines. 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, Olho 12), which could not be distinguished from real hair, while Nero (Dio Cass. hi. 9) wore a wig as a disguise, and Heliogabalus also wore one at times (ibid. Ixxix. 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 cidtu fern. 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 abb6 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 "j 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 Encyclopedie says that it sometimes cost as much as 1000 ecus.
1 Plocacosmos, p. 203. The writer goes on to describe the fashions on the stage. " So late as King William's reign, in one of Rowc's pieces, Lady Jane Grey, the Lord Guildford Dudley is dressed in all the modern fashion of laced coat, cravat, high peruke, etc., 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 Quir* 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 woie 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, Ober den Gebrauih der falschen Haare und Perrucken (1801); the articles "Coma" and " Galerus " in Darernberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquitts. 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.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)