The Costumer's Manifesto: 18th Century Men's Hair and Wigs 18th Century Men's Hair and Wigs
In 1624 Louis XIII went prematurely bald. He disguised this with a wig and started a fashion which became almost universal for European upper & middle class men by the beginning of the 18th Century during his similarly follicley challenged son's reign.
Louis XIV (son of Louis XIII) in the Full bottomed wig he made fashionable in the late 17th and early 18th centuries
Wigs were made of horsehair, yak hair and human hair, the latter being the most expensive.
A Barber & Wigmaker's Shop from Diderot
Wigs were very expensive. A man could outfit himself with a hat, coat, breeches, shirt, hose, and shoes for about what a wig would cost him. A wig also required constant care from a hairdresser for cleaning, curling, and powdering.
Around 1715, lighter colored wigs were in fashion so, after unsuccessful attempts at making the color of bleached wigs stable, people started to use powder instead. Hair powder was made from finely ground starch, scented with orange flower, lavender, or orris root, and occasionally colored blue, violet, pink or yellow, but most often white.
Powder rapidly became an essential for full dress occasions and it continued in use until almost the end of the century.
At the beginning of the 18th Century, the most popular dress wig was the long, full-bottomed wig, left over from the previous century. It dribbled its way out of fashion until the 1720's when it was only worn by professional men such as lawyers and doctors. After 1740, it was only worn by judges and had gone completely out of fashion.
The most popular undress wig was the bob wig, a shorter wig that originally was worn by tradesman who could not afford the longer wigs. Bob wigs were the most popular wigs in colonial America and were also the standard wig worn by Protestant clergymen for the whole century. Catholic clergy wore a similar style with a built in tonsure at the top.
After the 1720s, shorter wigs were more popular.
The tie wig is the style most usually associated with the 18th Century, but the queue wig with one or more back braids, the bag wig, with a black taffeta bag attached, and the natural wig with a long straight or curled back were also popular.
Hats and wigs of the 1740's from Hogarth, including The Ramillies wig (center).
In the 1770s, a simpler fashion called the Club wig or the Cadogan became popular as well.
(V&A Costume Collection)
Still the outrageous hair fashions of women in the 1770s influenced mens fashion and several brief but memorable styles aped the high built coiffures of the ladies, on a smaller scale.
By the 1780s, young men were setting a fashion for natural hair lightly powdered.
After 1790, both wigs and powder were reserved for older more conservative men, and ladies being presented at court. In 1795, the English government put a tax of hair powder of one guinea per year which effectively caused the demise of both the fashion for wigs and powder by 1800. In France the association of wigs with the aristocracy caused the fashion for both to evaporate during the terror of 1793.
Images from Diderot's Encyclopedia, c.1762
'Question from a fan' I collect hats (including 18th century tricorns) and someone in my office asked why men wore wigs when he saw my own tricorn. Your wig site discusses wigs but says nothing about the "why" of men's wigs. I cannot seem to find any answers on the Internet.
Answer from Tara: Back in the 17th Century (The era of "Big Hair" on men) two successive French kings Louis XIII and XIV both went prematurely bald. They opted for wigs, and as they were both were notable style leaders, many followed suit, particularly when late in the 17th Century Charles II (of England, another notable style leader) also showed signs of male pattern baldness in middle age, and switched to wigs. Other reasons included ease of hairdressing (send your hair out to be done, you don't have to sit for hours in curlers), ease of cleaning (if you got lice you could boil your wig and shave your head and ----zip-no lice), comfort while sleeping (short hair beneath), ability to change styles/color as easily as putting on a hat, and class considerations (wigs were expensive and looked it).