The Fascinating History of Wigs: From Symbol of Status to Political Statement

  In the winter of 1751, the French thinker Rousseau fell seriously ill. After passing through the critical moment of life and death, he made up his mind to change his lifestyle, such as throwing away his sword, watch, gold-rimmed clothes, and white stockings, leaving only a short wig and a coarse sweater. So why did he keep the wig when he didn’t want anything expensive?
  In ancient Greece and Rome, hair was a symbol of status, and those in power wore braids. The Romans even planned to have Parliament pass the “Bald Edict” to prohibit bald men from running for parliament, and bald slaves could only be sold at half price. By the Middle Ages, shaving one’s head became a way to deal with enemies or punish criminals. Moreover, thick hair was also regarded as a symbol of masculinity at that time.
  King Louis XIII of France began to go bald as he got older, so he covered it up with a wig that reached his buttocks, as if to show the world: Look how noble and masculine I am! After that, courtiers followed suit, and wigs became exclusive accessories for nobles.
  In 1655, the Sun King Louis XIV hired 48 masters to make wigs for him. This fashionable French king added an artistic quality to the wigs. The next year, a wig manufacturing guild was established in France, and wigs became a fashion trend and soon became popular in Europe. In 1771, the number of wig masters in Paris soared to 945, and there were countless apprentices. Wigs were no longer a luxury product. A marquis said angrily: “Now the streets of Paris are full of princes, and even the blacksmith’s son dares to come to see me wearing an exquisite wig!”
  Of course, this kind of vanity comes at a price. In 1665, the Black Death broke out. The British writer Pepys remembered that he bought his wig from a place where the plague was prevalent, and he dared not wear it. His worries are not unfounded. The popularity of long wigs has led to a shortage of real hair, the raw material for wigs. Some wig masters have evil intentions and make wigs from the hair of people who died of the plague. This has to a certain extent affected people’s obsession with long wigs, and wigs have shown a trend of “shorter is better”.
  Soldiers were the first to wear their wigs tied up, and the hairstyle became popular for ease of movement. Therefore, whether a lighter wig can be made has become a bargaining chip for wig masters. A master made a wig tied with an elastic belt. The advertisement said, “The belt is as soft as velvet, allowing the wig to move freely with the head.” It can be seen that the long and fluttering wigs in the past made it difficult for people to shake their heads. . Another master invented the “sports wig”, which can maintain the hairstyle in the wind and rain.
  In 1776, after arriving in France, Franklin, the U.S. ambassador to France, threw away his traditional wig and wore a mink hat instead. Because the United States became independent that year and Americans wanted to draw a clear line with some old European forces and habits, wigs became a political symbol again.
  Too much vanity leads to too little action, and it is revolution that ultimately “destroys” wigs. After the French Revolution, the function of wigs was a bit like the braids after the Chinese Revolution of 1911. Whether to keep the wig represents a person’s political stance. So the Napoleon we see is a boy with a crew cut.
  Nowadays, few people wear wigs to show their masculine charm. Bald heads have become a fashion among men, and there are more treatments for hidden diseases such as hair loss and baldness. Therefore, in addition to the covering needs of special patients, wigs have become props for pursuing uniqueness.

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