People wanting solutions to their hair loss is nothing new and, for thousands of years, wigs were the best solution because – unlike today with ARTAS® – no good treatment options existed. However, wigs were also a fashion statement during certain points in history, such as the period depicted in the hit musical Hamilton.
The wig trend that was popular when the United States was founded, actually started in 1624 when the French King Louis XIII began wearing a large powdered wig with long curls to hide his increasing hair loss. He is credited with making wigs popular in royal courts for the first time since ancient Egypt, and the wig trend continued for almost 200 years in Europe.
By Louis’ death in 1643, the fashion was firmly entrenched for nobles in Europe and popular with all social classes – though styles depended upon the person’s financial means. The wealthiest nobles had huge wigs that sometimes included elaborate decorations including flags, birdcages, and model ships. Even for regular people, the curls on the wigs would dangle down to cover their back and shoulders.
Why Did Englishmen Wear Wigs and Makeup?
While the French were the trendsetters in Europe, even conservative Englishmen followed the styles (though not entirely for fashion). In the 17th and 18th centuries, practical reasons for wearing wigs and makeup also existed in Europe.
A syphilis epidemic caused lesions that led to spotty hair loss. Wigs covered these flaws as well as both natural hair loss and hair loss related to other diseases. Make-up and thick cosmetics covered smallpox scars, lesions, and skin conditions from other ailments. Painting their faces white also showed that they did not labor in the sun like servants or peasants. To go with the pale appearance, eyebrows were colored black and lips scarlet red (yes, even men) … which also helped to hide mouth and dental problems.
English wigs tended to be smaller than the outrageous French fashion. Over time, the powdered wigs even became associated with certain professions, just as judges, who still wear white wigs today in England.
Who Wore Wigs in the 1700s?
People of all social classes wore wigs. Besides fashion and covering up hair loss, lesions, and scarring, people also wore wigs to protect their natural hair. Lice was a common problem, so the practice was to wear wigs to shield natural hair from the vermin.
While wigs were worn in America in the 1700s, the colonists followed the English style of smaller and less dramatic wigs. These were then toned down even more to the more natural styles seen in old paintings of the founding fathers, as opposed to the ornate European court wigs.
Did the Founding Fathers Wear Wigs?
Yes, they did. Whether for fashion, to cover hair loss, or so forth; a large number of the founding fathers wore wigs. However, our first president, George Washington, did not. A natural redhead, he followed the style of the times and recreated the look of popular wigs by curling the hair on the side of his head, pulling the length back into a queue (the French word for “ponytail”), and powdered his natural hair to create the fashionable white appearance we associate with him. However, his successors in the Oval Office John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all wore wigs.
In the musical Hamilton, movie or stage version, the only character who wears a traditional powered wig is King George III. However, Alexander Hamilton and some of the other male characters wear their hair pulled back into a queue which was similar to the styles of the day but without powder to make their natural hair white.
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