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Jun 29th 2015 at 7:45 PM

Wigs were popular in ancient Greece, both for personal use and in the theater (the color and style of wigs disclosed the nature of individual characters). In Imperial Rome, fashionable women wore blond or red-haired wigs made from the heads of Germanic captives, and Caesar used a wig and a laurel wreath to hide his baldness. Both Hannibal and Nero wore wigs as disguises. A portrait bust of Plautilla (ca. 210 a.d.) was made without hair so wigs of current fashion could always adorn this image of Emperor Caracalla's wife.

During the reign of Stephen in the middle third of the twelfth century, wigs were introduced in England; they became increasingly common, and women began to wear them in the late sixteenth century. Italian wigs of that time were made of either human hair or silk thread. In 1630, embarrassed by his baldness, Louis XIII began wearing a wig made of hair sewn onto a linen foundation. Wigs became fashionable, increasing in popularity during the reign of Louis XIV, who not only wore them to hide his baldness but also to make himself seem taller by means of towering hair. During the Plague of 1665, hair was in such short supply that there were persistent rumors of the hair of disease victims being used to manufacture wigs. This shortage of hair was partially remedied by using wool or the hair of goats or horses to make lower grades of wigs (in fact, horsehair proved useful since it retained curls effectively). For several decades around 1700, men were warned to be watchful as they walked the streets of London, lest their wigs be snatched right off their heads by daring thieves.

The enormous popularity of wigs in England declined markedly during the reign of George III, except for individuals who continued to wear them as a symbols of their professions (e.g., judges, doctors, and clergymen). In fact, so many wigmakers were facing financial ruin that they marched through London in February 1765 to present George III with a petition for relief. Bystanders were infuriated, noticing that few of the wigmakers were wearing wigs although they wanted to protect their jobs by forcing others to wear them. A riot ensued, during which the wigmakers were forcibly shorn.

 

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