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Track-The-Trend: Wigs

The brief hairstory of the wig. From snatching them to wearing them, here are the things you didn't know about wigs.


We’re tracking trends once more and this time we’re delving into the long and oh so silky history of an item that was popularized by iconic figures such as Nefertiti and even Nicki Minaj (who is Nicki even without her wigs?). Then everyone was ‘snatching wigs’ - we also get into that. Wigs are valid accessories and were more than just ‘extra hair and that doesn’t belong to you.’ They were functional symbols of power and fashion and as deserved all the reverence that could be afforded to them. But whether you’re down with wigs or think they’re an unnecessary hassle here’s some things you probably didn’t know about them:

Ancient Egypt

The wig has its luscious strands wrapped in ancient Egypt. Men and women usually shaved their heads and wore wigs to shield themselves from the sun. As an added bonus wigs were also symbols of status, wealth, religion and protected the scalp from vermin. These wigs were usually made of human hair but cheaper versions could also be made from the fibers of palm leaves or wool. By the end of the 1500s wig hairstyles grew higher, wider and more elaborate with the inclusions of ringlets, curls, powder and fancy jewelry. Where did the word ‘wig’ come from? The French called a full wig of hair a perruque and widely known as a peruke and periwig and this then evolved into the diminutive ‘wig’ by 1675. Mind. Blown.

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Seventeenth and eighteenth century.

Around this period was when wigs resurfaced as popular headwear and the height of fashion for both men and women. The world has to thank the influential monarchs of this period for putting wigs on the map. England’s Elizabeth I was well-known for her flaming red wig, and curled and styled in a ‘Roman’ style. Then there was King Louis XIV due to his thinning hair cut off all his hair and wore wigs to supplement this. By the 18th century most of the middle class wore wigs, large ones for formal occasions and smaller ones for home. The larger the wig the more expensive and so this is how class and wealth was deferred from them. Those who couldn’t afford them often styled their hair to make it more ‘wig-like.’ Fun fact: ‘hairdressing’ came from the lucrative nature that came from the maintenance of wigs because wigs were often ‘dressed’ and not cut. Wigs during this time we’re powdered and women in the 18th century didn’t wear wigs.

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Ninetieth and twentieth century

At this point in history wigs pretty much fell out as markers of status in the United States and France by the start of the century. Although Women's wigs developed differently. Worn from the 18th century onwards,  full wigs in the 19th and early 20th century were not fashionable and mostly worn by older women who were losing their hair. The 19th century also saw the rise of new wig-making method and the invention of the lace machine making mass produced lace affordable, popularising lace as a foundation for wigs and making them look more natural because of their new flesh colour.

In the early twentieth century in England and France postiches - hairpeices made into ringlets, curls and buns and such - were supplied to women to wear. This trend would continue up until the 1920's even as women's hair was getting shorter and shorter. In the 60s with the growing popularity of plastic came a new type of synthetic wig made of modacrylic fiber making wigs more accessible and less costly.

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Weaving And Beyond

After slavery was abolished in 1865 many African Americans still felt a keen pressure to fit in where their hair was concerned as hair was still an important social signifier. Black hair would be hot-combed, relaxed or straightened to achieve the desired 'neatness' of proper white society. This is where weaving came in. The 'hairweeve' - which helped sew synthetic hair to a person's live hair -  was invented by African-American hairdresser and wig manufacturer Christina Jenkins. Although people had been wearing wigs and hairpieces for hundred of years this weaving process was revolutionary as it allowed hair to stay in place for long periods of time. This process only exacerbated the prevalence of hair extensions and clip-on hair pieces from then on.

21st Century Things

It's 2018 and we're now living in a time where wigs have become synonymous with more theatrical pursuits and personas with celebrities like Lady Gaga, The Kardashians and Cardi B wearing wigs to make noteworthy fashion statements. Popular culture has also embraced wigs more widely, and shows like Rupaul's Drag Race and drag culture have popularised the term ''snatch wigs' (which has a much longer history). For those who may not know, 'snatch wigs' either used after someone has been exposed or bested, or to show extreme happiness,excitement and being generally overwhelmed by excellence. But you probably knew that already.

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