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Why did French Men in Middle Ages Always Wear Wigs?


I believe that most people have ever watched some movies which describe the stories happened in middle ages. But have you ever noticed that men, especially French men in that ages always wore various wigs? Is it a custom? Or are there some other reasons for it?


The history of wigs can go all the way back to antiquity. In ancient Egypt, it was common to shave one’s head and wear wigs because of the prevalence of head lice. The earliest Egyptian wigs were constructed of human hair, but cheaper substitutes such as palm leaf fibers and wool were more widely used. Since only the wealthy and well-born could afford to do this, wigs became a status symbol. They denoted ranks, social status, and even religious piety. In middle ages, this was picked up again during the Renaissance, when antiquity began to be rediscovered and explored anew. It appeared the neoclassic style with a return to the classic aesthetics.


The wear of wigs in men started to be popular at the end of the 17th century, while the reign in France of Louis XIV, the famous Sun King. All his court began to use wigs, and as France was the pattern of fashion for all Europe at that age, the use of wigs was spread to the rest of the courts of the continent. But at this time, it was mostly the noblemen who wore wigs when they attended a high ceremony or court banquet. The wigs which started out as a hygienic tool were still a status symbol. In 1680, Louis XIV had 40 wig-makers designing his wigs at the court of Versailles.

Then time comes to the eighteenth century, which saw the complete resurgence of wigs. The eighteenth century was an age of elegance. Never in European history did we see that men were so far removed from natural appearance. It became the height of fashion for a man shaving his head for both comfort and fit. Usually, those who had the finances had a large wig for formal occasions and a smaller one for use at home. The larger the wig is, the more it costs. Thus wigs were also a mark of class and income. If one was unable to afford a wig, he will make his natural hair look as like a wig as possible.

By the mid-eighteenth century, white was the favored color for wigs, and they were generally made with human hair, but also with hair from horses or goats. Lucrative trades were constructed around wigs, such as hair-dressing, because at that time hair was dressed rather than cut. Sometimes, in order to achieve the look, hair was harvested from the heads of the rural working classes. And situations went on like this until the French Revolution broke out. After that, the use of wigs as fashion statements largely died out and the republican simplicity rose as an alternative fashion statement.

Originally published


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