The Georgian Man and His Wig

Edward, the hero of THE RAVEN PRINCE, eschews a wig unless he absolutely must wear one…and even then he’s not happy…

Compared to his father, the typical wig-wearing man in mid-eighteenth century was downright conservative. Only a generation before the style had been the full-bottom wig, a curly, flowing contrivance that reached the shoulders or even further. Think of Captain Hook in Peter Pan. But by the 1760’s men were wearing a much smaller wig, generally with the hair pulled back from the forehead, some type of side curls, and a tail in back. Think of any of the American founding fathers—except Benjamin Franklin, who even in his own time period, was a bit of a hippy.

A gentleman’s wig was a rather big investment. They were generally made from horsehair or other animal hair, although the most expensive were made from human hair. The wig needed to be curled and powdered—usually with white starch, although the powder could be gray, yellow, pink, or even lavender. The tail in back might be braided or encased in a black satin bag with a big bow. Some wigs had multiple tails or long curls in back. Bob wigs were chin length and frizzy all over. They were a bit cheaper than wigs with tails, and they were worn by the clergy and doctors and were more favored in the American colonies. Catholic priests wore bob wigs with a cut out tonsure in the middle.

A man who usually wore a wig would often shave his head to make the wig fit better. There are many paintings from this time period of fashionable men lounging about their houses wearing banyans—a sort of early robe—and big floppy hats to cover their shaved—and presumably cold—heads.

The latter part of the eighteenth century saw the end of wigs for men. As the century drew to a close, the majority of men first began to wear their own hair clubbed and powdered, then simply clubbed and then, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, they cropped their hair short. Many a feminine heart must’ve sighed to see those masculine locks fall…