How Wigs Changed Beauty and The Modern Society

Beauty + Fashion

How Wigs Changed Beauty and The Modern Society. Wigs play an interesting role in the beauty industry. They’ve gone through periods of elegance and status, and perceptions of tackiness. Their use and purpose vary between different cultures and groups, and while they aren’t on everyone’s must-have list, there are a lot of wig wearers who swear by them.


So how did wigs originate? How have they evolved over time? Read on to find out how wigs changed beauty and the modern society.


Where Wigs Began


While wigs may have played a role in shaping modern beauty, their beginnings date back to ancient Egypt. At this time, wigs were crafted as status symbols for the wealthy. When you see ancient depictions of Pharaohs with long, luscious locks, it’s more likely that they are being portrayed as wearing a wig. 


Back then, human hair was often used to create wigs in combination with natural materials. Plant fiber from palm leaves were often woven in, and wool was sometimes used as a substitute. Wigs were also a substitute for hats in ancient Egypt and worn to protect one’s head from the sun.


Wigs Throughout the Ages


After the rise and fall of the ancient Egyptian empire, wigs didn’t make a resurgence until the Middle Ages. In Europe, wigs were again a status symbol and a sign of high fashion. These wigs were drastically different than modern wigs, according to EvaWigs, which utilize high-quality human hair. During the Middle Ages, wigs were synthetic, heavily coiffed, and treated to retain their shape.


One of the reasons wigs skyrocketed in high fashion during this time period was the outbreak of the Black Plague, as many people kept their heads and bodies shaved as not to attract vermin. However, as wigs were such a hot-ticket item, “wig snatching” became a petty crime. 


This trend evolved into the 1700s when the large, white powdered wigs became the symbol of wealth and beauty. Even those who couldn’t afford wigs were influenced enough to make their natural hair look as wig-like as possible, often using plaster to make a cast-like creation. 


The 1800s Through the Early 1900s


Toward the end of the 1700s, wigs were starting to fall by the wayside. The natural look came back into favor, and fashionable folks opted to pad their hair rather than cover it. Toward the late 1800s, hygienic practices were more advanced and accessible, making haircare more prevalent in impoverished populations. 


Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, shorter hairstyles came into fashion, removing the need for wigs. As the market crash evolved into the Dirty Thirties, luxury expenses like hairpieces fell by the wayside entirely. It wasn’t until the 1950s when women started experimenting with wigs once more to save time on styling their hair. In most cases, these wigs were used for fashionable events rather than daily.


Cultural Differences


Around the 1960s is when there was another cultural shift in wig wearing. African American superstars, like Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Ross, became fashion icons who wore their wigs with pride. At the same time, wigs fell back out of favor with the Caucasian community. As cultural tension reached a boiling point during this era, this difference was only one of many subtle nuances in the beauty industry and modern world.


Wigs in the Now


While African American stars continued to wear wigs throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, Caucasian celebrities didn’t get back onboard until the early 2000s. While many celebrities wear wigs, others opt for alternative hair modifications.


Hair extensions wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the long-winded history of wigs. These hairpieces have come into fashion both on the runway and in daily life, with many women using them to lengthen or thicken their natural hair. 


Many trends, from extensions to curly updos, all link back to the invention of the first wig. This fashion piece represents years of political turmoil, changing times, and accessibility. 


Guest Post by Ashley Lipman

Dirty and Thirty
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