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Our Wigs’ Journey

April 26, 2021

Our Wigs’ Journey

We don’t often think too much about the origin of all the things that we use, consume, or rely on every day. That was true for me about my wigs. I started to do research, and I was fascinated by the history of wig making. While there is so much to tell, I have hit on some highlights here that I thought were particularly interesting. Hope you enjoy a little wig history. 

Anthropologists speculate that wigs may have been used as long as 100,000 years ago. Wigs were quite popular among ancient Egyptians, who cut their hair short or shaved their heads in the interests of cleanliness and comfort (i.e., relief from the desert heat). While the poor wore felt caps to protect their heads from the sun, those who could afford them wore wigs of human hair, sheep's wool, or palm-leaf fiber mounted on a porous fabric. An Egyptian clay figure that dates to about 2500 B.C. wears a removable wig of black clay. The British Museum holds a beautifully made wig at least 3,000 years old that was found in the Temple of Isis at Thebes; its hundreds of tiny curls still retain their carefully arranged shape.  

During the late eighteenth century, Louis XVI wore wigs to hide his baldness, and wigs were very fashionable throughout France. The modern technique of ventilating (attaching hairs to a net foundation) was invented in this environment.

A little about Methods: 

Wigs of synthetic (e.g., acrylic, modacrylic, nylon, or polyester) hair are popular for several reasons. They are comparatively inexpensive (costing one-fifth to one-twentieth as much as a human hair wig). During the past decade, significant improvements in materials have made synthetic hair look and feel more like natural hair. In addition, synthetic wigs weigh noticeably less than human hair versions. They hold a style well—so well, in fact, that they can be difficult to restyle. On the other hand, synthetic fibers tend not to move as naturally as human hairs, and they tend to frizz from friction along collar lines. Synthetic hair is also sensitive to heat and can easily be damaged (e.g., from an open oven, a candle flame, or a cigarette glow).

Human hair remains a popular choice for wigs, particularly because it looks and feels natural. It is easily styled; unlike synthetic hair, it can be permed or colored. United States wigmakers import most of their hair. Italy is known as a prime source of hair with desirable characteristics; other colors and textures of hair are purchased in Spain, France, Germany, India, China, and Japan. Women contract with hair merchants to grow and sell their hair. After cutting, the hair is treated to strip the outer cuticle layer, making the hair more manageable. Wigmakers pay $80 or more per ounce for virgin hair, which has never been dyed or altered in any way. A wig requires at least 4 oz (113.4 g) of hair.

Some manufacturers blend synthetic and human hair for wigs that have both the style-retaining qualities of synthetic hair and the natural movement of human hair. However, this can complicate maintenance, since the different types of hair require different kinds of care.

(Credit for some background to: How Things are Made, Volume 3, 2021.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this video that I have included about the wig-making process and hope that you do too. I am working to get more information on certain individual vendor processes, but that information is tightly held! In the meantime, I hope you learned something, I know that I did.  

Until May, 

Vickie Lynn