More on Wigs, by Colin Rowland

More on Wigs, by Colin Rowland

In my last post, I touched briefly on the use of wigs in and around the Regency era. To clarify, by the end of the 18th century, with one notable exception, wigs were no longer popular with men or women. For men especially, the short, natural cut was en vogue and wigs had become outdated.

The exception to this, one which is still mandatory in England and some of the former countries of its commonwealth, was in the British courtroom. The tradition began as a result of a 1625 academic paper called The Discourse on Robes and Apparel, which changed the requirements for British court apparel. Before this paper was published, barristers(British lawyers) were expected to appear in court with short hair and neatly trimmed beards.

It is not my intent to enter into a discussion regarding the reasons for the change. I will suggest(and this is my own conjecture) that with the hygiene and grooming standards existing, or non-existing, before the advent of running water, etc., wigs could hide a lot of sins.

Growing up in Canada, I was aware that wigs were standard attire in courtrooms, but this has gone by the wayside, although specific, and expensive, robes are still required to be worn. What I did not know was that the type of wig worn was dictated by the position or role of the man or woman wearing it.

The Full-Bottomed or Spaniel wig was worn by Lead Counsel, Queens Counsel, and the Judges. Today it is worn only on ceremonial occasions. I can see why, as they cost from $1000 -$2000! Today judges wear what’s known as a Bob wig, featuring a frizzed side and a looptail which hangs at the back.

The tie wig is commonly worn by Barristers. It covers up the half portion of the head, with rows of curls on the sides and back and a looped tail in the back.

This is normally worn now by barristers when they start practicing.

For anyone familiar with the British legal system, it is easy to tell the judges from the barristers by looking at the wigs they are wearing.

For the most part, wigs have been done away with in the British courts, with the exception of criminal cases, where they are still required, by male and female barristers alike.

One tidbit I found interesting is that one of the reasons for wearing a wig in court is that it lends a form of anonymity to the barrister or judge. Criminals, or those who might want revenge on their lawyer or the judge who sentenced them, have a more difficult time identifying their target without the wig!

Australia, a country that has always gone its own proverbial way, still requires the wearing of wigs by judges and barristers appearing in the High Court, their version of the Supreme Court. In family court, however, throughout the Commonwealth, this type of apparel was done away with so that children might be more at ease.

Surprisingly, a 2003 study by the Law Institute of Victoria in Australia found that over half, or 54%, of the public favored wearing wigs and robes in court. Go figure!

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February 14, 2021 2:31 PM

Not as much as you’d think. There are still barristers(UK) and lawyers(Canada, etc.) who like the formality and tradition associated with the garb.

February 10, 2021 1:27 PM

Fascinating, Colin! Thank you for sharing.

February 14, 2021 2:21 PM
Reply to  carylkane

You are welcome.

Gianna Thomas
February 9, 2021 5:17 PM

Thank you for the post, Colin. Ordinarily, a wig is something I would detest, but if I were a barrister, wearing a wig for more anonymity might be a desired effect.

February 14, 2021 2:24 PM
Reply to  Gianna Thomas

I did not know about that until I started researching the topic. It makes sense, in a roundabout way, I guess. I compare it to wearing a mask like we’re doing now. You look completely different when the mask is on than when it is not.

February 9, 2021 4:39 PM

I remember being confused the first time I saw this in a movie.

February 14, 2021 2:25 PM
Reply to  darcybennett

Wigs were a common sight in Canadian courts when I was a youngster. It wasn’t until a few years ago that they were done away with.

Robin G.
Robin G.
February 9, 2021 12:32 PM

Thank you for the fascinating post!

February 14, 2021 2:26 PM
Reply to  Robin G.

You’re welcome. I try to be interesting. Most times I’m able to achieve weird, but interesting is a challenge.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
February 9, 2021 11:00 AM

I love these posts. They are so informative. Thanks for sharing your research.

February 14, 2021 2:27 PM
Reply to  J. W. Garrett

You’re welcome. I’m sometimes unsure at the reaction these blogs will get and it’s nice to know they are appreciated.

Mirta Ines Trupp
February 9, 2021 9:07 AM

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing!

February 14, 2021 2:28 PM

Always happy to give the impression that I know what I’m talking about. I usually don’t but I can sometimes fake it. Lol

Riana Everly
February 9, 2021 8:52 AM

I have also heard that wigs and robes are courtroom garb because they make the lawyers themselves less individual, allowing the case and arguments to be the primary focus and not some personal attribute.

Thanks for that interesting post.

February 14, 2021 2:29 PM
Reply to  Riana Everly

I think that’s part of it. When everyone in the courtroom looks the same your attention is not a easily distracted.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
February 9, 2021 6:46 AM

Interesting post! I imagine they are glad wigs have been done away with!

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