Why Did Men Wear Powdered Wigs?
Men wore powdered wigs in the 1700s as a symbol of status. The practice was initiated by King Louis XIII of France, who wore the hairpiece because of premature balding. Powdered wigs soon bore a strong association with royalty and nobility in the country, and this attitude spread throughout Europe and followed early settlers to the New World.
The powder in a noble’s wig was not purely aesthetic but served a practical purpose as well. The first wigs were made from the hair of horses and goats and were never properly cleaned due to the limited technologies of the day. As natural products, they also tended to attract lice. In an effort to ward off the bugs as well as mitigate the stench, the wearer of the wig would apply a special powder before wearing it, and men also frequently shaved their heads beneath the wigs to help discourage lice from taking up residence. Recipes for the wig powder varied, but the most popular preparation was a combination of finely ground starch scented with essence of lavender or orange flower. Powdered wigs became a staple of formal dress events in the 1800s and remained a symbol of class and refinement until nearly the end of the century. In recognition of the history of the hairpiece, some English high court officials continue to wear wigs patterned after the powdered coifs to this day.