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18th Century Men's Hair and Wigs | History of Fashion Design

18th Century Men’s Hair and Wigs

In 1624 Louis XIII went prematurely bald. He disguised this with a wig and started a fashion which became almost universal for European upper; middle class men by the beginning of the 18th Century during his similarly follicley challenged son’s reign.

Louis XIV (son of Louis XIII) in the Full bottomed wig he made fashionable in the late 17th and early 18th centuries
Wigs were made of horsehair, yak hair and human hair, the latter being the most expensive.

A Barber & Wigmaker’s Shop from Diderot
Wigs were very expensive. A man could outfit himself with a hat, coat, breeches, shirt, hose, and shoes for about what a wig would cost him. A wig also required constant care from a hairdresser for cleaning, curling, and powdering.

Around 1715, lighter colored wigs were in fashion so, after unsuccessful attempts at making the color of bleached wigs stable, people started to use powder instead. Hair powder was made from finely ground starch, scented with orange flower, lavender, or orris root, and occasionally colored blue, violet, pink or yellow, but most often white.

detail from a French fashion plate of 1778
Powder rapidly became an essential for full dress occasions and it continued in use until almost the end of the century.

Mr. Kellom Tomlinson, Author of the “Art of Dancing” 1724.

Wig fashions from 1715-1725 early in the reign of Louis XV
At the beginning of the 18th Century, the most popular dress wig was the long, full-bottomed wig, left over from the previous century. It dribbled its way out of fashion until the 1720’s when it was only worn by professional men such as lawyers and doctors. After 1740, it was only worn by judges and had gone completely out of fashion.

Wig in the fashion from the previous reign carried over into 1723

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The most popular undress wig was the bob wig, a shorter wig that originally was worn by tradesman who could not afford the longer wigs. Bob wigs were the most popular wigs in colonial America and were also the standard wig worn by Protestant clergymen for the whole century. Catholic clergy wore a similar style with a built in tonsure at the top.

  johnadamsJohn Adams in a bob wig

bob wig from Diderot.

bob wig with tonsure for Catholic clergy


After the 1720’s, shorter wigs were more popular.

Patrick Henry in a short tie wig.

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The tie wig is the style most usually associated with the 18th Century, but the queue wig with one or more back braids, the bag wig, with a black taffeta bag attached, and the natural wig with a long straight or curled back were also popular.

A bag wig.

A wig bag.

bag wig and bag details from Diderot

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Hats and wigs of the 1740’s from Hogarth, including The Ramillies wig (center).

A “natural” wig.

Two types of “natural” from Diderot.

A fop by Hogarth wears a long queue wig.
In the 1770’s, a simpler fashion called the Club wig or the Cadogan became popular as well.

The club or Cadogan wig from Diderot.

Still the outrageous hair fashions of women in the 1770’s influenced men’s fashion and several brief but memorable styles aped the high built coiffures of the ladies, on a smaller scale.

Fashions of 1772, as shown in Fairholt.

By the 1780’s, young men were setting a fashion for natural hair lightly powdered.

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After 1790, both wigs and powder were reserved for older more conservative men, and ladies being presented at court. In 1795, the English government put a tax of hair powder of one guinea per year which effectively caused the demise of both the fashion for wigs and powder by 1800. In France the association of wigs with the aristocracy caused the fashion for both to evaporate during the terror of 1793.

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Images from Diderot’s Encyclopedia, c.1762


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