E Report / May 28th, 2023

A Condensed History of Wigs

We all love a great wig on a bad hair day. Or when we don’t have the patience for braiding or money for a salon visit. But have you ever stopped to think about where wigs came from? Our why our forefathers wore them?

Like so much in history, it was necessity that inspired invention. As our alternative hair timeline proves.

3400 BC: The First Wig Ever

Some have argued that wigs were born around 2700 BC—despite having no evidence to prove it. However, there ARE multiple reports of Egyptians wearing wigs in 3400 BC to protect their scalps from the scorching desert sun.

Statue of Nofret, consort of Rahotep, c. 2600 BCE (Egyptian Museum in Cairo)

Most Egyptians chose to go bald rather than sweat when out of doors. But a shiny, polished pate wasn’t a “look” back then. They, therefore, used wigs to remain presentable.

The surprisingly varied materials used to make wigs included:

Human Hair: With Egyptians shaving their heads, the elites bought the hair and had it crafted into wigs to match their natural hair. (Like today, these were

Animal Fur: The choice of the middle class—and the equivalent of today’s synthetic fibers—fur wigs were made of sheep wool or horsehair mixed with human hair. This made them appear more natural while remaining affordable.

Plant Fibers: The cheapest option was favored by the lower class, (Though Plant fibers were also used to bulk up more expensive wigs.)

The rise of wigs created the new practice of hairdressing—and inspired a new age of creativity. By the end of the 16th Century, the Egyptians had come with cap wigs, which they called the perruque.

17th & 18th Century: The White-Colored Wig

An example of a late 17th century periwig.

It was Louis XIV devotion to wigs that inspired a new golden (or should we say “white”) era. After years of employing up to 48 wig makers to craft hairpieces that would hide his disappearing curls, the King shaved his head and went “full-on wig”.

Wigs quickly became a trend and way to measure social status. High-profile individuals had at least two sets of wigs; full wigs for meetings and petite wigs for home. The lower class couldn’t afford wigs, so they styled their hair to appear like wigs.

It was out of this obsession with status that the white-colored wig was born. It was the invention of hairdressers looking to give wigs an even more glamorous look. Husbands wore white wigs to appear even older than their wives, which was considered fashionable.

19th Century: The Great Commercial Wig Market

Patterns and tools for making women’s wigs.

A commercial wig industry emerged as more and more hairdressers set up workrooms—collecting/combing natural hair and throwing it into a “hackle” (whose metal teeth would straighten it). To preserve the straightened hair, the hairdressers boiled it in water and soda for hours before drying it. And hardened clay or wood tool (bigoudis) were used to curl the hair to order.

When there was no shaved hair to collect, wig makers went to a LITERAL hair market to find women willing to sell their hair. Eventually, they imported hair from China, India, and Japan (which they boiled in nitric acid to remove the vermin and color before selling it).

20th Century: The Rise of Hair Extensions

Extensions became a popular way to add volume to hair AND curls to hairstyles. Women went as far as collecting stray hairs from combs to “extend” their hair. And hair extensions were behind the classic beehive and heavy fringed looks of the ’60s. In the 80s, synthetic extensions offered even more possibilities, followed by clip-in extensions in the ‘90s.

Priced about 1/3 less, our exclusive EnvyHairTM blend makes the high-end look and feel of Human Hair more accessible than ever. (Shown: ABBEY in Toasted Sesame.)

21st Century: The Global Wig Community

The latest era of wigs has introduced a host of innovations, including capless and lace front designs. There are better machines to make wigs and more ethical ways to source human hair. Varied price points make alternative hair available to almost anyone. Wigs are a believable solution to alopecia, a game changer for those undergoing chemo, and a growing means of self-expression.

Will the coming decades find us shaving our heads and wearing wigs full-time? Odder things have happened. But in one way or another, wigs are here to stay.

Discover ENVY’s many wig innovations at envywigs.com.

, , , , ,

Shop your favorite ENVY collections your way.
Shop now.
Have a question?
Send us your questions and an ENVY Expert will get back with you.

Ask Us

Words of Wigdom
The secret to a perfectly natural look is a slightly imperfect part, says Designer and CEO, Alan Eaton. “Gently reposition strands along the part line or snip a few wispy pieces using manicure scissors—AND some restraint—for a slightly messy part that looks all your own.”

Words of Wigdom™
“Throughout my 20-year career, women’s comfort has always been at the top of my mind,” says Designer and CEO, Alan Eaton, whose Stretch Cap Technology hugs the perimeter while eliminating pressure points for maximum comfort.”

Words of Wigdom™
For first-time wig wearers, “The trick is to stay close to the color of your eyebrows,” notes Designer and CEO, Alan Eaton. If not, “then consider dyeing your eyebrows to match your chosen wig color.”

Words of Wigdom™
“Few people know that wigs can be styled just like natural hair—and that most hairstylists are happy to give your wig a custom cut,” says Designer and CEO, Alan Eaton. “Trimming bangs and shaping to your exact specifications can help make your wig indecipherable from your own natural hair.”

Words of Wigdom™
“The “Grey Hair, Don’t Care” trend—which saw women embracing their grey—is stronger than ever. And not just with the over-50 crowd. “Silver is chic, edgy and looks great on almost anyone,” says Designer and CEO, Alan Eaton, who offers nearly every EnvyHair™ and synthetic style in 3 multi-dimensional grey shades.”

Words of Wigdom™