A wig is a covering for the head made of real or artificial hair. Wigs have been worn for various reasons like in theatre, as personal adornment, disguise, a symbol of office, or for religious reasons. The earliest evidence of a wig being used was from ancient egypt.
In ancient Egypt, both males and females wore wigs made either from human hair, sheep’s wool or vegetable fibers, depending upon their social status. Due to the hot, uncomfortable climate in Egypt, both men and women would completely shave their heads.
However, it appears that Egyptians preferred having “hair” which resulted in the creation of wigs that gave the appearance of hair. The new wigs also protected the Egyptians’ bald heads from the brutal sun.
Wigs became part of daily wear for the Egyptian people indicating a person’s status as well as their role in a society or politics. Women’s wigs were adorned with braids and gold, hair-rings and ivory ornaments making them more stylish than men’s wigs. Ultimately, the more elaborate and involved the wig was, the higher the social rank.
Wigs eventually made their way into the Roman Empire. Wealthy members of Roman society developed a rich and fashionable lifestyle, which included much attention to appearance and ornamentation.
Both women and men used any means available to improve their looks and decorate their bodies. Cosmetic and luxurious costumes were used, and elaborate hairstyles came into fashion for women. Baldness in men was viewed as an ugly defect.
Both women and men made frequent use of wigs to hide any shortage of hair. Roman women began to wear more and more elaborate wigs, with masses of corkscrew curls piled high on the fronts of their heads.
The Empress Messalina, who lived from 22 – 48 BC and was married to Emperor Claudius I, became famous for the complicated and showy hairstyles she wore. Soon other noble women copied the empress. Women who did not have enough hair to achieve the ornate styles wore wigs or added extra false hair to their own.
It became especially popular to use blond or red hair that was bought or taken from slaves and prisoners of war from more northern countries like Gaul and Germany. Blonde hair had once been associated only with Roman prostitutes, but once the empress began to wear it, the shame attached to blond hair disappeared.
Eventually light-colored northern hair became so popular that a lively trade developed, and red and golden hair became a sort of currency.