Historian Michael Kwass noted that the 17th century saw Louis XIII and Louis XIV of France popularized wearing powdered wigs or peruke in prominent members of society. The reason for Louis to wear the wigs though was to cover up balding resulting from syphilis.
Wearing Wigs in British Court
The most important influence of wigs arose from the British to its colonies. For the British Court, the dress rules for code was influenced by:
- In 1625, there was a publication of the academic paper "The Discourse on Robes and Apparel"
- Following that, the Commission of Westminster passed a Royal Decree on the court dress code known as the Judges’ Rules of 1635, aimed to regulate the attire worn by judges and changed the way British high court officials dressed. While the Barrister robe colors changed between black robe, violet, green or scarlet depending on the seasons or the types of cases, the use of wigs in courtrooms remained.
- At the time of the Restoration of 1660, the wig was introduced to England by the royal court of King Charles II (rumored to have syphilis from his greying hair). Wigs of this period were grand and oversized. They were known as ‘periwigs’, a term derived from the French word, perruque (weaving wig). These wigs were designed in a style that later developed into the ‘full-bottomed wig’ which is still worn today by some judges for ceremonial occasions.
- By 1685, powdered wigs became an official part of the British legal wear. Full, shoulder-length wigs had become part of the proper court dress.
- By the 1820s, wigs had gone out of fashion due to the high cost from the Duty on Hair Powder Act 1795. Coachmen, bishops, and those in the legal profession continued to wear wigs.
In 2007, Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, said new dress rules meant that wigs would not be needed in civil court appearances or family court cases and is only used for criminal cases. Therefore, British Barrister still wears the wigs in the criminal court.
Wearing Wigs in American Court
In America, Charlton's (a wigmaker) records in the Colonial Williamsburg Archives showed that between April 15, 1769, and April 25, 1773, Founding Father and 3rd US President Thomas Jefferson purchased multiple wigs.
However, due to the following 3 events, wigs were not a fashion necessity in America:
- British imposed a tax on hair powder in Duty on Hair Powder Act 1795 that made wearing wigs even more expensive.
- American Revolution led a desire to break with many British traditions and wigs were among the rejected fads.
- There was a disagreement between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson about whether any of the British traditions should be kept. Robes stayed, wigs didn’t.
Wearing of Wigs in Australia's Court
In South Australia, although the current tradition has remained unchanged since just after Samuel Way became Chief Justice in 1876, not long before the foundation of the Law Society.
South Australia's first Chief Justice, Charles Cooper, wanted nothing to do with wigs (courts.sa.gov.au)
Wearing of Wigs in Africa's Court
In Ghana, a prominent lawyer, Augustine Niber, argued that removing wigs would reduce the intimidation and fear that often characterize the courtrooms (independent.co.uk).
In Kenya, former chief justice Willy Mutunga appealed to remove the wigs from the courtroom, arguing that they were a foreign imposition, not a Kenyan tradition. (washingtonpost.com)
Malawi, a former British colony, still follows the UK legal system, with the wearing of wigs and robes a requirement for judges and lawyers. A heatwave in 2019 has forced Malawi's constitutional court to temporarily suspend its requirement for lawyers and judges to wear traditional white wigs and black robes in the courtroom. (aljazeera.com)
Wearing of Wigs in Asian Court
A prominent Hong Kong lawyer Johnny Mok told the Financial Times that it may look odd and outdated but if you look at this phenomenon, it has a symbolic aspect of it.
In Sri Lanka, the British tradition of court dress had been adopted and practiced until reforms of the legal system took place in the 1970s, and much of the ceremonial and formal court dress worn by judges and lawyers were replaced with black business suits. (en.wikipedia.org)