Wigs became a necessity for French courtiers (officers and advisers) in 1643 when sixteen-year-old Louis XIV ascended the throne sporting long curly hair. For all who could not grow their own, long flowing locks were created with wigs. The fashion persisted when, at the age of thirty-five, the king began to lose so much of his own hair that he needed to add false hair to maintain his beloved style. He eventually shaved off all his thinning hair and wore full wigs.
Wigs came in several different styles, but the most popular by the end of the century was the full-bottomed wig, a mass of long curls parted in the center that towered above the head by several inches and hung down past the shoulders. The style was so huge that a satirist of the time referred to a man's face peaking out from his full-bottomed wig as "a small pimple in the midst of a vast sea of hair," according to Richard Corson in Fashions in Hair. The full-bottomed wig was the most formal of all wig styles and continued to be worn by clergy and some professionals, such as lawyers, into the following centuries. But many men had several different styles of wigs for different activities, such as rising in the morning, going to church, hunting, and eating at different meals.
Wigs were made of human, horse, and goat hair and worn over shaved heads. They were dressed with fragrant powders made of nutmeg or orrisroot, the root of a sweet-smelling European iris. The hair was sometimes dyed black, brown, or blond. Hair powder would later become so popular that houses were built with powder rooms made solely for the purpose of dressing the hair.
Although quite popular by the end of the century, wigs were not worn by every man because of their expense. Wigs became a true symbol to differentiate the upper from the lower classes. They were so expensive that some men left them to their heirs upon their own death. The history of the century is also filled with accounts of wig theft. The exclusivity of wigs did not last, however. Wigs became the defining hair accessory of the eighteenth century and were worn by every class of man. While women also wore wigs during the seventeenth century, their styles did not reach the magnitude of men's full-bottomed wigs. It was the next century that saw women wearing huge mountains of false curls.
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Contini, Mila. Fashion: From Ancient Egypt to the Present Day. Edited by James Laver. New York: Odyssey Press, 1965.
Corson, Richard. Fashions in Hair: The First Five Thousand Years. London, England: Peter Owen, 2001.
Trasko, Mary. Daring Do's: A History of Extraordinary Hair. New York: Flammarion, 1994.