Wigs, false hairpieces that are worn over or attached to the natural hair of the wearer, have been fashion accessories for many centuries. The nineteenth century did not see the widespread use of elaborate wigs that had marked previous eras. Still, false hair remained popular during the 1800s, mainly for women who wished to achieve fashionable hairstyles that required abundant curls.
Both men and women had commonly worn wigs during the 1700s, but by the end of the century the popularity of the elaborately powdered and styled wig was beginning to fade. At the start of the nineteenth century much of fashionable society began to be fascinated with the styles of ancient Greece and Rome. Many men trimmed their hair in a short, informal cut, in the style of Roman generals, while some women adopted a classic Greco-Roman women's style of masses of curls, loosely bound up on the head. Those who did not have enough curls of their own, added false pieces of hair called cachefolies (French for "hidden foolishness") to add the necessary volume of hair.
During the 1860s wigs again became popular for women, as hairstyles with masses of long ringlets came into fashion. For those women who could not afford full wigs, partial wigs were available to add hair where it was needed. Wigs were costly, and women who needed money could cut their hair and sell it to wigmakers, the way the literary character Jo March did in the 1868 novel Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888).
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.