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Why Do British Lawyers Still Wear Wigs?

This entry was posted in News By Bailee

The wearing of wigs by lawyers is well documented in English history and continues to this day. Why did they choose to wear wigs? Josette Simon stars as a British defense attorney whose client is an accused British politician in Netflix's new series "Anatomy of a Scandal." The drama of a criminal trial has a very seductive quality to it. Strangers queue up in the United States to enter the courtroom as bystanders. Those who are unable to attend in person can watch live versions on TVs and tablets. Nothing, however, is more British than the iconic white wigs worn by judges and lawyers - or barristers - during formal court proceedings. Many wig-wearing judges and barristers say the headgear, also known as a peruke, adds a sense of formality and solemnity to the courtroom.

Anatomy of a Scandal

1. The desire for consistency

The wig, like the robes worn by lawyers, is used as a symbol of anonymity. The wig was part of the uniform, and it served to create a visual barrier between the law and those who were brought before it. Wigs are required in English criminal courts, and failing to wear one is considered an insult to the court.
The top of a barrister's wig is rolled up, with horizontal curls at the sides and back. A wig worn by a judge, also known as a bench wig. resemble each other but are usually more ornate They have a fuller top that transitions into tight curls that fall just below the shoulders.

2.Wigs for Barristers

2.Wigs for Barristers

Barrister wigs are typically made from 100% horsehair, though synthetic versions are now available. Horsehair wigs are also not cheap, especially when they are handmade and incorporate time-honored techniques such as styling, sewing, and gluing. A full-length wig for a judge could cost more than $3,000, while a barrister's short wig could cost more than $600.
They were worn as part of a well-dressed professional when they first appeared in courtrooms around 1685. Only the elite wore powdered wigs made of horsehair in the 17th century. Those who couldn't afford the best costumes but still wanted to look the part wore wigs made of goat's hair, cotton thread, human hair, and other materials, but horsehair was the most popular.
But why did powdered wigs first appear on the fashion scene? Why put on an itchy, sweat-inducing mass of fake curls on top of your head? Syphilis is to blame.

3.The History of wig

3.The History of wig

Wigs became popular in the late 16th century, as more people in Europe became infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Syphilis patients were plagued by rashes, blindness, dementia, open sores, and hair loss in the absence of widespread antibiotic treatment (Sir Alexander Fleming did not discover penicillin for syphilis until 1928). Hair loss was especially troublesome in social situations. Long hair was in style at the time, and premature baldness was a dead giveaway that one had syphilis. Wigs were useful for those with lice, even if they were not used to cover syphilis-related hair loss. After all, treating and picking at your own hair is significantly more difficult than sanitizing a wig.
When it comes to fashion trendsetters, no one has had a greater influence on English wigs than France's Louis XIV. During his reign from 1643 to 1715, the Sun King wore a wig to conceal his prematurely balding scalp, which historians believe was caused by syphilis. He pioneered a trend that was widely adopted by Europe's middle and upper classes, including his cousin, King Charles II of England, who reigned from 1660 to 1685. (and was rumored to have contracted syphilis). Although the practice of wearing wigs was quickly adopted by the nobility and those seeking to maintain social standing, the English courts were slower to react. Portraits of judicial officers in the early 1680s still had a natural, wig-free appearance. However, by 1685, full, shoulder-length wigs had become standard courtroom attire.

4.A Lasting Impression

Wigs gradually fell out of favor as society progressed. Only bishops, coachmen, and members of the legal profession wore wigs during the reign of King George III of England, from 1760 to 1820. Bishops were allowed to stop wearing them in the 1830s. However, wigs were worn in the courts for centuries.
However, in 2007, a new dress code prohibited barristers from wearing wigs in most cases. When appearing in family or civil courts, or before the UK Supreme Court, wigs are no longer required. In criminal cases, however, wigs are still used.
In Ireland, wigs were worn by judges until 2011, when the practice was discontinued. Lawyers and judges in England, as well as other former British and English colonies such as Canada, whose provinces abandoned wigs throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and Jamaica, which eliminated them in 2013, now wear wigs only for ceremonial purposes. However, according to The Guardian in 2021, wearing a wig remains popular among British lawyers. "If you don't fit the physical stereotype of a barrister - male, white, and possibly older - wearing a uniform is useful because it can stop any awkward conversations," barrister Zoe Chapman told the publication.

Why do British lawyers wear wigs?

British lawyers have a tradition of wearing head wigs as a symbol of power and respect for the law. In fact, failing to wear a wig is regarded as an insult to the courts. Wigs are worn by British lawyers and judges in court to represent their formality and to pay homage to legal history.

What is another name for barristers wig?

A peruke is another name for a barrister's wig. It is long, curly, blonde or white, and reaches approximately the nape of the neck.

How much does a barristers wig cost?

The cost of peruke or barristers wigs varies. A full-head long-hair wig worn by a judge, for example, can cost up to $3,000. The ones worn by barristers, on the other hand, are less expensive, costing around $500.

  • Susan D Scraper
    Susan D Scraper
    Thank you for the explaining it.
  • TimeXkills
    I feel like it’s a spiritual thing and they take on a different “soul” or person so they can lie ahahah
  • Antiomnis
    It was my understanding that black robes were the mainstay of scholars througout much of European history and wigs were commonplace during the age of reason. The law courts simply kept them due to a hidebound and misguided adhearance to an invalid assumption that they have ever been specific to the courts. I'm very glad they have abolished the wearing of wigs. It never sat well with me that a person could be tried, convicted and sentenced by people in absurd costumes.
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