Wigs and Hairpieces

Wigs and HairpiecesWigs have been worn by both men and women since ancient times. Wigs are worn for a variety of different reasons, including protection, adornment, disguise, ritual, social or professional status, health or hygiene, and  religious strictures. Wigs can be  used  to  change hair  color  as well as make  dramatic shifts  in  hairstyle from short to long  and  vice versa. The  word  wig is a shortening of the  17th  century word  periwig, which  in the Anglicized  version  of the  older  French word  perruque. The  function of a wig is to cover the head  with natural or synthetic hair fibers in an approximation of hair  that  grows  out  of the  scalp. The  intention might  be to approximate or augment a natural head  of hair or to create  a completely new and fantastical look.

Precedents

Wigs  in  ancient Egypt  were  worn  at  first  for  hygienic  reasons. Heads  of men, women, and children were shaved  to protect against  lice and other insect  infestations.  Wigs made  from  human or animal  hair  were also worn  as adornment and as protection from  the  sun.  The  ancient peoples of Greece,  Japan,  China, and the  Americas wore  wigs for  ritual  or  theatrical purposes. In  Rome,  a fondness for blonde and  red hair  created a fashion for wigs of these  colors  that  continued through the  Renaissance. Throughout  the  17th  and  18th  centuries, wigs were a mark  of status for both men  and  women, often  created as towering confections powdered white  and  heavily  decorated. Although wig size and  interest declined in  the  19th  century, some  members of British  society  still  wore  wigs  into  the 21st century, most  notably attorneys and judges.

Contemporary Trends

In today’s fashion, wigs are not  necessarily seen  as a mark  of rank  or profession, but  as an ordinary part  of fashion. Women and  men  of all ages and  backgrounds wear wigs for fun, to liven up their  looks.  Others require wigs to cover baldness or thinning hair caused by disease or genetics. Patients undergoing chemotherapy usually lose their hair and wigs can bring a sense of normalcy back into their lives. This  is especially important for children who have lost their  hair, and many charities specialize  in making wigs to fit their  small heads.

Styles and Materials

Wigs  for  all sizes  can  be  made  in  a variety  of ways. The  most  natural-looking method is to use real human hair attached individually or in small groups onto a mesh  base. These wigs are also the most  costly. Human hair  can also be sewn to strips  called wefts and arranged in horizontal rows around a mesh  cap. This  gives the appearance of a balanced head  of hair, but the style cannot be altered  easily as the gaps between each row would  show through. Human hair wigs require a great deal of attention and  special  cleaning and  care to retain  their  natural look. Wigs meant to be worn daily must be cleaned at least once every two weeks. Hair that is removed from the head will start to dry out and break down, and although human hair wigs have a long life, they must be replaced after long-term wearing.

Hair of European origin  is the most  expensive  and most  prized for wig making because of the wide range  of colors  and textures available. Hair from India is one of the  leading  types available today  because it is plentiful and  relatively inexpensive, but  there  are limits  to the  color  and  texture and  it can  be difficult  to work with.

Synthetic hair  dominates the wig market today.  Nylon  and  acetate  are used  to create  realistic-looking hair  fibers,  as is Dynel,  a synthetic fiber developed specifically for wig making. Occasionally, animal  hair  such  as horse, sheep, or  yak is blended with  synthetic fibers  to  create  a more  realistic  look.  Synthetic  wigs are  much less expensive  and  easier  to  care  for than natural hair  wigs, but  they have  their  drawbacks. Synthetic hair  is much more  difficult  to  style, as certain hair care products might  cause a chemical reaction that can damage the color or texture of the wig. Synthetic hair is also flammable and much less tolerant of heat than natural hair; it can easily be melted  with a curling iron  or blow-dryer.

The  wig market also includes a wide variety of smaller  hairpieces such  as wiglets, falls, pastiches, and  novelty  add-ons connected to combs or clips. Wigs for men  are also quite  common and  known toupees. Regardless of their  availability, wigs and  toupees remain largely  taboo, and  individuals attempting to  cover  up hair loss are often  ridiculed.

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