English legal dress has a long history. The introduction of wigs into polite society in the reign of Charles II (1660-85) was an innovation which could not be resisted. After a period of disapproval, wigs were generally assumed by lawyers in 1680’s. Before the 17th century lawyers did not wear wigs. But professional discipline required that their hair and beards should be moderately short. By the middle of the 17th century wigs of powdered white or grey hair were the universal custom. But during George Ill’s reign (1760-1820) wigs went rapidly out of general use. Although bishops were given royal permission to abandon their wigs in 1830, this was not necessarily true of other officials. There is a story that one Lord was refused...

permission to leave off his wig at court. In 1860 the council were permitted to remove their wigs during a heat wave. This attracted some comment in the press and it was suggested that wigs were abandoned altogether by the legal profession. However, the proposal met with little support, though it has been a common occurrence ever since for judges to allow wigs to be left off in very hot weather, and sometimes turbans are allowed to be worn instead of wigs on religious grounds. Early wigs are difficult to identify in portraits of the period because they were of a natural colour and were sometimes combined with a lock of growing hair at the forehead. However, wigs soon became large and increasingly stylized.



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Wigs and Lawyers