Risk One’s Hair, Risk One’s Head: Losing the Periwig

As I am wont to do, I was recently digging around a volume of The Gentleman’s Magazine when I discovered a fictionalized account regarding the first brave soul to don natural hair après the periwig fashion and the row that ensued.  Dare I say this is a version of Gentlemen brawlers, bandying over hairstyle supremacy? Victor Hugo, if only it were true!  I would be most amused.

From ‘By Order of the King: A Romance of English History’ by Victor Hugo

“Lord David held the position of judge in the gay life of London.  He was looked up to by the nobility and gentry.  Let us register a fact to the glory of Lord David.  He dared to wear his own hair.  The reaction against the wig was beginning.  Just as in 1824, Eugene Deveria was the first who dared to allow his beard to grow, so in 1702 Price Devereux dared for the first time to risk his natural hair in public, disguised by artful curling.  For to risk one’s hair was almost to risk one’s head.  The indignation was universal.  Nevertheless Price Devereux was Viscount Hereford, a peer of England.  He was insulted and the deed was well worth the insult.  In the hottest part of the row, Lord David suddenly appeared without his wig and in his natural hair. Such conduct shakes the foundations of society.  Lord David was insulted even more than Viscount Hereford.  He held his ground.  Price Devereux was the first; Lord David Dirry Moir, the second.  It is sometimes more difficult to be second than first.  It requires less genius, but more courage.  The first, intoxicated by the novelty, may ignore the danger; the second sees the abyss and precipitates himself therein.  Lord David flung himself into the abyss of no longer wearing a periwig.

Later in the century these lords found imitators.  After these two revolutionists, men found sufficient audacity to wear their own hair and powder was introduced as an extenuating circumstance.  In order to establish, before we pass on an important period of history, we should remark that the true pre-eminence in the war of wigs belongs to a Queen Christina of Sweden, who wore man’s clothes and had appeared in 1680 in her hair of golden brown, powdered and brushed up from her head.  She had besides, says Nisson, a slight beard.  The pope on his part, by his bull of March, 1694, had somewhat let down the wig by taking it from the heads of bishops and priests and in ordering churchmen to let their hair grow.”

Related Posts:

18th Century Wig Curlers

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6 thoughts on “Risk One’s Hair, Risk One’s Head: Losing the Periwig

  1. “…Queen Christina of Sweden, who wore man’s clothes and …had besides, says Nisson, a slight beard.” A very droll, almost P.G. Wodehouse-like observation!

    As a gentleman in his mid-40’s whose genetic inheritence denies a lifetime’s enjoyment of a full thatch, there is more than a little whistful commiseration with historical wig-wearers. How best to cover up the spreading exposure of one’s delicate semisphere than to make wig-wearing not merely commonplace, but compulsorily fashionable? I suppose the oft-seen shaven head today is the modern defensive response to that feeling of reluctant, eventual exposure. “I shall embrace it, (sotto voce – dammit)!”

    Reading this post and led by curiosity onto the wig-curlers link and thence to the American Revolution site, I found myself suddenly back to where I was when first encountering your blog, exactly a year ago! Learning a bunch while being entertained. Thank you again!

    1. Be bold, Peter. Bald is edgy when it looks like a choice. As Larry David says, “Women love a self-confident bald man. Anybody with a full head of hair can be confident, but a bald man – there’s your diamond in the rough.”

      Plus wigs — ridiculously irritating in the heat.

      1. My interior (and my comment) may indeed have sounded ambivalent on the subject, be assured – the cupola of my citadel, seen gleaming above the morning mist has always been steadfast and defiant. Cropped as it is, fleeced, mowed, trimmed and groomed down to the faintest shadow, it has been so for the last decade.

        Until my infant daughter grows up and begins to pressure her father to sport dreadlocks, I will remain untroubled about the subject.

    1. That thought gave me pause as well. It’s why I love classics writers — startling perspectives that use such common sense reasoning that one is momentarily convinced they’re true. This one might be. I can’t decide!

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