Is Your Crowning Glory a Peruke?

Is your crowning glory a peruke? I hope not. Unless you’re rich. Even then, people would probably make fun of you in this day and age, because a peruke is a powdered wig, and they went out of fashion in the late 18th century.

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The practice of wearing perukes made sense at the time. Diseases such as syphilis rendered victims with patchy baldness, and lice were a common problem in the 18th century. Shaving one’s head and wearing a wig just made sense — IF you were a man of means. These perukes were expensive, often costing two months’ wages or more, depending on how long and elaborate they were. It’s where the phrase “bigwig” comes from. Those who had more money had more voluminous perukes.

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The wig maker who shared this history with us in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia explained how they were made from human, horse, and goat hair. They were then colored/powdered with various natural pigments from resources such as lavender, turmeric, ashes and even urine.

Those without the means to buy a peruke could buy a hair extension. I found it fascinating to think that these were tied around their heads.

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It wasn’t until after 1770 that women began wearing wigs. Theirs were the more pastel-colored wigs, unlike the white powdered perukes worn by prominent men.

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Eventually, the practice ended altogether. Brits stopped wearing wigs after William Pitt levied a tax on hair powder in 1795, and as with most things, the American colonies followed suit soon after.

For fun: what would drive you to pay exorbitant fees to wear a peruke (assuming it were fashionable to do so)?

12 responses to “Is Your Crowning Glory a Peruke?

  1. I always like it when I learn something new, Juliann, like where bigwig came from, for example. As for what I would pay, I am glad I don’t have to find out, given today’s view of such things. I’d rather be bald. Thanks for this tour of perukes. I’m not even sure I have run into the word before. –Curt

    • Thanks, Curt! I always like to learn new things, too. The term “peruke” was completely new to me, as were the reasons for wigs’ popularity. Learning new things is such a fun part of travel!

  2. I am going to pull out peruke some time in a scrabble game. It will make me look like a bigwig for sure. Seriously though, I have a hard time getting Ed to go anywhere else but CostCutters for haircuts so I can’t imagine him spending two weeks wages for a wig.

    • I know, right?! I’m eager to use “peruke” in a Scrabble game, too.
      I can’t imagine spending that much on a wig, either, AND having to shave your head so you could wear one! Crazy colonists!

  3. so interesting! I didn’t know this was where the term “bigwig” came from. I also didn’t realize that men wore these wigs before women ever did. Great history lesson. 🙂

    • Thanks. I must admit, I never thought anyone would learn about history from me, but if it had been taught to me through factoids about daily life like this, it would have been much more impactful.

  4. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what the word “peruke” meant until I read your post, but this is so interesting and informative! It makes sense that if you had syphilis or something that caused you to lose hair, you’d need a big wig to cover it up (haha). I haven’t been to Williamsburg, VA since I was a child, but now I’m thinking I should return. So much to appreciate as an adult!

  5. I didn’t know much about peruke until today! We don’t see them anymore except on period TV drama or movies. I wonder if they will ever make a comeback…

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