One of the most unusual requests that I have had as a hairstylist came to me from my dear friend, the late Kaye Ward Vinson, American History Professor BCCC, who charged me with the task of restyling the wig that he was wearing as a re-enactor.
I had a really difficult time washing, curling, and styling his wig to resemble a Ramillies campaign wig, which was popular in the 18th century complete with curls and pigtail. This is the hairstyle that George Washington was sporting in his famous portrait that is on the one-dollar bill. Remembering this feat in hairstyling, I hit Google once more on a fact-finding mission.
The “WIGINNING” is in ancient Egypt. Both males and females shaved their heads and wore wigs because of heat, sun, and PESTILENCE in the form of head lice. Wigs were crafted from human hair and or wool, and palm fibers. The more elaborate the wig was, the higher the social rank which seems to be a theme throughout the ages. In 17th century Europe, a good hairline was the mark of a well-bred man. Long beautiful hair styles were on the rise as a symbol of wealth and status, unfortunately so was syphilis which affected more Europeans than the Black Plague. Symptoms were baldness, sores and MORE PESTILENCE.
A bald head was a one-way trip to public embarrassment. King Louis the XIV, the Sun King, started balding at 17, wonder why, and worried that baldness would ruin his reputation.
In the American colonies, men copied European fashion and wigs were essential for full dress occasions during most of the 18th century. They were hot, heavy, expensive and had bugs. Enlisted men often wore their natural hair long and tied back in a queue or wore fake plaits attached with ribbons, and in the case of the British army, covered in white powder which was still incredibly fashionable during the time of the revolutionary war. Powdering was so essential that it was part of the weekly ration and was deducted from a British enlisted man’s salary.
Interestingly, George Washington never wore a wig. He had naturally reddish-brown hair that he pulled back into a queue and powdered white as was the fashion. On Christmas day in 1998, after 27 years of being a lowly oarsman, my friend Ward Vinson finally got his opportunity to portray General George Washington in the reenactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware and did not wear his wig!
PHOTO CAP: Kaye Ward Vinson portraying General George Washington Christmas Day 1998 with Chris Blaydon.