“W” is for Wig. Vivi Lena Andersen, Ph.D., Museum Curator at the Museum of Copenhagen, Denmark

De español y mestiza, castiza, Miguel Cabrera, Mexico, 1763, Oil on canvas, 147 cm x 115 cm. Madrid, Museo de América, inv. 00006

“In Mexico, the Spanish method of dressing wigs is popular, although unlike black, which is the natural colour of Mexicans’ hair, they prefer blonde or light brown shades for wigs.  Furthermore, women also prefer these lighter colours, for hairpieces used in the front and back of their heads.”  (Translated from Jean de Monségur, 1709, chap. XL)

The most important task of a wigmakers job today is to make wigs for people who have lost their hair. It is a sensitive subject and task. The vast majority of people who lose their hair due to illness don´t want to be looked at. A good wig should be invisible, look natural and blend in. But the way wigs have been used and the reasons for using them have changed through time.

Wig, Human hair, circa 1660s, H. 28 cm, Diam. 22 cm, Museum of Copenhagen, inv. KBM 3827 FO205962

Wigs for men became fashionable in Europe during the 1600s. It was a fashion accessory alongside gloves and shoes used by both adult men and young boys, and the style changed from dark long, curly and voluminous to blond/grey, short, curls at the sides of the head and with a whip or a pouch at the neck.

The pictures show a wig from the 1660´s from the collection of Museum of Copenhagen. It was found at the recent Metro excavation at the City Hall Square. It is well preserved with the hair extensions still in place on the netting. Microscope analysis shows that it was made of human hair. It corresponds with the tales of wigmakers from the city visiting the country side to buy the long hair from farmer wives in order to have the best material to make their fine wigs. So perhaps the hair we see here in this wig originates from a lady that lived her life in the country side, though the wig was worn by a fine gentleman in the city?

Wig, Human hair, circa 1660s, H. 28 cm, Diam. 22 cm, Museum of Copenhagen, inv. KBM 3827 FO205962

The hair on this wig is dark brown. It wasn’t until the 1700s that they started to powder their wigs with flour to make them white. If you look closely you can see the wig also have a red nuance, but that probably stems from the acids in the soil which has affected the object during the centuries below ground. As I am writing this we are preparing new exhibitions for the Museum of Copenhagen. During the years we have unearthed several wigs during excavations around the centre of the Copenhagen. In the new gallery covering the history of Absolutism different types of wigs, extensions and hair decoration made of hair will be on display. To the observer it will probably look as if our ancestors preferred wigs of red hair, but the red color is in fact the result of a chemical reaction in the soil.

The uneven ends on this wig tell us that the former lengthy locks of hair were cut off before the rest was discarded. If the locks were long enough they might have been reused for a new wig or extensions. Or perhaps this wig is from the phase where the longhaired curly wigs were replaced by the short haired look? Nevertheless we appreciate these wigs in our collection as they bring us one step closer to the wearer of the wig, the maker of the wig and the one who provided the locks of hair for this fascinating accessory of the Absolutism.


De español y mestiza, castiza, Miguel Cabrera, Mexico, 1763, Oil on canvas, 147 cm x 115 cm. Madrid, Museo de América, inv. 00006

References:

The Past beneath our Feet, ed. Camilla Mordhorst, Vivi Lena Andersen & Katrine Andreasen Johnsen, Museum of Copenhagen, 2013.

Danske Dragter. Moden i 1700-årene, Ellen Andersen, The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, 1977.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.