I'm researching dress in 18th century Britain.

This article claims the following: "Brits stopped wearing wigs after William Pitt levied a tax on hair powder in 1795." The date seems odd to me, because I could have sworn I once read a social history that claimed a Briton "wouldn't be caught dead in a wig" by the 1780s, or even the 70s, and backed it up with a quote from a contemporary letter. But I can't be sure I'm remembering correctly. The book Daily Life in 18th Century Britain says that that "wigs went out of fashion for good (except in the law courts) at the end of the century, when powder taxes and sympathies for the French revolutionaries made short, natural hair the rage."

If this is right, it implies multiple causes (and also taxes plural) and a slower phase out than just 1795. The political and fashionable aspects also make me wonder if it may have been first ditched by the young or politically left. Odd as it may seem, I'd like to know the status of the wig down to the year, because my project focuses on 1793-94.

So, when did the British gentry do away with the wig? Secondarily, did it go very suddenly, or did any particular group stop wearing them first? Was it ever politically controversial? And on a final note, did Britain uniformly adopt short hair, or was there greater variation?

  • 2
    Oops, just found this on wikipedia: "After 1790, both wigs and powder were reserved for older, more conservative men, and were in use by ladies being presented at court. After 1790 English women seldom powdered their hair." That seems to answer the main question, but I'll leave it open in case anyone comes along with more detail.
    – Random
    May 12 '18 at 19:44
  • 1
    I think you should close it. It is rather a trivia.
    – Rohit
    May 13 '18 at 6:08
  • 3
    by the 1790s some members of the British middle and upper classes definitely didn't wear powdered wigs according to the portraits I have seen - boys. Of course boys probably wouldn't have worn powdered wigs even when they were most popular. According to portraits, many boys worn their hair long, and some young men too, since in a mutiny in 1796 a naval lieutenant was pulled up a stair by his hair.
    – MAGolding
    May 13 '18 at 6:58
  • @MAGolding: Nice, thanks for the detail.
    – Random
    May 14 '18 at 3:40

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