Powdered Wigs, Syphilis, and Tradition

Today I was at a friend’s house watching the new History Channel miniseries about the Revolutionary War.   While we were watching it my friend asked me why people wore wigs back in that time period.  I had to find out and upon doing so found this article:

Why Did People Wear Powdered Wigs?

A sample:

For nearly two centuries, powdered wigs—called perukes—were all the rage. The chic hairpiece would have never become popular, however, if it hadn’t been for a venereal disease, a pair of self-conscious kings, and poor hair hygiene.  

The peruke’s story begins like many others—with syphilis. By 1580, the STD had become the worst epidemic to strike Europe since the Black Death. According to William Clowes, an “infinite multitude” of syphilis patients clogged London’s hospitals, and more filtered in each day. Without antibiotics, victims faced the full brunt of the disease: open sores, nasty rashes, blindness, dementia, and patchy hair loss. Baldness swept the land.

At the time, hair loss was a one-way ticket to public embarrassment. Long hair was a trendy status symbol, and a bald dome could stain any reputation. When Samuel Pepys’s brother acquired syphilis, the diarist wrote, “If [my brother] lives, he will not be able to show his head—which will be a very great shame to me.” Hair was that big of a deal.

The rest of the article is interesting as well.  Eventually Louis XIV, King of France, and Charles II, King of England, also started wearing wigs.  (Both of these kings were also thought possibly to have had syphilis.)  Well once kings start wearing wigs it is only a matter of time until others do.

So basically you had a bunch of rich people that were fucking too much, got syphilis, started wearing wigs, and then they influenced a whole lot of other people to start wearing wigs.  What is so funny is that judges used to wear wigs in the U.S.  Judges in England still wear them.  So you had and have all of these so called respectable people carrying on a tradition that in part started because of an STD.

It kind of makes you wonder what other respectable traditions have their basis in bullshit too…

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One thought on “Powdered Wigs, Syphilis, and Tradition

  1. Reblogged this on Windup Wire and commented:

    This post has been getting a bunch of hits lately. I thought I would repost it, something I don’t often do, for those who haven’t seen it yet. I think the subject matter is both interesting and absurdly comic. When encountering any tradition of power you should, as they say, “Trust, but verify!”

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