Why Do They Wear Wigs in Court?

by Christina Riopelle

Members of England's House of Lords as well as English judges don white or gray horsehair wigs for sessions and trials. While critics periodically suggest abolishing the archaic tradition, purists point to the values of tradition and ceremony.

Fashion

The balding Louis XIV adopted the wig out of vanity. When King Charles II returned from the French court, the trend spread among the wealthy of England. By 1660, judges and the House of Lords adopted the fashion of the day.

Self-preservation

England emerged from a civil war between the Crown, Cavalier King Charles II and the Parliament-supporting Roundheads, named for the shorn heads of the Puritans. With the monarchy restored, long judicial wigs made a statement against the Roundheads.

Anonymity

A bench of judges, or lords, dressed uniformly, from wig to toe, implies a united front representing the Crown’s interest, rather than the individual interests of its members. Robes and wigs also hide details of clothing that potentially distract attention in a court proceeding.

Tradition

Numerous campaigns were launched to rid barristers and Lords of wigs during legal proceedings. Sir Robert Collier waged the first effort, inspired by sticky weather in the summer of 1868. As of 2010, all historical and modern attempts failed, citing tradition as the reason for continuing the practice.

Photo Credits

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