The wigmaker was one of the people that I really wanted to be able to talk to, because it fascinates me. I think that the practice of wearing wigs is very curious and it was so important in the 18th century. Most of the upper class, men and women, wore wigs. Or, at the very least, elaborate extensions.
The shop is tiny, but it is filled with the most amazing stuff. There are wigs of every shape and size, along with all the tools you would need for wig-making and upkeep. There was a woman sitting at a table and actually making a wig, so you really got a chance to see how they do it (You can commission the wigmaker to make you a custom wig, but I didn't ask how much).
They used all sorts of hair for making wigs, horse, goat, and human hair being the most prized. The woman was making one out of yak hair when I was in there, which really threw me. Yak? Really?
When you go in, they have a little presentation that they do, which gives you the basic information about wigs. She told us about the history of wigs and how they came to be so popular during the Renaissance. Long hair was a symbol of manhood, so if you couldn't grow it, you bought it. Eventually it became a status thing and helped to show off wealth (they didn't come cheap then, either). If you can picture the Kings Louis or King James the first, they all had massive, flowing curls down their back. Not really my idea of manly, but you don't argue with the king.
After they finish the basic information, you can ask questions. One woman asked about cleaning the wigs. You didn’t really wash them more than once a year (don’t you just know how terrible the 18th century must have smelled) and usually they were cleaned by airing them out. It was frequent to have a small army of insects and vermin living in your wig. I asked a question about coloring wigs. Usually the ones we see in moves are white, but I have read a lot of sources that mention colored wigs. She told me it was very common for people to powder their white wigs to make them blue, red, pink, or some other color. They actually had one in the shop that was powdered mauve. This was just something you could use to coordinate. Blue dress, blue hair.
Because it is small, a limited number of people are allowed in at once. Turnover is quick, though, so you shouldn’t have to wait long.
by Taylor Shelby
Charleston, South Carolina
June 30, 2005
From journal Occupied Colonial Williamsburg - Under the Redcoat