Litigation

Why the wig

Wigs first appeared in British courtrooms in the 17th century. The reason?

It was the fashion of the time, especially the upper echelons of society. When wigs went out of fashion, they endured in courtrooms because they conferred a sense of history, dignity and anonymity – hiding the color of the wearer’s hair. 

Countries founded on British common law, including Malaysia, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, India and New Zealand, adopted the wig-wearing practice.

Today, white horse-hair wigs remain a symbol of the courtroom, though in most countries outside of the UK, they are largely reserved for ceremonial occasions. Within the UK, wigs remain in use, but to varying degrees.

Not all have mourned the wig’s departure. Some complained of their cost. The price tag for a shoulder-length judge’s wig today is around £1,900 ($2,500) while shorter wigs (pictured), typically worn by barristers (courtroom advocates), cost about £500 ($650).

And there was no shortage of complaints that the wigs were uncomfortable. In 2006, lawyer John Baldwin argued for their removal: “Some people think it gives them more authority, but most of us just think they’re itchy.”

Photograph: Bloomberg, Getty