Why do Lawyers wear wigs?
From the start I ought to point out it may be worth reading if you haven’t already the previous blog on the difference between each type of lawyer. I say this because in the UK and Gibraltar, it is only barristers that don the aforementioned wig. Other countries do not even bother at all although some Hong Kong being one certainly do.
It is here we could end up with a divergence as the question could be; why did anyone start wearing a wig? This then would lead to why is it the legal profession to this day is the only one that don a wig for work? For brevity I’ll stick to the latter. Wigs started appearing around the 16th century Louis XIV had a massive influence on English wig wearing and as they became popular they got more ostentatious, longer, curlier you name it someone had one like it, probably. In England aristocrats wore them as a sign of social standing but courtrooms even up to the early 1680’s had not adopted them formally at least as far as we can tell from images of the time. However in 1685 they started to become part of “proper” courtroom attire.
There are several different types but in the main barristers must wear a wig slightly frizzed at the crown, with horizontal curls on the sides and back. In addition, there are two long strips of hair that hang down below the hairline on the neck and sport a looped curl at each end.
A judge’s wig is similar, but more ornate. It’s a full wig, from a slightly frizzed top that transitions into tight horizontal curls that range several inches below the shoulders. Most wigs are made of white horse hair, but as a wig yellows with age, it takes on a coveted patina that conveys experience.
For the benefit of the real connoisseur the best wigs are made of horse hair, albeit a bit itchy for those with a pate bereft of their own. They have been made of other material including those wanting to make a bit of money by selling their own long hair for the production, presumably they dyed the hair?
In some courtrooms not wigs are not compulsory or used, family court and magistrates court for example but certainly in criminal court they are required for reasons other than mere tradition. A judge can be often heard telling a barrister he or she “cannot be heard!” no matter how loudly they speak only because they failed to don the mop. It may seem a quirk and old fashioned rule but it had a serious side. It meant that jurors could not be dazzled by a dandy looking barrister while perhaps a poor defender was less able to afford such a lawyer. Equally the reverse is true. The wig and gown also brought a more formal approach to court proceedings and another benefit of the wig was the barrister was less likely to be recognise out of court making harassment a less likely occurrence.
Finally they’re not cheap ranging from just under £200 through to £2000 or more for a judges wig and that doesn’t take into account gowns depending on the standing and experience of the barrister. The upside though is modern wigs don’t need powdering and cleaning.
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