In the western world the use of wigs reached its peak in France between the end of the 1600s and the 1800s. It had a real explosion between the nobility and it became a very particular and inevitable element of fashion and costume in all the courts of Europe.
The Sun King and the spread throughout Europe
This fashion trend was introduced by Louis XIV. who became bald, had the intuition of making the wig a decorative element like a hat and not a mere 'prosthesis' to hide baldness. The Sun King wore a long wig of black curls that could in no way be mistaken for natural hair. The nobility, imitating the King who was considered as a god, began to wear showy wigs, which were made with real hair or fleece of animals and were then powdered to make them white, fashionable color, with rice starch and others powders.
Since France was the most flourishing and admired country at the time, the wig fashion soon spread throughout Europe. In this period the barber began to call himself a hairdresser because he was in charge of the preparation and care of these 'headdresses'.
Marie Antoinette and the pouf
With Marie Antoinette. the last queen of France, the wig reached exaggerated proportions, was styled in the strangest ways and was even used to communicate messages or moods. Monsieur Leonard, hairdresser of Marie Antoinette invented the pouf, a wig mounted on a metal scaffold and padded cushions which were then covered with locks of real hair and hairpieces and in which various objects were inserted even reaching the meter in height.
Marie Antoinette wore a wig decorated with the model of the frigate used in the American War of Independence, the Belle Poule, a cage with real birds, flowers, fruits, butterflies and much more. Monsieur Leonard invented the sentimental pouf, in this wig there were wax figurines that represented the important characters in the life of the ladies telling a whole story. It is said that, as smallpox killed Louis XV and other courtiers, his son Louis XVI inoculated himself and his children with smallpox pus, adopting an oriental practice that was successful. To celebrate, the 'inoculation pouf' was invented, a wig that contained an olive tree with a coiled snake and a sun rising to represent the triumph of medicine over the disease.
The decline of the wig
The wigs began to shrink when Marie Antoinette had her first child and moved to the Petit Trianon, moreover they had become so bulky as to oblige the ladies to bend down to go through the doors or to kneel to get into the carriage.
After the French revolution, wigs lost their charm because they were associated with the lifestyle of the fallen nobility and a more natural look caught on.