Perukes and periwigs were an expensive fashion statement in
the 18th century. All members of the gentry, who were anybody, would
delight in flaunting their latest acquisition. A visit to Richard Kerby’s
barber shop in Salisbury Street, Blandford in 1790 would cast light on what
perukes and periwigs were. Both were types of powdered wigs. As 18th
century Blandford was neither clean nor hygienic, the regular delousing of wigs
was a lucrative sideline for hairdresser, Kerby.
As a show of wealth, periwigs became larger, more
ostentatious and bizarre. Consequently, they became more and more valuable so
wig snatching from the heads of wearers became quite common. The fashion of wig
wearing had begun in France with Louis XIV. As baldness was
considered to indicate a lack of masculinity so to hide his follicle challenge,
Louis appeared in court wearing a showy, powdered wig. Naturally, his courtiers
copied him and soon the fashion spread across the English Channel. Satirist
William Hogarth mocked the effete preposterousness of wig wearing in his work The Five Orders of Periwigs. At the
time, regular bathing in warm water was considered to be a health hazard so the
powder was designed to mask the body odour. It was reckoned warm water opened
the pores through which disease could enter the body.
Heavier and taller periwigs were particularly unsuitable when
travelling. This led to the invention of the smaller and lighter peruke. The
particular speciality of Blandford was the making of perukes. Hair from the
heads of the Dorset poor was used. While for a less expensive product, there
was always horse and goat hair or even cow tails.
Wig wearing started to go out of fashion after the French
Revolution when so many French aristocrats were beheaded by the guillotine.
This discouraged showiness about wealth. A second blow came from the Government
introducing a wig powder tax. Users of powder were required to pay one guinea
for an annual certificate. Those that did were nicknamed ‘guinea pigs’. By the 1830s there were no peruke makers left in
Apparently, certain quite senior members of the Blandford and
district gentry were particularly fond of their locally made perukes. As a
consequence, they continued to wear them for a long time after they had fallen
out of fashion.