Two hundred years ago powdered wigs were all the fashion in courts in the British Commonwealth, as they were a mark of high status. Most countries that practice common law utilized these wigs at some point in history, resulting in them remaining a prevalent symbol of the judicial system in Canada to this day. Many people wonder where this obscure tradition came from, and may be surprised to know that this practice is still in place in some countries today.
Predominantly, Britain continues this long-standing tradition today, as all barristers in a UK court of law must don the powdered wig. In a British court of law, the wig represents a symbol of anonymity, as it distances the wearer from the personal aspects of each case at hand. In short, the wig acts as a disguise of sorts, slightly obscuring the true identity of the wearer, so they may attend to the matters of the court purely objectively. In UK courts of law, wigs are so prevalent that if a barrister or judge does not wear one, it is seen as an insult to the court.
There are different wigs for the different levels of judicial rankings within the court, all representing the different groups of council. A common barristers wig is curled tightly at the crown, with long horizontal curls at the sides and back extending to roughly half a foot above the shoulders. In addition to this, the wig contains a large patch of prosthetic material, traditionally comprised of horse hair, that covers the back of the neck, with a looped curl at the end of the quaff.
A judge’s wig is slightly more elaborate, as it is meant to represent the highest authority figure within the court. It is in similar style to the barristers wig, with a curled crown revealing the brow region. However, the judge’s wig has horizontal curls that are intricately layered, to give the appearance of tremendous fullness. In addition, these curls extend much longer than the barristers’, usually extending past the judge’s shoulders and on to the chest.
Unfortunately, British barristers and judges have to pay a pretty penny for these historical symbols of common law, in order to make a proper appearance in court. A typical barrister’s wig can usually cost 500 pounds, with a judge’s powdered wig running upwards of 3000. Although these wigs seem like a monetarily costly old tradition, it goes without saying that the British court system has been recognized throughout the ages, partly in thanks to these stylish ashen ornaments.