Why we wear wigs

Edward Fenner
By Oxfordian Kissuth - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16005268

Why we wear wigs – Edward Fenner

I am often asked by clients why barristers wear wigs. Is it uncomfortable? What is it made of? In short it was fashionable to wear wigs about 400 years ago and it’s stuck. Wigs used to be made of human hair. People would earn money from selling their own hair to various wig makers. Otherwise horse hair was used, as it still is to this day.

Is it uncomfortable? Actually I feel lost without it. Over the years I’ve cross-examined so many witnesses, challenged expert evidence, advanced legal submissions and made closing speeches in various court rooms from the Old Bailey to the Court of Appeal. I’m used to wearing the wig and I like it. There was talk a few years ago of abandoning our court dress in favour of a simply a suit. The overwhelming majority of barristers voted, as did I, in favour of keeping the tradition. The wig adds pomp to the full court dress and helps maintain the gravity of proceedings. It reinforces the perception that triviality is left at the door of court, the issues are important for the defendant, for the administration of justice and for maintenance of law and order in this country. After all it isn’t ‘Judge Rinder’! It is also surprising how often it can obscure the identity of advocates.

You get quite attached to your wig. Sadly I recently had to retire mine and buy a new one. I had worn it non-stop since I was a pupil in chambers, so it won’t surprise you to know that I kept it out of sentimentality and just in case its replacement doesn’t live up to scratch.