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Should You be Washing Your Legal Wig?

by Martin Lewis
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There’s a perception surrounding wigs in the legal profession that the more discoloured and worn looking a wig is, the more established in their career the wearer looks.

Barristers and judges have been known to throw their wigs in dirt, pull at the stitching to loosen some hairs and shake their wigs in a vacuum bag to try and speed up the ageing process.

However, when you’re spending out hundreds of pounds on an expertly crafted, handmade British wig, really you want to ensure it stays looking, and smelling, at its absolute best.

While the discolouration of a wig can signify authority and an established legal career, there is no reason that your wig should be unclean or unhygienic.

That’s why we’ve written this post exploring if and how you should be cleaning your legal wig.

The Background

The practice of wearing a legal wig in court proceedings began in the 1600s when low personal hygiene standards and unsanitary courtrooms meant head lice were common.

As well as this historic headlice problem, the lead-based ‘makeup’ that was worn at the time would cause people’s hair to fall out.

Wearing a legal wig made of horsehair meant judges and lawyers were able to have clean-shaven heads underneath so they would not catch lice.

And for those who had gone bald before their time it meant they could hide their lack of hair with their legal wig.

Wigs grew in popularity during the reign of Charles II, who deemed wigs essential wear for polite society and inspired a trend for wearing wigs in day to day life.

Wigs continued to be worn in the legal profession long after they had fallen out of fashion with the rest of society, as they had come to represent the authority and historical position of the judicial system.

For more about legal wigs, read our blog on the history of the Barrister’s wig.

Wig Wash - Back of Wig

A Modern Standard of Legal Wear

As a barrister, you want to be presenting your best possible self when you enter the courtroom. Legal attire is not just simply a traditional standard of dress.

When a legal professional puts on their wig,gown and bands, it is as though they are getting into character. Smart legal wear will help you to feel more authoritative and confident in your argument when you head into court.

A clean and fragrant wig is just one way that you can present yourself in a smart and authoritative manner in the courtroom.

While legal wigs are required less in courtrooms these days than historically, there are still several occasions, particularly in criminal proceedings, where barrister’s wigs are worn.

Why Keep Legal Wigs Clean?

It’s claimed that a well crafted, handmade legal wig should be guaranteed to last the owner for a hundred years. So, to ensure your legal wig survives its hundred-year lifespan, there are some measures you can take to maintain its appearance.

Your skin produces natural oils that will transfer to a wig through continued wear. These can be beneficial as they help the wig to mould to the shape of the wearer’s head. However, continued exposure to these oils can cause damage to the wig and create odours.

Wig Wash - Wig and Paper

When you spend hours in a courtroom wearing your legal wig as you argue for your client, you may begin to perspire. This perspiration can transfer to your legal wig and leave it smelling fusty and stale.

Your legal wig might also become unclean as you transport it to and from court. Carrying wigs in briefcases or handbags can lead to damage to the wig in a variety of ways; from ink spills to catching the hairs in zips and fastenings.

While a certain level of discolouration may be preferred by barristers, dishevelled and damaged legal wigs can imply a lack of care for one’s appearance. Keeping a clean wig shows respect for the practice.

Professional Legal Wig Cleaning

There are many establishments offering professional legal wig cleaning services across the world. These services are carried out by experts who handle each wig with care.

A professional wig cleaning service will usually consist of a thorough but gentle cleaning of the horsehair fibres to remove all traces of dirt and grime.

As many barristers are conscious of not losing the aged colour they have developed, professional wig cleaning services use a process which does not affect the colour of the wig.

Professional cleaners will also trim any loose hairs and reshape the wig back to a pristine state.

How often a barrister’s wig should be professionally cleaned has been much debated. Some sources claim once every 25-30 years is frequent enough, while other establishments recommend a wig be cleaned professionally at least once a year.

The exact frequency of professional cleaning will depend on the individual and whether any major accidental damage is caused to the wig.

However, to extend the life and maintain the appearance of your legal wig, we recommend you get your Tailor De Jure legal wig professionally cleaned once every one to three years.

Cleaning Your Legal Wig Yourself

While a professional clean of your legal wig can be great to rectify any substantial damage to your legal wig, there are a number of ways you can keep your wig fresh day-to-day.

As we have previously noted, perspiration and the absorption of natural oils from the scalp can lead to your legal wig developing an unwanted stale smell.

One simple way to combat this is to allow your wig to breathe. Rather than shutting your wig in an airtight box immediately after removing it, give your wig a chance to air out before storing away.

This will allow any moisture or perspiration left on the wig to dry out, preventing a musty smell from developing.

When you’re rushing in and out of court, accidents are bound to happen; you may spill a coffee or have a pen leak over your wig.

It may be possible to wash these small marks and spillages out yourself. Try simply using warm water and a cloth to gently sponge out any stains from your wig. But, be careful not to scrub at your wig as this may disturb the hairs and pull them out of shape.

To ensure your legal wig stays in shape when you’re not wearing it, try storing your wig on a stand. The rounded top will help to maintain the curved shape of your wig, meaning it will sit more comfortably on your head when you next come to wear it.

The Tailor De Jure barrister wig stand is the perfect shape and size for proudly displaying your barrister’s wig and allows your wig to circulate in fresh air, helping to maintain a pleasant smelling legal wig.

wig stand

Your legal wig is a fragile piece of your legal attire. The handcrafted nature of the wigs mean that a thorough clean is a delicate process best left to the experts. Professional legal wig cleaning services have the experience and know how to restore your wig to its former glory without causing any damage.

However, you can help to elongate the lifespan of your legal wig by adopting some simple day-to-day habits. Storing and transporting your wig safely will help to keep your legal wig free from odours, in a presentable condition and without any damage.

Taking the appropriate care of your legal wig will ensure you always appear smart and authoritative in the courtroom, so you can focus on your fight for fairness.

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