Did Rococo wigs really have mice?
Often filled with flour, the giant wigs of the Rococo era were home to all sorts of critters. But could a mouse really go undetected?
Lush, powdered wigs had been popular since the end of the 17th century, but only for men. It wouldn't be until about 1770 when the (slightly more) natural ‘Pompadour’ hairstyle – named for French King Louis XV’s chief mistress – gave way to the giant wigs we now associate with the Rococo movement.
They were mostly human hair, but bulked out with horse-hair pads and wire frames. Pomades and powders (often flour) kept even the most fanciful creations solid until the next re-style, which were common.
Ladies of the French court vied with each other for novelty, but cartoonists and satirists enjoyed the fashion so much that it’s hard to know just how far some of the more outrageous styles went. The famous ‘ship in the hair’ prints may well have been a real design.
- Read more | A brief history of changing hairstyles
The wigs were never very hygienic, as all kinds of bug-based wildlife shared headspace with the wearer. Women would have to use a special rod to scratch their insect-infested wigs.
It’s unlikely, however, that a mouse would have stayed unnoticed while it was being worn.
Yet a wig being stored, or flung in the corner of a dressing room, might well have made a cosy nest for a family of mice, complete with powder and fatty pomades as a handy snack.
- On the podcast | National Maritime Museum curator Sue Pritchard discusses how monarchs used wigs to convey royal power and spark fashions, from Elizabeth I’s fiery false locks, to Charles II’s luxuriant cascading curls
This content was first published in the March 2016 issue of History Revealed
Jonny Wilkes is a former staff writer for BBC History Revealed, and he continues to write for both the magazine and HistoryExtra. He has BA in History from the University of York.
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