While “to be, or not to be” may be Shakespeare’s question, “to be-wig, or not to be-wig” is the perennial question of lawyers.
Why do we still wear this appendage?
Even back in 1877 the South Australian Supreme Court questioned why a barrister should wear a wig. Indeed.
‘The wig is essentially unsuited to this climate . . .’ ‘We are first troubled with the question, why should a barrister wear a wig? Upon what principle of convenience, taste, or respect for dignities should he be required thus to encumber himself?’
But, as the Court commented, the bar must have agreed to it and be ‘pleased with their acquisition of this bauble; for we cannot believe that it was forced upon an unwilling bar.’
‘On Tuesday, the 13th March, 1877, being the first day of the Criminal Sittings, a new rule of the Supreme Court of South Australia, requiring all Counsel engaged in cases before the Court to appear in wigs, was brought into operation‘
‘Then, in connection with Supreme Court reform, we cannot but view with considerable alarm this return to an absurd and uncomfortable article of costume that had been discarded for nearly half a century.’
Above is the original 1877 newspaper clipping on ‘Barristers Wigs‘ from the newspaper, the South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail of Saturday 17 March, 1877 page 4. The Chronicle & Weekly Mail, Adelaide, SA, ran from 1868-1881.
The article was part of the catalogue from INNOCENT DIVERSIONS: AUSTRALIAN LEGAL FASHION exhibition in the Sir Harry Gibbs Legal Heritage Centre in SEPTEMBER 2014 in the QEII COURTS OF LAW building, Supreme Court Library Queensland.
Check out this link from the National Library of Australia at the end of the transcribed article.
‘Though a wig is emphatically a trifle, it must be borne in mind that trifles often work great results either suddenly or gradually. A mind so constituted as to be able to rejoice in a wig is liable to be seriously and perhaps unhappily influenced by it. It is not the sense of self-importance with which this appendage will impress the weaker brethren- of the law altogether undesirable ? Can we expect moderate charges from a man who wears a wig? Will there not be a desire to revenge upon the community the discomfort which such a head covering occasions? This feeling will first bear fruit in the burning heat of summer, when leaders of the bar and promising young advocates are literally earning their bread by the sweat of their brows; but the results will continue through all the year, for in such a case revenge must grow sweeter by indulgence.‘
Court dress in Australia
Above image is an artist’s depiction of the Trial of Ned Kelly, Australia
‘Of course we are reasoning upon the supposition that the barristers of South Australia are really pleased with their acquisition of this bauble; for we cannot believe that it was forced upon an unwilling bar.’
Ever wondered how they make the powdered wig?
Margaret Battye Australian lawyer.