For a time in the 1960s and early 1970s, it was acceptable and fashionable for young Irish women to wear wigs. Inspired initially by the bouffant and beehive styles of Jackie Kennedy, Dusty Springfield, Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn, women found that the easiest, cheapest and most convenient way to manage their hair was to use wigs and hairpieces.
“Nowadays, wearing a wig is as natural as powdering your nose,” claimed Peter Mark in its 1970 advert for the Ginchywig. Indeed, I remember my mother, young and with a full head of hair, regularly going out wearing a wig. It was no big deal, and no one seemed to care if it was obviously, a wig. When she got home, she removed it and put it on a white polystyrene mannequin head in her bedroom.
The wig renaissance had started back in 1958 when influential French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy spotted their potential. Frustrated at how long it took for models to get their hair styled for fashion shows, Givenchy used pre-styled wigs to save time and help create a uniform look on the runway. It worked and he made wigs cool. With the arrival of mass-production and synthetic fibres, they also became affordable and popular.
But in the early 1970s, fashions and moods changed and women stopped wearing wigs. I’m not sure when this happened exactly, but I remember a telling moment in the summer of 1976, the year Jaws ruled Irish cinemas. My sister and I entered a fancy dress competition at a local summer festival. We found my mother’s neglected polystyrene head in the attic, smeared it with tomato ketchup and joined the fancy dress parade in our swimming gear while playing the Jaws theme on a cassette recorder. Even though we had defaced the wig head, our mother wasn’t annoyed – she hadn’t worn the wig for years and no longer cared about it. Wigs were well and truly out.
My mother’s wig got a new lease of life that day. After years of appearing at dinner-dances, parties, communions and christenings, it was now in the hands of her children, who used it at fancy dress parties for decades to come.
Wigs are fun, and will always be cool. Just ask Khruangbin.
Words: Brian McMahon