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Wigs have been worn by the legal profession in court since the late 17th Century as barristers were viewed as being part of the middle-class society.
Since then, wigs have remained a firm fixture in the court room despite being used as a formality or a sense of anonymity rather than social standing. Since 1822 all barristers and judges’ wigs have been made from horsehair as patented by Humphrey Ravenscroft.
Check out the LawCareers.Net’s barrister’s hub for more information.
The ethical debate around using animal hair for items that can be made using other materials continues, as wigs are not the only item used in popular culture currently made this way. Until recently, the only alternative to the horsehair wig is plastic and from Australia which sounds itchy and expensive to have shipped over.
However, Samuel March from 9 King’s Bench Walk took a stand, refusing to wear a horsehair wig instead making the first ever barrister’s wig made from hemp, a plant-based alternative. This product development is great news for vegans, animal activists and those who are eco conscious as it is cruelty free, biodegradable and durable with the ability to last the length of a barrister’s career.
Despite ticking all those boxes, the cost of the hemp wig sits at around £650 exceeding the traditional horsehair option at £599, adding to the age-old question of accessibility to legal profession for those from differing socio-economic backgrounds.
Law school already costs enough even if you can secure scholarships but the costs of necessities such as the wig and gown for barristers can put some people off pursuing their chosen career path.
See our specific barrister finances page if you’re thinking of becoming a barrister.
I think we can all agree, there can never be too many alternatives. Society’s views are ever changing and, animal welfare is becoming more prominent leading to an increase in demand for animal-friendly wigs.
Despite this, the cost will also remain a prominent factor in decisions, particularly because the necessities in the legal world can be very costly. Hopefully in the future, there will be more purse friendly options too.