Where are all the vegan wigs?

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By Katie King on

More are shunning animal produce, yet the legal dress industry just won’t ditch its horsehair

The Vegan Society reckons there are more than half a million vegans in the UK, documentaries such as Earthlings and Cowspiracy going someway to explain this decade’s four-fold increase.

Though sales of plant-based foods have skyrocketed, the legal dress market hasn’t been quite as receptive to the trend.

We are, of course, talking about barrister wigs. A universal symbol of the legal profession, it’s been tradition for advocates to plonk tightly-curled strands of horsehair on their heads since the 17th century. However, vegans do not eat nor wear animal produce (wool, leather, etc), and would therefore object to horsehair wigs. As one aspiring lawyer and strict vegan put it:

Bottom line is, it’s unethical and unnecessary to chop off a horse’s mane and tail to make a wig. It’s no different to skinning rabbits for fur or cows for bags.

This strength of belief, coupled with the rise in veganism, led me to assume finding synthetic wigs would be easy. It’s not.

Having spoken to the main legal dressers, Stanley Ley says it doesn’t provide vegan wigs (and that the horses from which the wigs are made from have led a life of luxury…), while Ede & Ravenscroft tells me it doesn’t either. There’s nothing on eBay too, apart from stuff like this:

Chancery Wigs informs me it doesn’t sell vegan wigs too, though it was able to point me in the direction of the Australian company Ludlows. A Ludlows spokesperson tells me it sells vegan wigs made from plastic. Its aim, they say, is to meet the needs of all its customers, and given the rise in veganism, it makes sense to offer synthetic wig options.

But, as for the UK market, the spokesperson says:

We do on occasion ship to the UK. We have not received much interest in vegan wigs from the UK, however this may be because people are unaware of the availability.

I do wonder whether more people would punt for the synthetic option if awareness was increased. John Gallagher, a barrister at Hardwicke, tells me he wears his synthetic wig out of preference because it’s more comfortable, a better shape and less hot.

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Though not a vegan himself, Gallagher bought his synthetic wig many years ago from a small retailer in West London, the name of which escapes him and that I’ve been unable to locate. Like me, he assumed non-horsehair products would be more commonplace than they are, saying:

Ordinary, non-lawyer wigs are often synthetic, so I’m shocked that it’s so difficult to find barristers’ wigs like this.

Having been engrossed in the world of vegan wigs in writing this piece, I can only find two possible options to explain this surprising lack of availability: tradition and business sense.

On the latter, Gallagher points out wigs, which cost about £500 in the UK, are now only really worn in criminal courts and some senior courts. Though the number of vegans has increased, plant-based dieters only make up approximately 0.8% of the population. Is the demand sufficient?

And then the former — tradition.

The bar has remained a stalwart of conservativism throughout history, shunning social media and marketing strategies more readily embraced by law firms. That said, in the words of our aspiring lawyer and vegan, “it’s 2017 and time to stop using tradition as an argument for animal exploitation.” Another vegan, a law student, tells me: “In this day and age there should most definitely be synthetic wigs. This would suit vegans and also be more sustainable and cheaper to make.”

In researching this piece, I spoke to Martin Lewis, the owner of a small supplier of graduation gowns and barrister wigs called Graduation Attire. He says he sells gowns made from 28 recycled plastic bottles. It’s an interesting example of a traditional sector being made more ethical and modern, maybe it’s time for the wig industry to follow suit. Yay or neigh?

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