Pupil barrister trials UK’s first vegan wig

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By Aishah Hussain on

Samuel March’s hemp-based prototype draws praise from legal profession

Samuel March wearing his hemp barrister’s wig

A pupil barrister has mocked up what is believed to be the country’s first vegan wig.

Samuel March of 5 Paper Buildings, a chambers specialising in criminal law, unveiled the prototype on social media which uses hemp in place of traditional horsehair.

A universal symbol of the legal profession, barristers have worn wigs crafted from horsehair since the 17th century. In 1822, Humphrey Ravenscroft of Ede & Ravenscroft, one of London’s oldest tailors and court outfitters, patented a wig that is still in use today.

Recent statistics show that veganism is on the rise, and given that vegans do not eat nor wear animal produce, it seems the legal dress industry is in want of providing for those that may object to wearing horsehair headgear.

A Legal Cheek investigation in 2017 discovered that none of the main legal dressers in the UK supplied synthetic wigs, and that a vegan-friendly version was only available to order from a company in Australia. Those were found to be made from plastic, however, and so March’s hemp prototype, which is “100% biodegradable”, looks to be the UK’s first vegan and environmentally-friendly wig.

“The wig is deeply symbolic, I wanted it to be something I would be excited and proud to wear, and I just didn’t get that feeling from the idea of a synthetic wig,” March, who turned vegan three years ago, told Legal Cheek. “I didn’t want a highly artificial material masquerading as something else; I wanted something that was natural, distinct, had some character and was proudly different. Hemp was my father’s idea initially, he is an artist … and a bit of an aging hippy. We both found the idea of wearing a plant so closely related to cannabis into the criminal courts delightfully disruptive.”

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Cambridge graduate March brought on hemp manufacturers Cultiva Kingdom to craft the wig. Laura Bossom, who has been supporting March with the production, said: “I really like the idea of long-lasting, resilient and sustainable hemp wigs. I like the image of them being passed down to incoming pupils by retiring barristers, leaving a legacy behind of a wig which won’t pollute the planet or harm any animals.”

March estimates the wig, which is handmade by a master craftsman in England, will retail for £650. This puts it in the higher end of the market with traditional horsehair wigs ranging between £400 and £700.

The reaction since he uploaded his post over the weekend has been “a bit mad”, said March, who has been “flooded” with requests for orders. “I thought I would get a handful of replies from friends and close colleagues. I’m not quite ready yet to go into business but I have been flooded with requests about how to order one.”

Karl Turner MP praised March’s prototype as a “brilliant idea”, while members of the legal profession asked when he’s “‘branching’ out into full bottomed and bench wigs?”

Ivy & Normanton, the first court outfitters for women, also welcomed the idea: “We think anything that makes the bar more sustainable and allows people to express their personality and beliefs is a good thing.”

March, who will be on his feet in court from April, is hopeful his hemp headgear catches on. He told Legal Cheek:

“I would like to think it catches on a bit. I think I was slightly misquoted in The Telegraph as saying it could be ‘the norm’ in a few years — I think that’s a stretch, but I would like to see them be a perfectly normal thing to wear.”

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