Barristers are known for their iconic wigs, but few actually know the reasons why. There are a number of reasons why barristers still wear wigs:
It really is about symbolism more than any rule. It brings a sense of formality and solemnity to proceedings. By wearing a gown and wig, a barrister represents the rich history of common law and the supremacy of the law over the proceedings. Wearing a wig allows a visual separation between the law and those before it.
The trend to wear wigs in court was started by Louis XIV of France. In the mid-17th century, a balding scalp was considered as a sign that someone had contracted syphilis. Therefore, the king disguised his scalp using a wig. This trend quickly spread throughout the upper and middle-classes in Europe including to Britain where Charles II followed suit.
By 1685, full, shoulder-length wigs became part of proper court dress, because barristers were also considered as part of middle-class society. By the 1820s, wigs had gone out of fashion but coachmen, bishops and those in the legal profession continued to wear them. Coachmen and bishops stopped in the mid-1830s but again the courts kept the tradition. Since 2007, wigs are no longer required during family or civil court appearances or when appearing before the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom but are still worn in criminal cases and some barristers choose to wear them during civil proceedings.
Current court dress for male advocates includes a white stiff wing collar, alongside a dark double-breasted suit with a bar jacket or court waistcoat. Female advocates must wear a dark suit with bands attached to a collarette alongside their bar jacket or waistcoat.
Junior barristers wear an open-fronted gown with open sleeves over a black or dark suit with a short horsehair wig with curls at the side.
The Queen’s Counsel requires a long wig, silk gown, court coat and waistcoat. Judges Generally have a short bench wig, reserving a longer wig for ceremonial occasions.