Etymologies: “Bigwig”

Bigwig: an important or influential person; someone of a high status


The term bigwig originated in the 17th century, when the short lived fad of wig-wearing (1) was at its peak. It became fashionable for people to shave their heads (2) and replace their hair with wigs; in this way they could sport a style they might not be able to naturally grow. It was seen as a triumph of man’s ingenuity over nature. However hair to make up these wigs was quite rare and expensive. Hair was sold by the strand and it was not uncommon for the lower classes to be seen wearing wigs consisting of only several strands of hair. The rich folk on the other hand were able to purchase large wigs made up of thousands of strands of hair and very soon the term ‘bigwig’ became associated with the very wealthy. This fad faded away as quickly as it had come with the advent of the top hat, however it lives on in the large ceremonial wigs seen in the British courts.


1 – “Wig” is actually a slang term, which originated as a sarcastic name for early proto-wigs which were made of straw, and looked very similar to wigs made of twigs.

2 – The term ‘buzz cut’ for a shaved head has its origins here. People would have to shave their heads in order to wear wigs, and since this was the popular thing to do at the time it was called the ‘buzz’ cut.

© 2009 –


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