Any meta thoughts on wig wearing and Turn characters? Particularly in the wake of Hewlett in photos with his real hair? Culpers seem to wear them the least (then again, Richard never wears one), and Hewlett always wore one until he was kidnapped. Andre had his brief debut in one and then never again. And Simcoe--well, what do you think? Does wearing a wig/false hair signal anything to the audience about characters on Turn?
This is SUCH a fun question, thank you! Disclaimer: I am soooo not a fashion or military historian. I’m not any kind of historian, in fact, and as such, I feared I wouldn’t be able to answer because I simply don’t know enough about wig-wearing habits of the 18th century. INCREDIBLY, though, I actually DO know a totally concrete answer to at least ONE of these character’s situations, because JJ Feild told USA Today last year:
[Andre] did have the wig early on, but Feild was able to ditch it after asking executive producer Craig Silverstein, “‘Do you really want that for your seducer/lover for the next three years? And he said, ‘No, not really.’”
So, where Andre is concerned, the answer is — yes! His wiglessness was much more a narrative choice than a historical one, and it absolutely signals something to the audience! It signals, “You Are Supposed To Fall In Love With This Man And His Sexy Hair”!
(pictured: HAHAHA NO.)
Feild also said that he wanted to ditch the wig because he wanted the audience to see Andre, born to immigrant merchant parents, as an outsider among his fellow officers, who are largely of gentle birth. This is more of an in-universe explanation than the sexiness principle, but it was still definitely a conscious choice intended to influence audience perception. So overall, I suppose the question is: Does TURN give its men wigs based on historical accuracy to their social class, military rank, etc.? (Aka, an in-universe justification?) Or is TURN more concerned with the overall impression of a character’s costuming than with strict historical accuracy?
…TURN being not particularly known for its historical accuracy, I kind of already have my suspicions. But I’m also not discounting the historical element entirely; I think that does play a part. Let’s see…
Powdered wigs were expensive and troublesome to maintain. As such, I would expect to see them only on men of means, status, and/or a keen sense of fashion, and broadly speaking, TURN … kind of holds true to this principle. Most of the civilians we see are wigless, as are the Continentals. Makes sense; these are colonists, after all, provincials, many of them country folk. Even GWash powders his own hair for formal occasions rather than donning a peruke. A notable civilian exception is Rivington and a notable Continental exception Lafayette; I think both can be justified in-universe by Rivington’s pretentiousness and Lafayette’s status as foreign aristocracy. (There’s also Freddy! Who’s just stylish.)
Where things might get a little shakier is the British army. While there are background redcoats who wear their natural hair, I’ve seen it opined that TURN honestly features far too many wigs being worn by soldiers who would have more likely just treated their own hair with grease and powder and styled it into some sort of queue or plait. Again, Hewlett and Simcoe we can forgive on the basis of their social class, but what about orphaned Baker? What about all the other background common soldiers in their expensive, troublesome-to-maintain perukes?
The overall trend — though with definite exceptions — seems to be a not strictly historical effort on TURN’s part to associate wigs with British rule and wiglessness with the colonists. More abstractly, these expensive, fussy wigs are associated with the old-money wealth, social hierarchy, and pomp implied by British rule, while the colonists are made to seem more down-to-earth, more egalitarian, less pretentious. It’s alllllmost a way of coding Good Guys vs. Bad Guys, at least in s1, when that was more clear-cut — but that’s a complicated issue. Again, there are practical, in-universe reasons for this. I mean, the Continentals are broke, they couldn’t afford wigs even if they wanted them! But I really do think that the general principle goes back to what JJ Feild said about Andre. Andre is allowed to go wigless even from the beginning because we’re meant to dissociate him from the wealth, status, and pomp (and … villainy?) of the rest of the British army. Rivington, although a colonist (an English immigrant, but still a colonist), does wear a wig because he’s pretentious and at least ostensibly a Tory. Lafayette’s wig likewise signals wealth and status.
Okay, what about the other exceptions, then. Simcoe and Rogers. British soldiers, yeah. But wildcards. They — and the Rangers in general — are Irregulars, with a sort of wild, woodsy, feral lawlessness that sets them apart from the fussiness and ceremony of the Regulars. Also, as far as I can tell, historical Rangers just legit did not wear wigs. But I still think it fits the theme, especially since historical Regulars apparently probably wouldn’t have either. Certainly Simcoe’s shift from Regular to Irregular is essentially one in which he’s let off his leash, free from the constraints of regular military hierarchy that kept him somewhat in check in season 1.
And then there’s Hewlett. Of COURSE I have thoughts about Hewlett.
Honestly, ever since the photos of him with natural hair came out, my mind keeps going back to that JJ Feild quote. Like, I don’t want to sound like a crazy shipper fangirl here, but the evolution of Hewlett’s wig situation over these four seasons has been notable, and I think that it’s very much been about influencing audience perception of him. I mean, look:
Season 1: The Worst Wig. The poofiest wig. I can’t look at it, it’s so tragic. But it’s also no better than I’d expect, because at this point, Hewlett is essentially a non-villainous antagonist whom we’re meant to find a bit ridiculous — and, of course, the absolute epitome of that upper-class old-money fussiness that’s being contrasted with salt-of-the-earth ‘Merica.
…But then suddenly. Holy shit. Suddenly, someone decides that this guy should be a love interest. A love interest for a major protagonist. And like JJ Feild said, you can’t have your love interest looking like … that. You have to make him attractive! You have to give him a much more dignified, more understated wig that flatters the shape of his face!
And is it coincidence that part of season 2′s process for making Hewlett more likable involves revealing that, oh, actually, he’s not the epitome of old-world wealth and status? That he’s a gentleman, sure, but his family’s broke, and he’s just trying to support himself and his parents, and actually he’s big into the kind of Enlightenment thinking that (particularly in Scotland, which is where he’s, uh, from, suddenly?) was concerned with social progress? …Weird.
As part of this humanization, s2 also gives us our first glimpse of his actual hair, which I am … more than okay with, even considering the circumstances.
Season 3 is either the same wig or a very similar one, which makes sense given that Hewlett does not have any major beats of character development between 2 and 3. But then season 3 smacks him with some MAJOR disillusionment and personal tragedy, and thus … The Hair!
I still suspect that the in-universe explanation for this is that he’s been demoted to some extent, if we’re to believe what he said about resigning his commission and being cashiered. But I seriously cannot shake the sincere suspicion that this development is FAR more about making him more appealing to viewers than about anything in-universe. It’s another step in the same progression of character development that has, since 2.01, been continually positioning Hewlett as more sympathetic, more down-to-earth, more at home in the colonies, and — critically, if my theory about the overall wig theme holds true — less certain about his devotion to the British cause. And if there’s Annlett this season, the hair will also be part of his progression as love interest.
Again, I’m definitely coming at this from the perspective of a storyteller, not the perspective of a historian. I would love to hear from anyone who can give a better opinion on TURN’s wig accuracy and how much of a role historical fact plays in determining which characters wear wigs. But the more I think about it, the more I think that there is some sort of general characterization trend here and that the costumers are conscious of how audiences will perceive men who wear wigs versus those who don’t.