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Wigs stained, tattered and dwindling in Victorian courts

One senior judicial source said the judges that still wore them did so not because of pomp and circumstance, but because it was part of a uniform.

“A lot of judges like it because you’re not recognisable, it’s uniform and it’s an intrinsic way of keeping order,” they said.

Barrister Stephanie Wallace said the wig brought a certain amount of gravitas to the role and provided some anonymity for lawyers wanting to separate their private selves from the sometimes-fierce lawyer discharging their duty to the court.

But God forbid you’re seen dead in a brand new wig. Tattered and better yet, stained wigs, were proof you had seen a bit of action.

“The greatest tradition is getting one handed down from someone else. You want one that’s stained. If it looks new, everyone knows you’re a junior,” Ms Wallace said.

Another barrister, Hugo Moodie, said he had no strong feelings for or against the wig, but it’d be easier if there was a uniform rule.

“I’m always walking into court in a panic, having forgotten to check if the judge wigs,” Mr Moodie said.

The use of the wig is in decline in Victoria, with only a handful of judges now wearing them.

The use of the wig is in decline in Victoria, with only a handful of judges now wearing them.Credit:Jessica Shapiro

Richard Phan, who owns Ludlows Legal Regalia, said he has had one lawyer burst into his CBD shop wearing ugg boots and shorts.

“He ran into Ludlows going ‘Richard, I need everything, give me everything.’ He’s a QC at the bar today, he’s come a long way,” Mr Phan said.

The business, one of the main suppliers of legal garments, still sells a significant amount of wigs, to new barristers every year.

A full-bottomed wig, worn by Queen’s Counsels in NSW.

A full-bottomed wig, worn by Queen’s Counsels in NSW.Credit:Peter Rae

Mr Phan said most wigs were made of horsehair, but he brought in vegan wigs about eight years ago.

“It’s a wonder that we’re still selling this many wigs,” Mr Phan said, saying many Victorian barristers want interstate work where wigs are still necessary.

Philip Dunn, QC, is the proud owner of what he calls “the scungiest wig at the Victorian bar”.

He has had it for 50 years, but he reckons it’s about 100 years old, having recovered it from an old locker when the Supreme Court transformed the barrister’s robing rooms into female toilets when women were finally allowed on juries.

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He tells people the wig was worn by one of the lawyers who ran the Ned Kelly trial, because he found an old transcript from the trial in the locker, a story that’s “probably untrue, but I like to spread it”.

Mr Dunn loves the wig.

“It was the theatre of the courtroom and I understand how totally archaic they are, but it was like putting on your body armour,” he said.

“I am saddened by the passing of the wig.

“There’s a fine tradition of barristers standing up for the weak, the oppressed and the poor…in a funny way, because I’m old, the wig is synonymous with going into battle and fighting for freedom.”

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