Alfred Hitchcock does his best Ringo impression
Beatle wigs were surely the biggest game-changer in the celebrity merchandise racket until the introduction of screenprinted t-shirts. While actors and singers had launched sartorial fads since the advent of the star system (and is selling crap to the rubes not half the point of said system?), I’m not aware of, nor has more digging than I really wanted to do turned up, for example, a trademarked line of bobby socks emblazoned with Frank Sinatra’s smilin’ mug, or a clothier who marketed a specifically Elvis-branded shirt-jac. But the way the Beatles seismic popularity completely blew up western culture? Cuban-heeled ankle boots were ubiquitously rebranded as “Beatle” boots, and collarless Edwardian suits were sold as “Beatle” suits. But those were garments that already existed. The wigs? I suspect the widespread desire of fans to purchase crappy wigs to emulate their heroes’ hair may have been novel. There’s maybe an arguable precedent in the Fess Parker-inspired fad for raccoon fur caps in the ‘50s, but a hat doesn’t mean the same thing as a wig does it? The semiotic is a different one.
I almost kind of even get why it happened. In the U.S., where the Beatles’ hair inspired the most scandalous media attention, crew-cuts were the ubiquitous men’s haircut, so growing one’s hair out to the newly trendy length could take a year. If you rocked a duck’s ass, you could just forego your pomade and trim your bangs to achieve the style, but DAs were for greasers who probably hated the Beatles anyway, not clean teens who stayed home on Sunday night to watch Ed Sullivan’s “really big shoe.”
“Necessity” being the mother of invention, the Beatle wig was born. Never mind that actually wearing one made you look less like Paul McCartney than a forgotten Howard brother who got kicked out of the Three Stooges for lurking around playgrounds, the damn things really caught on. Can you imagine if this had stayed a thing? Suppose gazillions of kids bought Quiet Riot wigs—don’t let mom throw out your ultra-collectible Kevin DuBrow pre-hairplugs model!—Vanilla Ice wigs, Jonas Brothers wigs. THE HORROR!
NOT A COPY—THE REAL THING? Um, unless they scalped Ringo, this is pretty much the definition of a copy.
And of course today, as with all things Beatles, original wigs now cost a fortune. (A friend of mine once quipped, on observing original press Beatles records at a collectors convention which were fetching car-payment prices despite looking like they were the victims of a piss-deluge and a vigorous flaying, that one could probably just write the word “Beatles” in jelly on a piece of white toast and some bug-eyed, bowl-mulletted dipshit would give you money for it.) Some of the molded plastic ones, which amusingly foreshadow DEVO’s New Traditionalists-era plastic pompadours, can go for an astonishing $600. But even the ghastly cash-in-quick cheapos that were hastily stitched together from fun-fur can fetch some serious bucks.
Here’s a fun newsreel doc from the terrific British Pathé discussing the fad, and even showing the details of the wigs’ manufacture.