Wigs & Wig Powder Tax and Hat Tax
William Pitt the Younger is most famous for levying income tax as a “temporary measure” to raise funds for the Napoleonic War.
He also imposed some very unusual and ill-fated taxes on essential fashion items that would almost solely tax the rich as he levied taxes on wigs & wig powder and hats, which were all social status symbols of wealthy men. They would strut around town proudly modelling their somewhat questionable fashion statements.
Wigs were already an expensive fashion item before a tax was slapped on them. In an era where powdered wigs and hats were as much a fashion statement (even men without a balding pate) as a man bun is today on men in their 20’s, you can imagine this was not well received.
William Pitt the Younger’s attempts at extorting the wig wearing rich backfired on him as the majority of men went against his grain of thought and stopped wearing wigs, or some just powdered their real hair. Pitt’s thoughts were that the wealthy men of a certain status would be afraid to give this up, but he was very wrong.
One positive to come out of this was that he was partly responsible for the decline of this silly fad. Powdered wigs were not a good look and the fact they are still used in court speaks volumes.
Wig and wig powder tax essentially failed to bring in the amount of revenue that was intended and that was the reason for it being repealed 1869 as wigs had almost completely gone out of fashion by this time.
Hat Tax was another way to generate revenue from the rich, as William Pitt’s logic was, the richer the man, the more hats the man will have and a poor man will either have one cheap hat or none at all. All hats had to be purchased from a licensed retailer. The amount of tax paid was also dependant on the price of the hat. Each hat had a stamp inside to prove that tax was paid.
A fine was imposed on anyone avoiding paying tax on their hat purchase and anyone who had the wise idea of forging the stamps that proved payment of tax was rather harshly subject to the death penalty. Yes that is D-E-A-T-H. I wonder how this was explained on a death certificate? Death by hat fraud? I also wonder who was also left to pick up the tax bill for this outrageous fraud? All seems rather barbaric to me.
Fortunately in 1811, 27 years after it made its debut in 1784, hat tax was facing and received the death penalty. I for one am glad that tax is no longer levied on hats, as we would never have had the fashion boom of pork pie hats during the mod era. Braces just aren’t the same without a pork pie hat.
Several countries have historically enforced some strange taxes, but Britain puts them all to shame. Over the years British governments have found some very inventive ways to raise revenue through some quite frankly bizarre taxes. Not everything was better in the good old days.