With barristers' wigs, the more sullied, the better

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2013, 4:04am

Ronny Tong Ka-wah wears a second-hand wig in court that he bought four decades ago in Britain for a mere £8.

And he has not cleaned the delicate piece since buying it, fearing it may not survive the stress of washing.

The lawmaker, who is also a senior counsel, recalled how he came to possess the wig.

"The original owner was a law student who bought it with an expectation that he would pass the exam to become a barrister. But he failed," Tong said. "So he posted the wig up for sale at Oxford University and sold it at half price, which was £8."

A handmade horsehair wig produced in Britain costs about HK$4,980 in today's Hong Kong.

Tong said he had never washed or dry-cleaned the wig before, for fear that it would fall apart. "It is made of horsehair that is glued together and is not very strong."

In fact, few lawyers would have their wigs cleaned as there is an odd perception that an old and discoloured wig is a better symbol of seniority. But the rows of white curls can become stale and smelly as they absorb sweat and oil from the scalp. A court dress shop in Admiralty charges HK$760 to wash it.

Meanwhile, a tradition to store the wig in a metal case - commonly known locally as a "biscuit tin" - is fading as the expensive container, which costs more than HK$2,000, is no longer conveniently available.

Junior barristers say they have heard the wig manufacturer has fallen out with the case maker and so their products will not appear together.

The shopkeeper at the Admiralty store says she has decided that leather casing is a better option. "The 'biscuit tin' can get nicked easily," Lisa Chau said. "Sometimes we can't tell whether it was damaged during shipment from Britain to Hong Kong, or was damaged by customers. So I have decided to sell leather cases instead."

A leather case costs HK$960, only half the price of a tin, and they are imported from Britain.