Despite getting a fair amount of press, the merkin—or pubic wig—actress Kate Winslet donned for her Oscar-winning performance in "The Reader" is hard to spot. Nine minutes and 37 seconds into the film, you catch the briefest glimpse of it: a crop of dark hair peeking out from under her dress as she's putting on stockings.

Winslet's merkin is but one of many famous Hollywood vulva wigs, which have been spotted cloaking the pubic regions of the likes of Heidi Klum in "Blow Dry," Amy Landecker in "A Serious Man" and Evan Rachel Wood in the HBO miniseries "Mildred Pierce."

"With so many period dramas requiring a period-correct aesthetic during nude scenes, [merkins] are so common nowadays," said Crystal Faith Stuart-Fawkes, a hairpiece designer for theater and movies in the United Kingdom. For actors who've had laser hair removal, "there is no other option than to stick a merkin on," Stuart-Fawkes said.

But the pubic toupee is hardly an invention of the laser hair removal era. The merkins of Winslet, Klum, Landecker and Wood are but the latest iterations in a rich, bushy history dating back hundreds of years.

The merkin's