A pubic wig worn to conceal a dearth, or simulate an abundance, of pubic hair. The term is derived from Malkin, the Middle English term for a lower-class woman or a Mop. Over time, Merkins have been employed by:
- Prostitutes working prior to the advent of penicillin. Those who had contracted syphilis were treated with mercury, leading to hair loss. A Merkin would conceal their lack of hair, along with the chancres characteristic of the disease. Pubic hair was also shorn to counter the effects of body lice.
- Stage actors; either dressing as women in the service of burlesque or playing female roles out of necessity.
- Performance artists or individuals seeking to distinguish themselves by donning an archaic accessory. An exotic dancer might employ a merkin to appear fully nude, without violating local decency laws.
Merkin is also a British slang term used to indicate a resident of the United States. It is thought to be a mocking imitation of the way some US natives pronounce the word "American".