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The Van Buren Costume Detail On Law & Order You Probably Never Noticed

S. Epatha Merkerson's Anita Van Buren is likely one of the most recognizable characters from "Law and Order." As the commander of the 27th Precinct in New York City, Van Buren was a sharp and decisive commander, always having the back of her detectives and possessing a certain sympathy for victims that made her stand out as a police officer. Merkerson appeared in nearly 400 episodes of the show, from 1993 to 2010. She also guest-starred in a 1991 episode titled "Mushrooms" as a different character years before she came in as the new precinct commander. She finished her run on the series as the longest-running Black character on primetime television (via NPR). 

Van Buren last appeared in the Season 20 episode "Rubber Room." In that season, Van Buren was getting treatment for cervical cancer. With "Law and Order" now back on the small screen, there is always the potential of Van Buren coming back. It would be a huge return for the series, seeing as how vital the character was to those early years of "Law and Order." Merkerson is still in the Dick Wolf universe of television as well, appearing on "Chicago Med" as Sharon Goodwin, a character who also popped up on "Chicago P.D." and "Chicago Fire." 

Merkerson may have appeared in hundreds of episodes of "Law and Order," but there is likely one aspect to her character most fans probably haven't noticed before. 

Van Buren wore a wig on Law and Order

If you've seen Merkerson's work beyond "Law and Order" (or if you saw her original guest-starring role), you may notice something different about her hair. As Van Buren, Merkerson wore a wig. According to Merkerson, it was a deliberate decision and one that made sense for the character as a Black police officer in the NYPD. 

"She wouldn't be natural because at that period that would have seemed militant and she had to make herself palpable to the powers that be and that would mean she'd be quaffed so literally it was the right thing to do," Merkerson said in an interview with Archive of American Television. Van Buren said writers and producers on the series eventually tried convincing her to remove the wig and let her locks flow, but Merkerson argued against it, saying the wig would be necessary to Van Buren in order for her to navigate the culturally murky waters of the NYPD in the '90s. 

Merkerson revealed in the same interview, however, that had she continued on the series, she would have had Van Buren finally remove the wig following her battle with cancer. That means if we do see Van Buren again one day, she'll look a tad different from how we remember, and there will be good reason for the change.