Buying and Styling Historical Wigs

7 Dec

Wigs. What to do about wigs?

As any historical reenactor, cosplayer, or costumer quickly learns, you either have to be willing to pay, or be willing to learn how to style wigs if you want any semblance of quality. There are no shortcuts to attractive wigs — believe me, I’ve tried to find them. Pay, or learn — those seem to be the only two options. I have tried both processes, and I would like to share my results with you.

First of all, let me say that I think taking the time to learn how to style a wig is the best route to go.

In her blog, Demode, Kendra Van Cleave offers perhaps the most extensive and useful Rococo wig tutorial available. Her “1770s pouf tutorial” is both useful to someone who wants to re-create her style, or someone who wants a bit of a jumping off point to learn what steps to take in order to achieve their goals. At some point, I hope to create my own tutorial on wig styling, but until then, check out Demode. (UPDATE: My Tutorial is up in its own Blog Post!)

Only recently did I come across the Demode tutorial, and for quite some time I was content to use the well-made and re-styleable Empress Wig available in many colors all over the internet.

Empress Wig Styles

The Widely available Empress Wig (Left) comes in many natural colors and can be styled many different ways. Six examples of how I have styled this wig on the right.

I highly recommend this wig for purchase. It comes in Blonde, Black, Brown, Auburn (Red), White, Pink and Purple.

The Empress Wig is both affordable, and attractive. It can be re-styled many times, and you can add hair pieces into it, as well as any sort of decorations you care to try! It is attractive straight out of the package, but once ratted, it loses its “sheen”, though it can be re-styled back into its original shape.

There are a few problems with the Empress Wig, which a casual wig wearer would probably not encounter. One problem is that it really only has two styles that it can maintain without hair extensions or a lot of work with pins and curlers. The first style it can maintain is the  “as is” style, the way that it comes out of the package (The top and bottom images in my first example column). The second style is the ratted* out style (the second two images in the column).  If you are willing to add hair extensions and hell-a lot-a pins (The examples in third column), you’d probably be just as willing to style a pouf wig from the very beginning anyway.

A second problem is that it stretches the more it is worn, and the more stuff you put in it (Hats, Flowers) will start to cause it to drift about aimlessly. It can’t really be attached satisfactorily to the person’s actual hair beneath without rigging your own clips into it. Poor hair, it wanders.

The Empress wig does come in white, which some people may think looks more historical at first sight, but it is actually not. As one wig expert said, unless you had a very large collection of very elderly ladies with very long silvery hair, it would be rather unlikely that you could have ever made a white wig in the 1700s. That is, unless, you used horse hair. And wearing horse hair in the 1700s is just about as likely and fashionable as wearing horse hair today. In other words, don’t do it.

It is better to wear a wig of your actual hair color and powder it, if you want a white wig. Today, they make white and silver hairspray (I go through about a can a month), which is available at Beauty Salons like the chain “Sally’s” or at Halloween stores and aisles during the spookier seasons of the year.

As for men’s wigs, I have not yet found a satisfactory wig for purchase.

Men's Wig Styles

Here are two commonly available 1700s wigs (the big images), and next to each are two examples of how I have styled them (The small images).

The men’s wigs I have used are fairly cheap halloween wigs, and they are frustrating to style, require extensions to fill in the wide gaps between hair wefts,  and never quite sit like real hair. I cannot recommend any 1700s men’s wig that I have purchased.

However, once I discovered the Demode “1770s pouf tutorial”, I found that buying a shoulder length wig with a center parting (generally a woman’s wig) worked extremely well for creating 1700s men’s wigs! Styling your own is the only way to go if you want a convincing men’s wig!

There are quite a few attractive wigs  that I have not yet had the chance to purchase or try out. Here are some links to a few that I have bookmarked:

Lacey Farm Girl at voguewigs.com

Madame Macabre wig at buycostumes.com

French Curl Wig at amphigory.com

In the Future, I hope to bring you a web tutorial, showing how I style wigs for my photography projects. I have made some pretty neat hairstyles out of some pretty cheap wigs, but they have yet to be photographed.

Currently, I have only purchased wigs from “Spook Shop” and “Amazon.com”, and both are trustworthy sites.

  • Ratting is the process of back-combing the hair. Pulling the hair out straight, one starts at the tip and combs “backwards” down to the scalp, causing the hair to gather in clumps and bunches and stick up in a wild and carefree sort of manner. In a wig it takes a good wash and shampoo and a lot of combing to remove the ratting.
  • Demode Blog: http://demodecouture.com/
  • Demode Pouf Tutorial: http://demodecouture.com/pouf/
  • UPDATE, Feb 26, 2011: Visit My Wig Tutorial!
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2 Responses to “Buying and Styling Historical Wigs”

  1. Alisa December 7, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    Oooo….great post! I’m exceptionally interested in 18th century wigs as the moment, and will likely be attempting to restyle my first.

    • tysonvick December 7, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

      You should totally do it!

      Styling your own wigs can really enhance your silhouette, and you can make little showpieces of your hats as well!

      It takes about a full can of Aqua Net, though! Use ventilation!

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