Beginner’s Guide to Wig Shopping

 

leafeon cosplay
Photo by Eurobeat Kasumi Photography

 

Recently I found myself helping a friend buy a wig online for the first time. As I was explaining the differences, I realized there is A LOT to know before purchasing a wig! This experience brought me to the decision to write a post about what I know about wig buying. I am by no means an expert on wigs, but I have learned a lot through my years in cosplay about what makes a great wig and what kind of listings to avoid when shopping.

 

Terminology

 

Cap – The part of the wig that sits against your head. It can be thought of as a hat to which the wefts are sewn.

Lace – In this context, the lace is a very fine mesh that is nearly invisible against the skin. It is used to create lace front and full lace wigs. Loose wig hair is ventilated onto the lace to create the appearance of a natural scalp. Hair attached to a lace panel can be styled in any direction, including exposing the lace itself, and will look completely natural doing so.

Ventilation – This is a technique used to tie loose hair onto lace. It involves a small hook that pulls the hair through the lace and then ties it in a small knot to keep it in place.

Weft – Otherwise known as tracks or strings of hair. These are long pieces of wig hair that are sewn in a horizontal line. A typical wig is usually constructed through many horizontal rows of these stacked on top of one another to create fullness. The hair comes off of these in only one direction however, and can not be restyled to another direction easily. It is possible to accidentally expose the wefts of the wig, which look like unnatural dark lines under the wig itself.

 

Types of wig Caps

 

Standard – The standard wig cap is what you will find most often. It has a full or partial wig cap. A full cap is usually made of  mesh for breath-ability and as it’s name suggests, covers your whole head like a hat. A partial wig cap usually means that there is a circle of mesh towards the top of the wig, and the rest of the wefts are sewn to an elastic web that covers the rest of your head.

Lace Front or Partial Lace – A lace front wig is typically a standard wig with an extra line of lace along the front. This allows the front of the wig to be styled in any way, including away from the face, without looking fake or exposing the wefts. This is the most economical way to achieve a look with hair brushed away from the face while looking natural. These wigs are slightly more expensive than a standard wig, but usually won’t cost you more than $100. It is also possible to convert a standard wig into a lace front by sewing a line of lace to the front and ventilating extra hair to it by hand. This process can easily take upwards of 20-30 hours to complete. In some cases, this wig might need to be glued down in the front to prevent the lace from lifting away from your forehead and looking unnatural. Some people however, like myself, have rather large noggins that tend to pull the lace flat without any glue.

Full lace – A full lace wig has a full cap made of lace. All of the hair is ventilated into the cap by hand. These wigs can cost thousands of dollars and aren’t typically seen in costume or cosplay use. It takes hundreds, sometimes thousands of hours to make a full lace wig depending on the density of the fibers. Full lace wigs are typically seen used in television or movie applications as they look the most natural and can be styled in any way without risking a visible weft. To put one on, you typically have to wear a skin colored cap underneath to prevent your natural hair color from showing through the parts, and a lace glue must be used around the edges to prevent the lace from lifting away from the skin.

 

Special Wig Types

 

There are also special wig types that are usually either standard type or lace front with an added style feature. These include ponytail wigs, updo wigs, and other hair styles. The wefts in these wigs are specially arranged to allow for these hairstyles without risking an exposed weft. The wefts are specifically sewn in the direction needed for the style, whether it be towards the ponytail or upside down, depending on the style type. These wigs can only be used for the style they are sold in, as attempting to restyle them usually results in exposed wefts. In order to change a standard wig into a special type or vice versa, you must remove the wefts and sew them back on the cap in a different direction.

 

Types of Wig Fibre

 

Not all synthetic wigs are created equal when it comes to the type of fibre they are made of. Some fibres look very shiny and fake, and others could be easily mistaken for real hair. Likewise some fibres get tangled very easily, while others react more like normal hair and can easily be brushed and styled without knots. Here are a few fibers that I have personally worked with. This is in no way an exhaustive list, and there are many, MANY more fibers out there to experiment with:

Halloween “synthetic” – I’m not sure if there is a real name for this stuff, as it’s usually sold as simply “synthetic” fiber. It is an awful, shiny fiber typically used in halloween wigs that are sold to people who don’t know any better. The fiber is a thick, rough plastic that shines like a mirror and gets tangled in every way imaginable. It is extremely cheap to produce and that’s why it is often seen among cheap Halloween costumes. However, the wigs themselves tend to be priced around the same price range of higher quality fibres. In short, stay away from these – they are terrible, awful, and I still can’t believe that Halloween costume companies get away with selling these to people who don’t know any better. Keep it away from heat at all costs. Actually, just keep away from it in general.

Kanekalon – Kanekalon is the typical fiber you will find in most inexpensive costume wigs. It is a huge step up from the Halloween fibres, but is usually found at the same price range. It is a lot less shiny and looks far more realistic, but still tangles easily. I use wigs from this fiber quite often when I need short hair that isn’t styled any special way. You probably shouldn’t use too high of temperatures when styling it however. It is easy to find all over the internet, on websites such as eBay, Aliexpress, and Amazon.

Futara – This is a higher end version of Kanekalon. This fiber is most notably sold by Epic Cosplay Wigs. It has a very similar appearance to kanekalon, but is supposed to tangle less. In my experience with it however, it still seems to tangle quite a lot more than higher quality fibers. It is slightly heat resistant, but I wouldn’t recommend using very high heat on it.

Hiperlon – Henlon blend – I haven’t actually found these online as separate, so I’ll combine them here. This is the fiber mix used by Mythril Wigs. Their website has this to state about the blend:

“The majority of each blend is made from Hiperlon, which is a matte, slightly coarse, natural feeling fiber. We compliment this with Henlon, which is a glossier, smooth, tangle resistant fiber. These fibers mixed together balance the properties of each other to create a beautiful and easy to maintain wig.”

Arda Classic Arda‘s signature blend. I actually really like this fiber and whenever I can, it’s my fiber of choice. They blend several different colors of a similar shade together to make their wigs look more natural and not like one big block of plastic on your head. The fiber is fairly resistant to tangling, and photographs very well. Whenever I need a lace front wig, this is usually the company I like to go with. Some other unique styles are also available in this fiber, as well as a massive range of colors. The classic is very easy to style and is commonly used to make very intricate wig styles. Arda also sells wefts in the same colors as all of their wigs, so you don’t have to worry about color matching if you need to add some hair. You can almost always find exactly what you need in the Arda line. It can also be styled by heat tools and regular hair products.

Arda Silky Arda‘s new wig fiber, designed for longer wigs. Many of their styles and colors are also available in silky, but not all. This fiber is not as good for styling, but is good for longer wigs that need to look more natural and tangle-free.

Real Human Hair – Yeah, you can get wigs made of real human hair. They obviously brush and style much like real hair, only more care needs to be taken to maintain the wig over your real hair. Wigs made of real human hair are extremely expensive, but tend to look the most natural. I have only one wig that has a small amount of real hair blended in with it and it brushes like a dream, and doesn’t tangle at all. My mother literally dropped it in a river once during a photoshoot and it just brushed out and survived the ordeal unscathed. I can’t imagine how nice a full human hair wig would be, but probably pretty nice.

chell cosplay
My first adventure into cosplay wigs – A cheap Halloween wig from the Halloween store. It was awful, didn’t fit my head correctly, tangled up into one big dreadlock within hours of wear, and shined like the sun whenever anyone used flash photography.

 

By Ben Gibson
This wig is a ponytail wig made from Futara fiber. The ponytail was extremely heavy and hard to keep on my head, and this damned thing wouldn’t stop getting tangled! Unfortunately the only way to detangle it would be to take it apart 🙁 Photo By Ben Gibson

By Eurobeat Kasumi Photography
Kanekalon wig, after quite a bit of use. I finally gave up on brushing this thing too much after a while, because it was thinning fast. Photo By Eurobeat Kasumi Photography
By Otafest Photobooth
An example of a good looking kanekalon fiber wig. This was a $15 wig off of amazon that I just tied two small ponytails into! It’s a bit shinier than a more expensive fiber, but for the price, it’s good. Photo By Otafest Photobooth

 

By Destiny's Curse Photography
A lacefront wig in the Arda Classic fiber. This wig has seriously gone through hell and back and somehow still ends up looking great. Most people don’t believe me when I say it’s not my real hair, because it looks so natural! Photo By Destiny’s Curse Photography

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are many things to take into consideration when purchasing a wig. Most notably, the style of the wig is very important. Do I have to get a lace front to style it away from my face, or can I hide the edge under bangs? Do I need ponytails, spikes, or just plain downward facing wefts? How long is the wig, do I need a special fiber to keep it from getting tangled? How much money do I want to spend on this wig?

Whilst wig shopping, make sure to ask yourself lots of these questions. Make sure that what you are purchasing will work for the character. There is nothing worse than finishing your costume, only to have your wig arrive in the wrong color/style right before the con!

 

 

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