Friday, March 21, 2014

Cosplay 101: Basic Wig Guide (Part 1)

One of my favorite parts of cosplay is completely changing my appearance. The quickest way to do that is to wear a wig!

Both in and out of cosplay, wigs are probably my favorite piece to wear. There's something thrilling about having hair every color of the rainbow, especially without the commitment of actually maintaining it.

For my first few costumes, I tried to go sans wig. I'd only ever encountered shiny Halloween disaster wigs and assumed it'd be itchy, sweaty, and overall uncomfortable. Since then, I've gained a lot more experience and learned lots more about cosplay. Now, I'm an advocate for wigs! A good wig can take a simple costume to the next level.

This guide is meant for the total newbie to wigs, but I hope no matter what your level is, you learn something from it! And don't forget to check out the other posts in the Cosplay 101 series!

hammer time

Your Hair, But Better

For the large majority of costumes, wearing a wig is recommended. If you're not convinced, here's the main reasons why I recommend wearing a wig instead of using your own hair -

Your hair is probably not the same color or style as the character you are cosplaying. Wigs are easier and cheaper than drastically changing your hair. Even if your hair is similar to your character's...

Wigs will stay styled. Style once and you're done! If you use your own hair, you have to re-style, re-dye, or get a haircut every time you wear the costume. If you switch costumes mid-day at a convention, it takes a lot more time if you also have to re-style your hair.

Wigs look more polished. There's something about the perfectness of a wig that completes the surreal look of a costume. No frizz, no oil, no fuss. Plus, wigs are usually a lot thicker than real hair, which helps translate the unrealistic hair expectations from fictional characters to real life.

Luna Lovegood
Photo: Mel Shardae

Cosplay Wig Terminology

Before choosing a wig, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with some wig vocabulary. To begin, a wig is made of wefts of fiber sewn together into a mesh cap. A weft is basically a long strand of wig fiber sewn into a strip. You can add wefts into a wig to make it thicker or use them to create certain styles. 

A skin top is used on some wigs to create a more natural-looking look for the fibers. A wig may have a skin top at the crown of the head or off to one side or the other. This affects the direction the fibers lay in, so if you have a character with a side part, try to get a wig with a skin top on the correct side.

Some types of wig fiber are heat-resistant, meaning you can use heat tools to style them, while others will melt or frizz. Generally, if a wig seller doesn't specify the fiber type or if it is heat-resistant, it isn't, so take caution when purchasing.

Choosing a Wig

As with choosing how to obtain a costume piece, I balance cost, accuracy, and effort when choosing which wig to buy. Many basic styles are available to purchase and don't require much modification. If your character has (relatively) normal-looking hair, it should be pretty easy to find something that is the right shape and color. Try to pick something as close to the character as possible to make modifications easier (for example, for a character with short hair, start with a short wig, not a long wig).

You may soon realize that your character requires a little more effort. High ponytails and updos, gravity-defying styles, slicked-back 'dos, or multi-colored looks all require special additions of their own. Luckily, options for wigs have greatly expanded in recent years, and it's easier than ever to find what you need (instead of having to make it yourself).

A-Fest 2013 - Hipster Adventure Time Girls

Wig Types

  • Standard wigs - These are wigs that are made to be worn down. This is the simplest wig type to find and style, and most characters with normal-looking hair will require a standard wig. Be sure to note if the wig has a skin top and where it is located for the best results. 
  • Lacefront wigs - Lacefront wigs are more expensive, but are key to characters with a swept back look (think Elsa from Frozen).
  • Specialty wigs - These range from pre-parted pigtail and ponytail wigs to wigs meant to be spiked up for that Dragon Ball Z look.
  • Wig accessories - Wig accessories can help you recreate some styles more easily. For example, instead of using a pre-parted pigtail wig, you can buy a shorter base wig and add clip-in pigtails. You can do the same with clip-in buns and even clip-in bangs.

Wig Sources

Now more than ever, wigs of all kinds are easy to buy online. Here are some of my favorite sources for wigs.

Alright, that's the end of part one! Next week, I'll cover some wig styling basics, tips for wearing a wig, and more, so be sure to check back.


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