The Costume Counselor: Wigs 101

Wigs are scary. Well, an actual wig isn’t all that scary. It’s just fake hair after all but if you’ve never worn or styled one before, the prospect of getting your first wig can be terrifying. For the first few years that I cosplayed, I felt the same way and only costumed as characters whose hair matched my own. After a friend finally shoved a wig on my head for a Scarlet Witch costume one year, I finally gave in and bought my very first one in 2011. (It was a medium length purple one for Psylocke.) I still have a tendency to try and mostly do characters whose hair matches mine but I no longer have that phobia. Instead, I now have a box filled with probably two dozen of them. Over the last five years, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that just might come in handy for you if you’re new to this whole wig thing.

Always wear a wig cap
I resisted doing this at first and just French braided my hair but wig caps make everything so much easier. You just shove all your hair into one and it keeps everything contained. It’s also a lot easier to shift your hair around so you can avoid any visible lumps or bumps. They take some getting used to but wig caps are honestly a life saver and pretty darn cheap. (Your wig may even come with one!) If you forget a wig cap at a convention, run to the dealer room because you can probably find a wig vendor there who is selling them.

redhairEmbrace the shade that works for you
This may seem like a “no duh” comment but people’s skin tones vary wildly and I’m not just talking about racially. This is somewhere where you may find that shifting slightly away from 100% accuracy will make you feel a lot more comfortable in the long run. For example, I know that there are some shades of blonde that look significantly worse on me than others because they do awful things when combined with my natural coloring. I also know that certain shades of red are more flattering on me. That’s why the wig I wear for Mara Jade is more auburn than red-gold. I will always recommend that you go for the color that you personally find to be more flattering and that you are most comfortable with. If someone gives you crap for doing this because your wig color isn’t “screen accurate” then they are a jerk and can bugger right off.

Keep your wigs neat
Wigs, just like you, need a little TLC. Let your wigs air out once you’re done wearing them before putting them back in the bag. This is especially important for summer conventions. It also never hurts to finger comb them after wear on a regular basis so they don’t become a tangled mess that takes two hours to fix. (Talking from personal experience here… It is not fun.) Be careful when you do comb them out though. Start at the bottom and go slowly so you don’t pull out much if any of the wig hair. It may be worth buying a comb made specifically for these sorts of things. If it ever does get to the point where you need to actually wash your wig, I suggest doing a quick Google search for a tutorial for that type of wig that you have.

Extensions, clip ins, and bangs are options
If your hair is already the right color but it’s not quite the right style or length, you should consider getting a clip in ponytail or braid or bangs. If you can match your hair shade, it can look completely natural. I had clip in bangs for Zoe from Morning Glories and they were enough to make my own mother do a double take and ask if I had on a wig or if I’d cut my hair recently. Extensions and the like will almost always be cheaper than a full wig and your head will be able to breath a lot more easily.

Vendor matters… sort of
The cheapest place to get wigs will likely be via Asian vendors on Ebay. Shipping may take a while but you’ll likely be able to find a decent wig for under $20. Amazon is another place to look. You just need to start looking well in advanced and at all costs, avoid the cheap costume store wigs because they will look shiny and awful. Here’s the caveat though: Asian made wigs tend to be smaller which can be an issue if you have a larger head or a lot of hair. If you want a wig that will either be a little bigger or one that’s higher quality, Arda Wigs will likely be your first stop. You’ve probably seen them at conventions before—it was the mobbed booth. They have a huge selection of wigs styles and colors that can work well for a large range of costumes. This is an especially good place to look if you need a wig that can be styled into a ponytail or something more intricate. Other popular vendors like this include Match Wigs and Epic Cosplay.

This post is, by no means, an exhaustive list of everything you need to know about wigs. I’ve found that one of the best ways to learn is to buy one and start messing around with it. Fair warning—you’ll probably feels like it looks really weird the first time you put it on but after the adjustment period (and possibly some make up!) it will start to look and feel a lot more natural.

Questions? Comments? Have a topic that you desperately want me to cover? You can always leave a comment on this post or come talk to me on Twitter!

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