Long Hair and Short Wigs: A Tutorial

One of the most common issues brought up during Q&A at our wig workshops is, “I can’t wear a wig because my hair is too long!”  Variations include, “I can’t wear short wigs because my real hair shows underneath!” and “My wig slides off because I have too much hair under it!”  So, if you’re one of those people who has wig trouble because your hair is shoulder-length or longer, this tutorial is for you.

Note:  For short or medium-length hair, pincurling is often the best option for putting hair up under wigs.  I refer you to the pincurling tutorial here.  Personally, I have trouble with pincurls because my hair is too long to coil efficiently, so my hair-containment method follows.

Click on the thumbnails to view the step-by-step images.

hair01 Baseline:  My hair is a little over three feet long — long enough to be sat on, slammed in car doors, and other aggravations.  ^_^;  However, this method should work equally well for anyone with hair long enough to braid (usually at least shoulder-length).  Make sure your hair is combed out and completely dry before you start.  If your hair is naturally frizzy or very coarse, you may find it helpful to apply extra conditioner in the shower to make it a little more limp and compliant under the wig.

(Laura here, jumping into AVA’s tutorial….  I have extremely thick, coarse hair. 

backlit flowers
These photos are my real hair — not fluffed for the photo, rather it had been up all day and was just taken down for the shot!  I often use a heavy conditioner before wearing wigs, to make my hair as smooth and flat as possible.  Be careful; you do want some friction for your wig cap, so don’t use too much conditioner if you have fine hair!)

hair02Begin by dividing the hair into two equal sections and braiding it, starting a braid behind each ear.  Keep the braids fairly loose so that they can easily be shifted around or mashed flat as needed.  Tight braids will create lumps under the wig.

Note: If you have abnormally thick or wavy hair, you may want to divide your hair into four braids instead of two.  Just make sure that the braids don’t overlap when you wrap them around your head; overlapping braids also creates lumps.

(Laura again!  The key to containing my “abnormally thick and wavy hair” is to make the braids very loose.  This allows plenty of flexion for flattening and squishing the braids beneath the wig cap, with no real definition at the edge of the braid.)

hair03Pull one braid across the back of the head to the opposite side, and wrap it as far as possible over the top of the head.  Pull the braid tight so it lies flat across the scalp, then pin it in place by pushing hair pins (not bobby pins!) through the braid with the tips pointed in the direction the braid is coming from so it can’t slide back around your head. Use enough pins that the braid is secure and will not shift even if you shake your head.  The braids will be used to anchor your wig in place, so you don’t want them to come loose or move around!

(Guess who?  For those of you who can’t immediately recall the difference — a hair pin has two wavy sides that never meet, just a U shape.  A bobby pin has one wavy side and a straight side, which touch and trap hair between them.

AVA’s gonna get cranky when she finds all these annotations…!)

hair04Next, repeat the wrap and pin process with the other braid.  Be sure that the braids lie flat next to each other at the top of your head, rather than crossing over each other.  If you have a tuft of loose hair at the end of the braid, tuck it under another section of hair and pin it in place so there is no risk of it poking out from under the wig.

Depending on the shape and cut of your wig, you may want to wrap the braids in different places; for example, pinning them toward the front of your scalp will create more lift in the front of your wig, but may make the edge of the wig pull up over your hairline.  Try on your wigs with the braids in different places and see which placement looks best for each style.

zelAs a side note, you can also use your natural hair to augment your wig shape.  When I cosplay Zelgadiss (at right), I coil my hair into Princess Leia-esque buns to make the wig puff out more on the sides, because Zel’s hair is side-pointy (for reasons known only to his character designer).  When you are pinning your braids, keep this in mind, and make sure your hair goes where it will be most helpful — or least detrimental — to your wig style.

hair05When both braids are pinned securely in place, it’s time for a wig cap.  Stretch the wig cap over all of your hair, tuck in any loose strands, then work the edges of the cap back up to your hairline.  If you’re going to be putting on makeup or costume pieces before your wig, you may want to pin the wig cap in place so it can’t move around before you’re ready to put your wig on.  You can push hair pins through the wig cap directly into the braids, or slide bobby pins over the edges of the wig cap to hold it in place.  (I personally prefer hair pins, because they don’t get in the way of the wig, but both will work.)

(Experiment with different ways of putting your wig cap on.  I know a number of people who put it on front to back, but I always do back to front.  This takes more practice, but I find it contains flyaways better, at least on my head.  See what works best for your hair and your wig.)

hair06Once your wig cap is on and you’ve finished all costume and makeup prep, put on your wig.  Stretch the wig elastic all the way around the braids on the side and back of your head.  To keep the wig from sliding around, lift up a section of wig hair to expose the fabric mesh underneath, then insert a few hair pins through the mesh and into the braids.  Do this in several places over the crown and around the edges of the wig.  The longer or heavier your wig is, the more pins you should use to keep it from sliding.  If your braids are properly anchored to your scalp, this should keep your wig on even while you run around a con or turn cartwheels.  (I haven’t personally tested the cartwheel theory, though…)

(That’s only because she can’t do a cartwheel!)

hair07 …And here is the final result, for comparison.  In less than 10 minutes, three feet of hair has been replaced with a short, cosplay-suitable style, which can stay there securely for the next 14 hours if desired!

(Have fun!)

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