Wig Styling: High Ponytail

wallpaper The character whose hair I am attempting to replicate is Hitokiri Battousai, young Himura Kenshin, from the Rurouni Kenshin Tsuiokuhen OVA (released in the U.S. under the inaccurate but license-dodging title Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal). If you haven’t seen this anime*, teenage Kenshin looks like the picture at left.  In the OVA, his hair is sleeker and less spiky than his older, TV-anime self.  It’s also fixed in a very high ponytail, instead of tied at the nape of his neck.

* If you really haven’t seen the Kenshin OVA, leave the computer right now, go find a copy, and watch it. Go ahead; I’ll wait. The four OVA episodes comprise one of the most beautiful and multi-layered art films I’ve ever seen. (Caution: They also contain extreme violence. Parental discretion advised.)

(Laura here!  No, seriously — every time I see this film, I notice something else in the layers of symbolism.  Fanboys like it ‘cuz it’s bloody; artistes like it because it’s complex.  Enjoy.)

basewigThe base wig is a Forever Young Lavishly Wild in 39-130, seen at left in its natural, fresh-out-of-package form.  This wig was a really bad choice for this style (which I knew going in, but it was the right length and right color and right place and right time, so we got it anyway).  Although the Lavishly Wild is a gorgeous wig with tons of body and nice fiber, it is designed to be worn down and loose; the wefts in back are spaced wide, which makes it difficult to style an updo without showing wig cap, and the long, thick sections of fiber alternate with wefts of short hair that stick out when trying to smooth the hair into a different style.

There is also A LOT of fiber in this wig.  Too much, in fact. (How often does that happen?)  I had enough surplus fiber to make wefts for the sides and still have a pile left over, and I think the resulting ponytail is still a little too thick…

materialsThe ponytail doesn’t require a lot of styling materials — just hair bands, some assorted hair clips, and a rattail comb.  The straight-toothed brush is to pull out loose fiber during styling (DO NOT EVER BRUSH WIGS WITH A HAIRBRUSH unless you’re trying to remove wig fiber! If you only want to detangle the wig, use a wide-toothed comb). I also used scissors, tape and a sewing machine to make wefts. The hairdryer is optional; if your wig is easily heat-styled, you might find it useful.

(Laura here!  One reason we got this wig is that while we were considering another, the shop girl took out a brush and began pulling it through the wig.  We didn’t want it anymore after that damage.  We’re not kidding about the comb thing.)

You will also need a wig head, and I recommend mounting it on a wig stand.  If you don’t have a commercial wig stand, it’s easy to cobble one together out of cheap materials.  The one I’m using here is a broken broom handle stuck in a Christmas tree stand.  Works great, and it was free. ^_^

wigheadBefore you style the wig into an immobile style, it’s important to stretch the cap to the right size; otherwise, it might be too small to fit on your head after styling.  Measure around your head, then pad your wig head until it’s about the same size as your skull.

(Laura again!  This is where the quote, “Your head is approximately the size of a pant leg, two scraps of ponte knit, and a wig head” comes from. Just so you know.)

detangleTo begin, the wig is pinned securely to the wig head, and any snarls or tangles are carefully picked out.  Long wig fiber tangles really easily, and with all the stuff I’m going to be doing to this wig, I don’t want to make it any more angry than it is already.

(It’s easier to start with a de-tangled wig and keep it clean as you work than to try to smooth it after styling with tangles….)

eartailsI want to make sure I leave enough fiber out of the ponytail for Kenshin’s side layers.  Using the rattail comb, I separate out sections of the weft at the top and front and pull them forward. (Using hair from the top of the wig allows me to cheat a bit, as it will cover any weft exposed by restyling the hair over the ears.)  After making sure they match, I braid them to keep all the hair contained and pin them out of the way.

dryerStarting at the top front, I pull the long sections of hair straight back and clip them where I want the ponytail to begin. If you have a heat-style-able wig, you can use the hair dryer to shape the fiber back smooth against the cap; as it turned out, this wig had a higher softening temperature than some others I’ve worked with, so I abandoned the heat method and just went with brute force. ^_^;

(Brute force makes us sad, but this was in Kenshin’s younger days, before he’d become a pacifist….  — Laura)

sideprogressNext, I gather each section of weft from the sides and do the same, pulling them all up to where I want the ponytail. When I have several sections, I secure them with an elastic hairband. Notice that this leaves large gaps showing through the wig cap.  We’ll have to fill those in.

twistupNow for the sides and back.  First, let’s get that huge ponytail-in-progress out of the way so we have room to work…  (I told you this wig had a lot of fiber!)

(This actually was a pretty nice wig, and it was $50 retail in an NYC wig shop.  I could probably have done a bit better on Ebay or such, but not much.  Overall, a much, much better deal than a $30 party store wig which wouldn’t survive the styling and would feel awful on your head. — Laura)

wefttrimNow, back to those front sections.  I know Kenshin’s layers aren’t going to reach much below his chin, so I have a lot of extra length to play with. After calculating length (and then adding a couple inches just in case), I cut the front sections.  This gives me fiber to make extra wefts for the sides.

wefttapeThere are lots of ways to make wefts; some involve sewing, others don’t.  Since I was sitting next to the sewing machine, I figured it was easier to stitch them than it was to run downstairs and find the glue. ^_^

I spread the wig fiber across a piece of adhesive tape to hold it in place, then run it through the sewing machine a couple of times to bind the fiber together.  Then I fold the ends over and stitch it again to secure the hair.  (This sample is messy; my bobbin tangled and pulled everything out of alignment, but you get the idea.)

weftsewNow I stretch the elastic and hand-stitch the weft inside the edge of the outermost wig strap, using a thread that matches the hair in case the stitching should show (you’ll notice I forgot to change the thread on the machine when making the wefts. Oops).

(Oops.  Hey, at least I love red and black together.  — Laura)

weftfinishOnce the weft is sewn in place, I pull the newly-wefted fiber out from under the elastic strap and up over the rest of the hair.  See how it covers those holes made by pulling the rest of the hair up?

Repeat on the other side of the wig.

wrapFor the back, I could have trimmed more and made more wefts, but since there was so much fiber in the wig already, I decided I could make things easier.  I took the two rows of weft at the bottom of the wig cap, divided the hair into sections, twisted it loosely around the bottom elastic, then threaded it back up through the cap toward the ponytail.  This effectively hides the elastic and tag at the bottom of the wig, and points the hair in the right direction for the ponytail.


This is what the twist looks like from the inside of the wig. It just loops around once and goes back out.


By this point the ponytail is plenty huge already, so there’s no reason to keep adding wefts in the back and making it bigger.  Instead of pulling the remaining fiber from the back of the wig up into the tail, I comb it down the back of the head and trim it to about the nape of the neck.  Since it will be right under the ponytail, having it short will make it easier to detangle.

sidelayersNext, I feather the side layers a bit — not completely, because I want to do the final trim with the wig on the actual cosplayer’s head, to make sure everything is the right length — but just enough to give them shape.

bangsI trim loose hairs and even up the tips of the bangs a bit, and that’s as much finishing as I can do until it’s on Laura’s head.

fiberBut I have all this surplus wig fiber left over…  It’s practically enough to make another ponytail!

ponywrap…So I make another weft (why not?) and use it to wrap the ponytail holder, and incorporate the remaining length into the huge fluffy ponytail of doom.  Just because. *^_^*

finalwigExcept for final trimming and shaping of the bangs and front layers, here is the completed styled wig.  Total styling time: Approximately 4 hours.

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  1. I did something similar for my Kenshin wig 2 years ago … I didn’t sew it, I just used the hair dryer on it, but when I tried to use the wig for another cosplay and took off the ponytail… I killed it. So it cannnot be used again.
    Then I found that I could use a short wig and put a pony tail clip of the same colour and not do that hard job of putting the wig in a high ponytail. So now whenever I need a ponytail(s), I buy a short wig and the ponytail(s).

    • Yes, when clip-in ponytails came in, it was a HUGE bonus to the cosplay community! Wish we’d had those years ago! My current Kenshin wig has a clip-in, too.

  2. Thank you so much for this! I have to make do with a long straight wig from Lucaille for an Akatsuki (Log Horizon) cosplay and I was freaking out about how to style it as the convention is this week.
    One question; how do you make the wefts? I’m probably going to google tutorials anyway, but I’m a little worried as I’m not very good at sewing!

    • I folded them along a strip of something and ran them through a tight zigzag stitch on the sewing machine — but I’ll freely admit that I’m not very elegant when it comes to wefting, so I’d suggest Googling those tutorials anyway. ^_^;
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  3. There are wigs out there now that are made for up-dos. Here’s an example: http://arda-wigs.com/products/malinda

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