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.)
The 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…
The 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. ^_^
Before 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.)
To 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….)
I 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.
Starting 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)
Next, 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.
(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)
Now, 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.
There 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.)
Now 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)
Repeat on the other side of the wig.
For 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.
Next, 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.