Wig Styling Walk-Through

Wolfgang hair

This walk-through is intended as a beginner’s guide to simple wig styling. It demonstrates dyeing, hand-coloring, heat styling and cutting, some of the basic skills with which the aspiring wig stylist should be familiar.

I styled this wig for a cosplay of the character at right (the final product can be seen in more detail with our Animamundi costumes). I was having trouble finding wigs in the right style or the right color, and eventually decided I would have to make my own…

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|basic wig, post color rinse|}images/stories/wig/wig1.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft]1. I began with a Celena wig in color 613 (“bleach blonde”). The Celena comes with a zig-zag part, so I used a wide-tooth comb, water and some hairspray to work it into a straight part, just off-center.

Next, I cut open the ink cartridge from an old black Sharpie (black Sharpies are actually very dark purple) and sloshed it in a bottle of isopropyl alcohol until I had a medium-purple mixture. I put this liquid in a spray bottle and sprayed from the top of the wig down, then combed it through until the entire top layer had been saturated. The purple dye helps to neutralize some of the yellow tones in the wig fiber.

In the picture (click to enlarge!), you can see the paler color at the top of the wig where the Sharpie dye has faded the blonde color to an off-white.

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|sectioning hair|}images/stories/wig/wig2.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft]2. Next, I looked at the character reference and separated certain sections of hair that I knew I would want to style apart from the rest of the hair (such as the loose tendrils in front). These were clipped together and pinned to the “face” of the wig head so that they did not get in my way while I was styling the rest of the hair.

NOTE: It helps to have the wig pinned securely to a wig head during styling. One advantage of using foam wig heads is that you can stick straight pins or hair pins directly into the head to hold the hair in place while you’re working with it. It’s especially nice if you have to hold something in place while you wait for glue or hair cement to dry! It is also useful to have the wig head on some kind of stand to keep it from tipping over. The wig stand I’m using here is a broomstick held upright in a Christmas tree stand, but you can use just about anything.

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|adding highlights|}images/stories/wig/wig3.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft]3. Because the wig is blonde, and I want it to be streaked white and grey, I add some white highlights. On this wig (and on my Haydée wig) I use an Elmer’s Painters marker in pearlescent white. It’s a valve-type marker, so I pump the valve tip on a scrap of something until I have a decent bit of paint, then comb the paint through the wig fiber. (I’m sure there’s an easier way to do this… If anyone experiments with other dyes or paints and finds something more efficient, please let me know! ^_^ )

I add a LOT of highlights at this stage, and later I’ll go back and add more. The white paint lightens the hair; it also provides a bright, light-reflecting base for layering more colors over the wig, which I’ll do next.

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|adding grey streaks|}images/stories/wig/wig4.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft]4. I want the wig to have deep grey streaks, but I don’t want black or purple sections. To add the grey color and shadows, I use metallic silver Sharpies. The metallic Sharpies are formulaically different from most regular Sharpies — the ink is opaque, and won’t dissolve nicely into an alcohol-based dye. This means I need to hand-color the wig.*

I alternate the grey streaks with the white ones, and occasionally mix the two to produce a lighter grey tone. Most important is making sure that the wig is colored evenly all the way through; otherwise, when I curl and cut the fiber, I will have blonde sections showing underneath.

*You can also hand-color with regular Sharpies; it takes longer than making alcohol Sharpie dye, but it also produces a slightly richer color, and you can produce variable tones or a graded effect by by using multiple marker colors.

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|adding pomade|}images/stories/wig/wig5.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft]5. After the wig is highlighted and colored evenly throughout, it’s time to start styling. Wolfgang’s hair hangs in wavy clumps, rather than in smooth layers. To reproduce this effect, I smear sections of the wig liberally with pomade to give it a chunky, almost greasy texture. Once a section of hair is pomaded, I break it into smaller sections and style each one individually to give the hair more texture and body.

When using heat to style a wig, it is important to do two things:

First, test to see how much styling heat the wig can take. Most wigs are made of synthetic fiber that, like all plastics, will melt or burn at a MUCH lower temperature than real hair. Before you use a curling or straightening iron on your wig, test it on a small section of wig fiber first.

Second, once you have determined the safe temperature for styling your wig, make sure your equipment does not go above that temperature. If you leave your iron plugged in for several minutes without using it, the heat will build up. (The laws of thermodynamics apply here!)

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|curling the wig|}images/stories/wig/wig6.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft]6. I set my curling iron to LOW heat, but determined in testing that even that much heat was risky for the type of fiber I was styling. To keep the iron from getting too hot, I would plug it in for a few minutes while I applied pomade, etc., and when it was time to use the iron, I unplugged it and ran it once or twice over a cotton towel to pull some of the excess heat out of the iron so it didn’t melt the wig.

Using the curling iron, I added layers of flips, waves and curls to the wig to give it some body. I shaped and curled the front sections to match the reference image. The tendrils in front were twisted, curled, plastered with hairspray and then pinned in place to dry while I worked on the rest of the wig. Later, I used a blowdryer to heat-set those pieces as well.

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|cutting the wig|}images/stories/wig/wig7.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft]7. Now, the wig is ready to be cut. For that, I need the cosplayer who is going to be wearing the wig. Every person’s head has a unique shape, so the hair will fall differently on each person. In the interim, I want to protect the style, so I spray the curls liberally with hairspray to keep them intact and store the wig with the curls carefully bunched in a hairnet so that gravity does not pull them out.

When cutting a wig, always leave extra length in the beginning, and trim shorter as you go. Look at your reference images frequently, and consider accuracy to the character’s hairstyle, but also think about what the wig looks like on your model’s head and body. Most people’s faces aren’t really shaped like anime characters’, so it’s important that the wig looks right on the real person, too!

Here is the final product, after cutting:

{rokbox title=|final product|}images/stories/wig/wig-final1.jpg{/rokbox}{rokbox title=|final product|}images/stories/wig/wig-final2.jpg{/rokbox}{rokbox title=|final product|}images/stories/wig/wig-final3.jpg{/rokbox} 

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