There are all sorts of reasons why wearing a wig can be an attractive option for clients. They may want a quick and easy way to change style, colour or length, or they may have religious reasons for wearing a wig, or want to cover up thinning hair or more extreme hair loss caused by ill-health, medical treatment or allergy.
It helps too that many movie stars, rock stars and models, such as Rihanna, Angelina Jolie and Beyoncé, are upfront about their use of wigs, and not just when they’re on the screen or catwalk.
Of course, wigs have been around for centuries. The ancient Egyptians wore them, and so did the Greeks and Romans. Then later, we know that Queen Elizabeth 1st wore elaborate wigs to hide her ‘high forehead’, and the nobility in Britain and Europe wore powdered wigs in the 17th and 18th centuries. Wigs in the past were as much about fashion as practicality, and that’s the same with some of the more colourful and exotic wig styles of today.
Trichologists see problem hair all the time, and will recommend clients to a specialist wig or extension consultant if they think it’s appropriate, especially if they consider the client would benefit from the boost to their morale that a wig or hairpiece could bring.
As hair professionals know, wigs come in all shapes, sizes and, of course, prices. And the price depends on the quality of the hair used, where it comes from, and how the wig is made.
At the cheapest end of the market are ready-made wigs made of synthetic material, such as acrylic, nylon, or polyester. They’re machine stitched, one-size-fits-all, and hold a style well. But synthetic fibres tend not to move as naturally as human hair, and they’re also heat sensitive and easily damaged.
At the other end of the market are custom-made wigs made of virgin (untreated) human hair. These are hand-made to fit the client’s head precisely, and in the client’s desired cut and style. Because of the superior quality base, the hair and scalp look natural, even when the wind’s blowing.
And in between, there’s a whole range of varying products of differing qualities aimed at different client needs.
So how are wigs made?
The base of the wig will be either wefted, which means it’s made of rows of fibre joined together with elasticised strips or, for more expensive wigs, it’s made of a monofilament mesh, or of fine lace. Alternatively the base may be mostly wefted, but with sections like the top or front made from pieces of mesh or lace.
Silicon strips and an adjustable strap are also attached to the edges and back of the base in order to help hold the wig firmly in place.
The hair to be used may be all human hair, or a mix of human and synthetic, or just synthetic. For wigs of gray hair, it’s not unusual to use animal hair from yaks, since it can be difficult to source human gray hair of sufficient length.
For making a higher quality wig, the wigmaker first ensures all the strands of hair are lying in the same direction. Then they’re pulled through a hackle, which is like a metal spiked brush, to remove hairs that are shorter than the desired length.
Quality wigs are nearly all hand tied. This is a time-consuming process of knotting the human hair to the base using special needles. To achieve a natural look, hairs along the front edge of the wig may be attached individually, while on the crown up to eight hairs may be knotted together to give additional volume. A full wig needs as many as 30,000 to 40,000 knots, which can take up to an amazing 40 hours of tying. The completed wig is then pinned to a soft block to be combed and styled.
There have never been more wigs to choose from, in all styles, colours, lengths – and cost. Trichologists are always concerned about the health of their clients’ hair and scalp, so whatever the reason a client is thinking about a wig, they should get expert and trustworthy advice to help them make the best choice possible.