Wigging Out: Pro Tips for Wearing Hair That Isn't Yours

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday April 21, 2017

Wigs and weaves. Toupees and extensions. Synthetic. Human. Fake hair has been around since the ancient Greeks, who invented wigs to protect their shaved heads from sunlight, but never have so many enticing options been available, or raked in more cash. In the U.S., wig and hairpiece manufacturing is now a $192 million a year industry, with retail sales bringing in another $224 million annually.

False hair is hotter than ever, but making sure it looks good still takes some work. Here's what to do to ensure your mop is tip-top:

Shop Smart for Your New Locks

Although better technology has given us $50 synthetic wigs that look so real, says "Wig ED" author Jeanna Doyle, "your own mother wouldn't know you're wearing one," custom human hair wigs can go for $3,500 or more. The average cost for an off-the-rack version is perhaps ten percent of that - still pricey enough that when you're buying one it pays to get it right the first time. Doyle, also the founder of Suite Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women with cancer address esthetic changes, has some suggestions for what to avoid when purchasing a wig.

"Be careful of really long wigs," she advises, "because they add a lot of friction and maintenance. You don't want a really thick wig because it's hotter, or a super straight wig, because it can expose the part and the hairline. You don't want a super shiny wig, because that's a tell tale sign that you're wearing a wig. But you do want dimension, with some highlights and lowlights, because that adds believability."

"Wig ED" is designed to give women the information they need to buy and care for wigs, with specific indications for those going through cancer treatment. But Doyle has a tip for men, too. "Because manufacturers don't make as many styles for men," she says, "they may be better off finding the color and the shape they want in a woman's wig and then having it cut to suit."

Wear it Well

Once you've picked the perfect wig, most stylists suggest you have it cut and colored by a professional. Dina Scherer, owner of New York's Modnitsa Styling, also recommends "creating a slightly asymmetrical hair line, if possible. Most wigs are made with bangs to cover the front of your own hair and have a part down the middle. If you're able to add off-to-the side, longer bangs, it looks more natural. Another tip I offer is a half-up, half-down style... having a playful top half-bun or ponytail can give a fresh look."

Meanwhile, superstar natural hairstylist Vernon François, who works with Lupita N'yongo and Kerry Washington, says prep work is critical. "You should never forget to lay a great foundation by taking care of your own hair and scalp underneath first," he explains. "Wigs are much more breathable than they used to be, which is good news for your hair and scalp, but it's still important not to forget this step - it can be tempting to skip to the finishing! A simple spritz with a moisture or scalp nourishment spray, or a slick of protective serum will do the trick."

Do the Right Thing for Your Do

Proper care of your false hair is crucial to keeping it, and you, looking good. While some wig shops offer maintenance services, many people choose to care for the hair they wear at home.

For DIYers, celebrity stylist Aubrey Marie, who has worked on "VEEP" and "Documentary Now!" says, "It's important to use quality products on your wig. After all, they don't regrow their hair if you don't take care of them! Use salon professional products, such as Eufora International. I love using their Hydrating Shampoo and Elevate Finishing Spray on my wigs. The brand is eco-friendly and the products are gentle, yet efficient."

Doyle, whose path to becoming a wig expert began when a friend with cancer asked for help choosing one, adds, "I tell people that a bad wig is like bad plastic surgery - everyone notices. A lot of people wear hair everyday, and it goes undetected because it's good."

Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.