Wigs 101: Everything You Need to Know

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In 2013, wigs are ubiquitous!  It’s hard to walk two feet on the streets of Brooklyn, NY or even Beverly Hills without running into someone sporting some variation of a wig. Traditionally made from horsehair, human hair, wool, feathers, yak hair, buffalo hair, or synthetic materials, a wig is worn on the head for fashion or various other aesthetic and stylistic reasons, including cultural and religious observance.

As wig use has evolved over the years, so has the industry which now largely caters to those that choose to use wigs as a cosmetic every day accessory.  Wigs are a great way to get creative while doing minimal damage to your hair.  Whether you’re looking to change up your look for a night out or you want to add a wig to your daily beauty routine, wig options are virtually endless.  To help you fully wrap your mind around what seems to be an infinite amount of styles, constructions and variations, we’ve gladly taken the time to bring you a basic guide of everything you need to know before getting started with this exciting and useful accessory!

Basic Types of Wigs

There are many options to consider when choosing a wig including hair type, wig construction and method of production.

Hair Type: Natural vs. Synthetic Wigs

Synthetic hair is made from acrylic or nylon fibers, whereas natural hair can be human hair or human hair mixed with animal hair (such as horses, angora rabbits, or sheep).

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  • Human hair is usually the highest quality hair, but only when details of construction and processing are taken into account.
  • Natural hair wigs can last up to five years with proper care, are thicker, can be styled with heat and often have a more genuine look, therefore tend to be more expensive.
  • Natural wigs are more versatile and can be dyed different colors (permanent or semi-permanent) and styled with various forms of heat. Note: after washing, a natural wig needs to be restyled whereas, synthetic wigs should never be heat-styled.

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  • There are many high-quality synthetic wigs on the market that are both beautiful and affordable.
  • Synthetic wigs are less likely to tangle but they tend to wear out after 3-6 months, sometimes within weeks.
  • They are able to retain their shape and style, even after washing and tend to be cooler than human hair.
  • One major disadvantage is there’s not much you can do to a synthetic wig once purchased i.e. dying it various colors or curling it with a curling iron.

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Both synthetic and human hair wigs can be made in a variety of textures and styles.

Production: Hand-Tied or Machine-Made?

There are two main methods of production of a wig: hand-tied or machine-made (machine-wefted). A hand-tied wig is one in which individual hairs are attached to the wig cap by hand. This process is very labor-intensive but yields more natural results, since hairs will all flow in the same direction and will be less liable to tangling. Hand-tied wigs allow the hair to be styled more effortlessly and parted in different ways. Cheaper wigs are made by a machine that sews the hair into a cap or nylon strips. Synthetic wigs are usually machine-made. Natural hair wigs can either be hand-tied or machine-made. When made by machine, natural hair wigs must be processed with chemicals to dissolve the outer cortex and this may lead to a less-than-ideal texture. Most wigs should say somewhere on the packaging, whether it’s hand-tied or machine-wefted. Hand tied is higher quality so the package will definitely highlight that distinction. Physically, hand-tied wigs should move more naturally. If you part the hair and look closely, you should be able to see the long tracks of the machine-wefted wig.

Construction: Full-Cap, Open-Cap, or Partial Coverage?

A wig can either be full-cap, open-cap, or partial coverage. A full-cap wig features hair that is sewn into a mesh cap, leaving no gaps and providing full coverage of the hair/head underneath. Since this wig has the most hair and is usually hand-tied, its usually a more expensive type of wig. One downside of the full-cap wig is that it can make the head feel too hot and doesn’t allow the hair underneath to breathe. Women who are concerned about air circulation, or who plan to wear a wig in the summer, may opt for an open-cap wig instead.

An open-cap wig is made of nylon strips onto which hair is machine-sewn. There are gaps between each strip for flexibility and ventilation. This wig is not recommended for those with thinning hair, as the scalp may show through.

A partial coverage wig (or wiglet) can come in the form of a clip-on or elastic structure and is made to enhance one’s natural tresses. Clipping in “falls” of hair can make your hair appear longer or thicker and ponytail or bun accessories can be used to create a perfect updo without the hassle of wearing a full wig. A “topper” cap is another type of partial wig that is clipped onto the head and covers only the crown. This is great for those who have hair loss in those areas and want to look good while maintaining a somewhat natural look. There are also partial wigs on the market that are full in the back but stop short of the forehead, allowing one to blend one’s natural hair or bangs with the wig.

Specialty Wigs

Back in May, our hair expert, Emmy Award-Wining Celebrity Hair Stylist, Hadiiya Barbel, gave us the run down on various specialty wigs currently on the market.  These include:

  • U- Shaped: This wig has an opening that clips in so you can pull your natural hair through to give the look of a blend, which is similar to how a weave is done and looks. This works best if the exact texture of your natural hair and the wig is a match.  If not, then a wig with full coverage is best.
  • Full Lace: This has the most flexibility and can even be worn in a high ponytail! This is made from a stretch cap in most cases. Individual strands are pulled through the cap and gives the illusion of hair coming from the scalp. It must be applied with an adhesive like tape or bonding glue. This gives the most authentic hairline for the full coverage but is very delicate and must be treated with care. It is possible to sew combs or clips on the full lace when adhesives are not desired.
  • Lace Front:  A lace-front wig is a full wig that has a lace mesh attached in front of the hairline that allows for custom fitting and styling. The lace front is glued to the forehead, providing a seamless transition to the skin. This wig is hand-tied in the very front with machine wefts in the back.
  • Closure:  A closure is not a wig but rather, an attachment used to close a weave without the use of the natural hair. This mimics either a lace wig or a silk top and is usually sewn in along with weaving or making a custom wig by hand.
  • Silk Top Wig – This is the most natural looking scalp compared to all wigs. Most high end wigs use a silk top as the knots are hidden under a second piece of material which gives an illusion of “flesh tone.” There is some flexibility and it is usually multi-directional at the crown of the head. You cannot wear this in a high ponytail or off the face unless intricate detailing and styling is done to it by a professional. Machine wefts are in the back. This is secured with combs or clips that snap in.
  • Half Wig – A half wig is basically half of a wig (the bottom half.) This is used when one wants to add fullness and body to their hair along with some length. This is a popular option for women who may not want to cover their entire hair but need fullness and a bit of length. This is secured with combs or clips that snap in.
  • Monofilament Wig Monofilament wigs are made using a sheer, gauze-like wig cap. This cap allows the color of the wearer’s scalp to show through, creating more of a natural look. Hairs are hand-tied to the fabric. This is especially great for patients with hair-loss as it will not irritate the scalp. Some wigs are made with only a strip of the monofilament fabric beneath the hair’s part, with the rest of the fabric being made of a sturdier material with machine-wefted hair, providing a “mono” look for a fraction of the price.

Installing a Wig

A Few Tips

  • Make sure your hair is clean and flat. Either pin down or braid into cornrows.
  • Always wear a wig cap! This helps the wig stay on your head and protects your hair from the wig’s inner lining and friction.
  • Always secure your wig to your hair using combs that are inside of the wig cap to ensure a snug fit that won’t slip.
  • Some wigs are adjustable, so getting sized at a specialty store is recommended for a perfect fit.

A Few Tutorials

Basic Wig Placement

A Curly Wig w/Natural Hair

Installing a Half Wig

(See more of our favorite wig/non-wig tutorials here.)

Caring For Your Wig

  • Store on a wig stand for proper ventilation! Always remove your wig at night and place on a wig stand (unless it is a glue-on lace front. These can be worn for weeks at a time).
  • Keep out of direct sunlight!  Covering your wig with a scarf is a great way to keep dust off and shield any sunlight from nearby windows. This is especially important for human hair, the color of which will be changed over time by the sun’s UV rays.
  • It is recommended to wash your wig after about every 10 uses. Wash more often if sweaty or active.
  • Checkout Divatress for tips on how to wash your wig.
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