Shevelle Rhule is a London-based fashion and beauty editor who has been a devout wearer of wigs for the past three years.
Here, she explains our growing fascination with hair pieces and charts their growth throughout history, as well as examining how they have the power to instantly transform much more than just our appearance.
I have a confession to make: I’m a wig addict. With seven units currently decorating my dressing room table I’m embarrassed to admit I’m still struggling to fight the urge to get another.
I have a wig for the gym, one for when I'm going to meetings and want to be taken seriously, a wig that makes me stand out from the crowd, another that has gone from soft brown to bright blonde (when I was going through my Beyoncé phrase) and back again (when sanity returned), a unit I lent to a friend and never got back and one that compliments the majority of my wardrobe. I have been known to wear four different wigs in a week, much to my male neighbour’s confusion, although I later made a pact with my fiancé that I would try and be a little less obvious in future.
And if you’re wondering, no, I'm not bald, suffering from alopecia or have any other hair loss condition; in fact my hair is currently swishing well past my shoulders when straightened and a super sized afro when not and more importantly, in the best condition of its life thanks to wigs.
To many, the idea of wearing a wig when you have an adequate amount of your own follicles is baffling. Particularly as wigs haven’t always had the best reputation, and have often been treated as a style worn as a comical addition to a fancy dress party or simply for those who have little of their own.
Yet Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Kylie Jenner, Jennifer Hudson and Kim Kardashian are just a snippet of the celebrities who have caught onto the delights of wigs. The new generation of wigs isn’t anything like you think you know and as a result people’s attitudes towards them are changing.
“I feel like it’s becoming a little bit more mainstream, people are talking about it like it’s not a big deal,” explains Isaac Davidson, founder of New York-based wig and extension studio, Wigbar, and singer Sia’s wig maker. “It used to be [that] everyone was nervous [that] people would figure out what they are wearing. Now they are like I’m starting a wig collection and talking about all the different styles they have.”
It’s this freedom to be creative and spontaneous, to be able to unleash your inner diva and be the blonde you dreamed of, or try out a cut you have been toying with for years, all without the consequences of peroxide damaging your own hair or growing out an awkward cut, that has made a lot of women rethink the concept of wigs.
My own wig addiction started after a bad experience with hair extensions, leaving me with multiple bald patches the size of a 10 pence piece. It was from then that I decided to put the health of my hair first and was introduced to the wonderful world of wigs by my stylist. At first I picked styles that mimicked my own afro hair but the more comfortable with how to wear and care for them I became, the more adventurous I got with styles, cuts and colours.
At first I picked styles that mimicked my own afro hair but the more comfortable with how to wear and care for them I became, the more adventurous I got with styles, cuts and colours.
“The fact you can transition and change your entire look, hair, makeup, clothes within seconds has become very on trend,” says Edee Beau, Wig Maker for Destiny's Child alumni Michelle Williams. “People get bored of the same look after a while. Kylie and Kim do it because they don’t want to damage or change their natural hair, so if you can do that with a wig it makes it attractive to everybody.”
Of course, wigs have been around for centuries, worn by the Egyptians in 2700BC and considered the height of fashion by the French monarchy in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the last 50-plus years wigs have undergone a massive boom in popularity, with stars like Diana Ross wearing stylish bouffant styles that inspired almost one third of women to own a wig in the 1960’s.
The present day resurgence is thanks to a mixture of celebrities being open about it, wig innovations like lace fronts (which mimics the look of the scalp and allows you to style it like your own), quality and ethical hair sourcing and affordability.
“Wigs have been worn by the elite and now they’re available to everyone,” says wig specialist Andree Marie. “Social media has allowed us to see secrets that weren’t shown to us before. Before we thought Naomi Campbell or Beyonce’s hair was always looking fabulous, when they were wearing a wig all this time.”
“It was set to a certain standard for the rich and the fabulous, and now everyone can be fabulous, everyone can have a wig.”
In a busy world where women have less time to spend on beautifying themselves it seems wigs have managed to fill the void between wanting to look fabulous but not spend hours to do so.
It was set to a certain standard for the rich and the fabulous, and now everyone can be fabulous, everyone can have a wig.
Wigs have given me a renewed confidence, allowing me to look presentable when I have no time, or give me an alter ego when I need one - like my sleek bob which helps me feel chic, professional and ready for business or my favourite big curly one that makes me walk into a room like I own it.
Some women put on high heels others smear on red lipstick and me? Well, I put on a wig.
How wigs can instantly transform a look
Shevelle models six of her favourite wigs to show how dramatically a simple hairpiece can transform her look.
The blonde one
I feel incredibly flirty and sassy with this blond style and tend to wear it when I want to command a little extra attention.
The bob one
This is my ready for professional life wig. When I wear it, I instantly feel chic and that I can handle my shit like a boss too.
The fringe one
I like the easy going nature of this fringe style and usually wear it to the gym or if I’m popping to the supermarket.
The curly one
My absolute favourite, I live for big textured hair and this makes me feel the most sexy and confident of all my wigs. It's a hit with my partner too.
The wavy one
This is the wig I wear the most because it works for everything.
The highlighted one
I don't really do colour so this is about as bold as I go. I call this my ‘fun wig’ and wear it when I'm in the mood to jazz up my look.