Wigs are worn by countless women for various reasons – but there’s still a lot to learn if you’re new to them. Junior beauty writer Ava Welsing-Kitcher takes us through her journey of designing her first wig using a custom service by an expert wig maker.
Wigs aren’t anything new, but they’ve definitely surged in popularity and experimentation in recent years. Girls flex their latest instalments proudly on Instagram and wig inspiration accounts gain hundreds of thousands of followers. And since the Kar-Jenners switched their tape-in extensions for lace frontals and proudly tagged their wig stylists in every post, wigs have become more widespread in that non-black women are more inclined to wear them.
This is yet another double standard - black women have had to deal with outreached hands and intrusive questions from colleagues about their changing hairstyles, yet non-black women are openly applauded for “switching things up”. But thanks to the hyper-visibility of wigs, they’re now seen as a commodity rather than something to conceal.
As a result, there are now so many options available. From rainbow lengths to choppy bobs, wigs now come in every cut and colour, and the possibilities are endless. They’re used as a way to express creativity, elevate an outfit to the next level, and experiment with styles with zero commitment. They’re definitely a far cry from your great aunt’s church wig.
Although I grew up with my mum, grandmother and aunties all wearing wigs, I’d never experimented with them myself besides tottering around with theirs lopsided on my head as a child. I’ve tried half-weaves, ponytails, even clip-in fringes, but never a proper wig.
Growing up, wigs seemed to be reserved for the glamourous elite (read: Beyonce) or girls who’d been mastering them for years. The steps to laying them perfectly seemed too complex and intimidating to me, plus I didn’t want to have to answer any silly questions about why my hair had changed. On top of that, entering the world of wigs seemed intimidating; I didn’t know where to start looking, Instagram was overwhelming, and Google just gave me lots of salons for European hair.
But nevertheless, I succumbed – and I’m so glad I did. I stopped straightening my hair two years ago because of heat and chemical damage, but still get the itch to wear it long and swishy from time to time. Through a friend’s recommendation, I visited Mikai McDermott, founder of hair, beauty and lifestyle brand Cipher, to construct my dream wig and get it installed.
As a bit of a novice to the world of wigs, I learned an unbelievable amount from her, and emerged from her studio with hair I couldn’t stop flicking around. Read on and let my newfound knowledge become yours.
Find a reputable wig maker
Although it can be overwhelming, Instagram is often where it’s at when it comes to sourcing the right person or salon. But, as is true to the nature of the app, images can often be too good to be true. “Look for a lot of video content rather than just photos, as it’s easy to Facetune frontals (the false hairlines of wigs) to make them look undetectable,” advises McDermott.
“A good wig maker will also have genuine online engagement, and you’ll be able to see clients tagging them in the “tagged posts” section,” she continues. Reputable clients are also a good indication – McDermott has created wigs time and time again for Radio 1 DJ Tiffany Calver and activist Munroe Bergdorf – but always make sure that there’s good customer service and reliable reviews to back this up.
Source some good quality hair
Many wig makers will have their own retailers they rely on for quality hair and all the extras (explained below), but will often also have a detailed list on their websites of approved retailers they trust and types of hair that they accept. These are great guides for sourcing your own hair online, as there are countless retailers that get away with selling bad quality hair but still show up on the first page of Google search results.
“I’ve tried CDBeauty Co and Herhairuk and stand by both – they’re black-owned and UK-based for easy, fast delivery,” recommends McDermott. “Key indicators of good quality hair include a natural brown or black shade, low-medium lustre, and full thick ends,” she continues. “Avoid bundles with grey hairs or white threads, and thin or split ends. And don’t take shine as an indicator of quality; sometimes the worst hair feels the best when you first purchase it.”
“Softness isn’t everything,” agrees award-winning wig maker Gina Knight. “Some suppliers coat hair with silicone to make it shiny and smooth, but as it wears off through washing the hair gets considerably drier and tangled. That isn’t to say that chemically processed hair is always a bad thing – most hair needs to go through cleaning and texturizing processes to give it curl or wave, which makes it not virgin (unprocessed) but definitely still worthy.”
Design your wig
It depends on who’s making it, but you should be able to choose from existing options on their website or Instagram. If you want a custom wig, then be clear about all the conditions that will make it come to fruition:
Length: this is how long the hair is when straight, measured in inches. Any textured hair will have a longer listed length to make up for shrinkage (so a 12” curly bob will look much shorter than a 12” lob).
Lengths can go onwards from 28” (bum-length), and longer hair will always be more expensive. Look at Instagram captions or Google Image search the measurements for a visual representation.
Texture: different retailers will use different words, but the main categories are straight, body wave (loose wave), curly, and kinky (afro-textured). The possibilities are endless when it comes to curl patterns and texture.
Frontal: this is the hairline of the wig, and the aim is for it to look as natural as possible (seen above on Love Island’s Amber Gill). Lace frontals are the most popular for their ability to blend into the skin, and span from earlobe to earlobe or around the whole circumference. With frontals, you can tie your hair up as the hair falls in the same direction as your own.
Closure: this is like a frontal, but ranges from eyebrow to eyebrow or just around the parting. These are the easiest to install day to day while still looking realistic (see below).
Get it installed and take notes
Finding the maker and hair is half of the job – the real work starts when it comes to installing the wig, and learning to do so yourself. McDermott canerowed my own hair into wig braids, put a wig cap on, settled the wig over it and guided the frontal hairline so it sat just in front of my own to protect my edges from the wig adhesive. She trimmed the lace, then applied a thin layer of wig adhesive to my forehead, let it dry a little till it was tacky, then laid the frontal over it.
Next came the drying and setting process. McDermott lay a very stretchy elastic headband (like the ones we had to wear in P.E.) over the frontal to lay it down flat. After ten minutes, she lifted it off gently and blow dried gently to dry the glue completely, and trimmed any excess lace off. She then laid the edges of the wig to conceal the almost-invisible line between the lace and my skin using gel and a brush.
I received very specific instructions for maintaining the instalment, the wig itself, and for removing it. Because adhesive was used, I could keep the wig on for up to a week, provided I slept with a headband around the frontal to keep it laid down (re-applying over the top of dried glue is a nightmare). For day to day wear, a strong hold gel is fine instead of adhesive, and comes off with water – wig-wearers love Schwarzkopf’s Got2b Glued Blasting Freeze Spray, £3, for its super strong hold.
When it came to removing the glue, Mikai advised using 91% isopropyl alcohol to dissolve it and avoid damaging the lace and my skin. I, for some reason, didn’t do this and used olive oil on cotton wool to lift the glue after someone recommended it online. It hurt a little bit and took forever, so please just buy the alcohol. Since then, I’ve used the Got2b and taken it off with water at the end of the day and it’s a lot easier and kinder to my skin and edges, but does need topping up during the day.
McDermott advises washing your wig two to three times a month to minimise shedding (if you wear it daily, then once a week), air drying, and only using a good quality serum to avoid build-up. Knight advises treating your wig like you would your own hair, taking extra care when needed. “Textured afro wigs aren’t necessarily an easier alternative to your own hair,” she warns. “Be careful when detangling, washing, and drying, and use quality products.”
Three months have gone by since the installation, and I’ve worn my wig only a couple of times – but I know I will do more and more as time goes by and I master installing it myself.
It’s so fun to try different styles and play around with it using heat tools and products that wouldn’t give the same results on my own hair, which stays protected and nourished with a hair oil underneath. I’m already bookmarking new styles on Instagram to try out soon – next stop, a dark wavy bob like Rihanna’s in Wild Thoughts.
Main image: Ava Welsing-Kitcher