No longer just for fancy dress, wigs are gaining popularity in the real world. Stylist’s Giselle La Pompe-Moore explains why she embraces their transformative powers every day
Photography: David Marquez
I am sat cross-legged on the living room floor, surrounded by an adjustable net wig cap, mannequin head and sewing needles. Beauty vlogger NeneTanae is talking me through eight minutes and 50 seconds worth of a YouTube wig-making tutorial while my mum nervously sews £400 worth of human hair onto a wig cap. Four hours later my homespun, partial wig is finished and clipped into my own braided hair. After nine years of opting for tight sew-in weaves, it felt like a revelation. There was none of the itching or tugging pain on my scalp from having 22inch-long hair sewn onto my braids; it was half the price of my 18 salon visits a year to re-do them and best of all, was totally low-maintenance, requiring just a few seconds to remove it from my head. I couldn’t believe that after 24 years, I had found my soulmate hair.
This was three years ago, and since then I’ve graduated to slightly more sophisticated styles. But the road to my wig epiphany has not been a smooth one. On my quest for easy-to-manage, perfectly coiffed hair, I would accompany my mum to the black hair shops in east London on the weekends. If you’ve never been in one, you’re met by aisles of hair products, each promising silky soft, long and straight hair. The kind of hair that’s the opposite of my naturally tight, afro coils. Aged 15, I began spending £30 on packs of synthetic hair used for weaves, watching the plasticy strands melt as soon as my curling tongs touched them. So I graduated to buying the best quality virgin (chemically unprocessed) hair that cost half of my monthly pay slip not to mention the six-weekly trips to the hairdresser to braid and sew in my weave. Trying to manipulate and blend my naturally curly hair with other strands in order to create that elusive ‘good hair’ was becoming overwhelming. I battled with relaxer burns, tried glued-on extensions, spent a solid week crying over a bald spot thanks to stress-related alopecia and bought more oil treatments and hibiscus tea rinses than I can remember (in a bid to boost growth). By my mid-20s I had reached follicle exhaustion point.
But now, at 27, I happily – and openly – wear a wig. And I’m part of a rapidly growing crowd. Women who, like me, are wearing wigs to make sure they never have a bad hair day, for an instant style or colour change, to add volume to their naturally meagre dosage or to simply claim back an extra 20 minutes in the morning. Within the black community wearing wigs is nothing new, but the growing openness surrounding it certainly is. Previously a secret in celebrity circles, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga wore wild wigs to switch up their red carpet looks but more recently Naomi Campbell, Rita Ora and Keira Knightley have also revealed they’ve worn wigs on the red carpet. Adele is so attached to her wigs, she even named them, ‘Jackie’ and ‘June’.
Above: The bouncy bob
Middle partings give me anxiety as I feel I have too long a forehead to be able to pull it off. This long bob is so bouncy that I can forgive the parting. If I was ever going to go for a crop then this would be it (with the addition of a deep side parting obviously). Wig by Yomi, £250, hairbyyomi.com
So what’s driven this trend from the backstage arena into the mainstream? Troy Thomas, owner of Hair From Him which sells luxury hair extensions, credits the role of social media: “It’s played a huge part in evolving the wig industry, women have been able to watch other women like themselves, as well as celebrities, transition from weaves to wigs and with video you can see the natural-looking ones in action.” Like so many others, I used to connect wearing wigs to hair loss or as a solution to a problem; never as a style choice. But a scroll through my social media feeds shows they’re becoming increasingly embraced by real women – just look at @naye0na, @brittanie_evans and @thejenniejenkins for proof. In the US, Mintel reported that nearly six out of ten black consumers now wear a wig, weave or extensions. “Black women are spending a tremendous amount on these products,” says Tonya Roberts, multicultural analyst at Mintel. This was evident when I lived in Manhattan; wigmakers were easily accessible and my friends discussed wig-wearing in the same casual way that Saturday night clip-in extensions are talked about in the UK. Part of the reason is the money being pumped into the industry; the latest innovations ensure they’re breathable so you don’t break out in a hot flush, they’re realistic-looking due to higher quality hair being used to create them, which also makes them lightweight as fewer hairs are needed for a more convincing look, and with more people creating them it’s easier than ever to get one custom-made.
The root of it
Feeling tempted? Wearing a wig is a lower maintenance option but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require lots of TLC and some decent investment of both time and money from you in the first place. For example, as I write this, my black, 22inch-long, wavy wig is drying on a washing line in the middle of the kitchen (it needs to be washed every two weeks), while my second more voluminous wig is undergoing a deep treatment in a plastic bag filled with Tresemmé Keratin Smooth Conditioner (£5.24). She’s slightly trickier and takes 48 hours to dry because she’s so thick so I save her for more special occasions.
Above: The deep wave
I didn’t know quite what to do with this, I’ve never had such an expanse of curly hair before. I didn’t want to risk brushing it so I just threw it on and hoped for the best. It didn’t feel like me, as you have to search for my face, but the fuss-free style made me daydream about all the time I could shave off my routine.
Zeeelle, £380, zeeelle.com
When buying a wig, social media is the best place to begin. Instagram is the new word of mouth and you can find women who wear wigs in the styles you like and see where they got theirs from by doing a quick hashtag search. You could buy a ready-made wig from chrissybales.com, honeyhand.co.uk, radiantlondon.com and websterwigs.com and have it tailored to your requirements by your regular stylist or, for the ultimate custom-made wig, buy bundles of virgin hair in the colour, length and texture of your choice from sellers such as hairfromhim.net, wmhairbeauty.com and capelliamore.com then have them made into the wig of your choice by a wigmaker or stylist such as @wigsbydeedee, @hausofshee, @wigsbyyomi and mjahair.com.
Above: The Crop
My mum’s been sporting this style for years and by wearing this I’ve just seen my future. I took around 45 pictures of myself and sent it to all of my friends – I’m slightly obsessed. I would never cut my own hair this short but just knowing that I have the option if I wanted to gives me such joy. Radiant London Salon, £175, radiantlondon.com
There are a few things to note before you buy, however. Most importantly, the illusion of a scalp is the Holy Grail of a great wig. You should be able to see a clear and defined parting and not be able to tell where the wig starts. This is done by lace frontals and closures which replicate a natural hairline and the knots of the hair (fake roots) can be bleached and plucked to mimic real hair. New-gen wigs are bespoke and can be personalised to your requirements. When I order my wig I usually send references of looks I want to recreate and to show how dense I want the hair but many wig makers will book you in for a fitting to ensure it’s comfortable and a good match to your hairline. I look to YouTube tutorials for tips on how to make my wig look realistic – PeakMill and Chrissy Bales taught me to use a curling tong to flatten the roots of the hair. Straight and wavy styles may be my current choice but you can also buy afro wigs with a kinky texture that resemble tightly coiled afro hair. And if you like to experiment, it might be worth paying more for high quality virgin hair – it can be dyed repeatedly, take a lot of heat and cut into a more natural looking finish, so you can try out a long bob, pastel tones or an ombre finish without the commitment or damage to your own hair.
A touch of red
Whether it’s grey, blonde or honey brown if it’s not nearly black then I haven’t touched it. I’m not one for experimenting with hair colour but the dipped red ends and the classic cut on this wig are subtle enough for me to be on board with it. Radiant London Salon, £475, radiantlondon.com
Another upside is having the luxury of being able to style it both on and off your head. I’ll sometimes curl it on a wig head (try eBay or pakcosmetics.com) while watching Netflix after work, and if I leave it to set in pin-curls overnight the curls last a week. I say it’s low-maintenance but I have subconsciously lumbered myself with two hair routines as it’s essential not to neglect your own hair just because there’s something new and shiny placed on top. I wash my natural hair and wig on alternate weeks. For my own hair I use Charlotte Mensah Manketti Oil Shampoo and Conditioner (both £22), which contains oils to nourish my hair and then I braid it into small cornrows close to my scalp. When it comes to my wig, I wash it over the sink with conditioner then leave it to air-dry. I only shampoo it when it needs a deep cleanse every three weeks (as it’s not producing natural oils, it only needs washing to remove the build-up of product). I also use Braids and Locs Spray (£16) on my natural hair to keep the braids under the wig healthy followed by the Lightweight Styling Serum (£19.50) on my wig to finish the style, both by Vernon Francois.
Above: vintage waves
I bought this wig less than 24 hours after I tried it on. Needless to say I liked it. I’m a massive fan of vintage style anyway, so the waves, the parting, the length… it is just perfection. Trying on wigs is no different to a trip to Topshop, you just know when you’ve found the one.
Wigs by Yomi, £395, hairbyyomi.com
When I was asked to strip down to a wig cap for this feature I was surprised by how confident I felt in the context of the studio. But I wouldn’t feel the same venturing outside without my wig. Hair is such a personal reflection of our identity and bound up with endless complexities about how we see ourselves and that still rings true for me despite the fact that the hair I wear is not – technically – mine. Having long swishy hair is an integral part of my identity, so I would never say that it’s not my own hair. Borrowed or bought yes, but the connection I have with my wig is just the same as the one I have with my natural hair. This isn’t a denial of my blackness or rejection of my natural hair, it’s just one of the many things in my identity toolbox that I use to shape who I am, to me it’s the same as the make-up and clothes I wear. A transformation takes place during the shift from me wearing my braids and wig cap to the glossy, long wig that I place on top, that isn’t just physical. It feels like the final step in the ritual of becoming me. And while I may not only be my hair, it’s an intrinsic part of the way I present myself to the world.
Above: my wig
My beloved, which I wear every day. It’s very comfortable as it’s moulded and relaxed to my head over time. I didn’t even style it but it feels like me and having tried the other wigs this just felt like I was back to being myself after playing dress-up. Hair From Him, £345 (hair), hairfromhim.net; £200 (to make it into a wig), @wigsbydeedee