If this is your first time trying to style a wig for your costume, it might seem a little bit intimidating. You might be afraid to take scissors to the wig and mess anything up, or you don’t want to use the wrong hair product and ruin the wig. This is your guide to help you get it right and give you confidence in your wig styling endeavors.
If you take the time to understand the different types of wigs and the tools used for styling them, you’ll realize that there is not much to be afraid of. In fact, most mistakes are easily fixable if you take the time to wash your wig and try again.
If you want to avoid cutting into one of your more expensive wigs, you might want to buy a cheaper wig from eBay or Amazon and test out your cutting and styling techniques. This way you’ll get some practice and will know exactly what you’re doing before trying to work with the high-quality wigs.
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1. Products to use with wigs
Cosplay wigs may seem a lot like hair, but they are actually quite different. Wigs are made up of strands of plastic fibers. They are not at all an organic material and don’t have natural oil to help repair damage and prevent knotting. This means that many hairspray and hair gel products won’t work well on wigs because they are meant to interact with the oils in hair to obtain their holding power.
For this reason, you want to go for products that act more like glue than a basic hairspray. The products that you’ll most often see as go-to’s in the cosplay community are the Got2Be Freeze Spray and the Got2Be Glued hair gel. These, or products similar to these, can be used to style wigs into the gravity-defying anime styles.
I’ve also used clear-drying fabric glue when styling extreme wigs. This will glue the fibers in place while maintaining some of the flexibility you get from real hair. Fabric glue also dries without leaving a tacky or shiny surface, so it can be very useful when hair glue isn’t enough.
2. Brushing and combing a wig
Because wig fibers are not the same as hair, you also have to be more careful when brushing and combing them. Not only will wigs knot more easily than hair, but they are also a pain to detangle. If you pull too hard on knotted sections, the plastic strands will stretch out and become permanently damaged. They won’t be able to repair themselves over time like hair can.
To prevent damaging your wig, the first thing to do is pay attention to the tools you use. You’ll want to comb your wig with a wide-toothed comb so that it won’t snag as easily on knots, pulling them too hard. You can also get a brush specifically designed for brushing wigs. These have looped bristles that prevent the brush from snagging and pulling on wig fibers.
When it’s time to comb or brush your wig, always start with the bottom section of the wig and work your way up toward the roots. Honestly, this is good advice for anyone with long hair too, but it’s even more important for wigs. By combing the bottom section first, you remove any knots little by little and prevent them from clumping up and forming a major tangle while you’re combing.
- Related reading: How to detangle a wig without ruining it
3. Basic cutting techniques
Cutting techniques for wigs are the same techniques you would use on normal hair. This is one of the areas where the two behave pretty much the same. Like with hair cutting, you’ll want to invest in a good pair of hair shears so that you can cut nicely through the wig fibers. If you try using regular craft scissors, you’ll end up with ugly frayed edges, rather than a clean cut.
The cutting technique you use will vary depending on the style you’re going for. However, for most styles, you want to avoid cutting straight across the wig since this will create a blunt, unnatural-looking edge. Unless that’s what you’re going for, you want to make small snips into the wig at a 45º angle to make fluffier and more varied hair ends.
As you get more adventurous when styling wigs, you will definitely want to invest in a couple of wig heads. However, most wig heads are not the same size as human heads. Make sure to take that into account when cutting your wig.
Try the wig on yourself and make a snip at the length of the bangs and the length of the hair that you want around your face. Then put it onto the wig head and use those snipped areas as guidelines for the rest of the wig. For me, this means the bangs are usually coming down to the bridge of the nose on a wig head.
4. Heat styling
If you have a heat-resistant wig, it can be styled using basic heat tools like a hair straightener, hairdryer, and curler. However, you can’t be as reckless with wigs as you can with your real hair. Remember, cosplay wigs are made out of synthetic, plastic fibers. Plastic melts when it gets too hot. This means that even high-quality, heat-resistant wigs need to be styled using low heat settings on whatever heat tool you are using. If the wig does not say it’s heat-resistant in its description then it will start to melt and disfigure with even small amounts of heat.
Most heat-resistant wigs will come with a description that tells you exactly how much heat they can handle before the fibers start to melt. It’s best to stay at least 15º below this temperature so that you don’t risk ruining the wig. You’ll also want to use high heat for only short periods of time. The plastic fibers will keep cool and keep their shape more easily than hair, so it does not need to stay in a curler or straightener for a long time.
I also recommend testing an inconspicuous section (or the tips of the wig) before you start any heavy styling with heat. Sometimes wigs are marketed as heat-resistant to get people to buy them, but in reality, they won’t be able to handle anything more than a hairdryer.
Spiking is pretty common for anime and comic character hairstyles. At some point in your cosplay life, you’ll probably have to figure out how to make them. Even though it may seem intimidating, spiking is not all that difficult. The trick is to start with a wig that’s thick. This will both help the spikes hold their shape better and prevent them from revealing the wig cap below.
- Start by separating your wig into separated sections. Smaller sections will be easier to spike with less product, but sections that are too small won’t have that fluffy spike look that’s common in anime.
- Trim the section to the desired spike length. To get the spike to come to a point, you have to trim the section of wig hairs so that they taper at the end.
- Use freeze spray or hair glue to hold the spike together. The heat from a hairdryer can also be very helpful for helping spikes stand up if you direct the heat toward the roots of the hairs.
- Make any necessary touch-ups to the spike and repeat the next section of hair. You can trim the tip of spikes that are not pointing correctly and add a spritz of freeze spray or some heat from a hairdryer to help them stand up. Don’t be afraid to snip away flyaways too; you’ll probably have a lot of these until you get the hang of it.
Most standard cosplay wigs are not meant to be put into any kind of up-do. This is because when you lift up the hair from the bottom of the wig you will reveal the inner workings of the wig. The wefts (lines of wig strands) are also sewn onto the wig in a way that drapes the wig fibers down. It would take some extensive heat styling to bring the wig fibers up without causing a bulge all along the hairline.
Because of this, if you want to create any wig styles with ponytails, pigtails, or buns, you need to get wigs that are specifically made to create up-do’s. These are going to be a little more expensive than standard cosplay wigs, but they’ll be pre-styled to work for ponytails or pigtails.
Alternatively what you can do for these kinds of styles is to purchase a short wig and use ponytail clips. You won’t get the pulled-back look of actual hair, but generally, the effect looks good enough and it’s cheaper than getting a ponytail or pigtail wig.
7. Lace front wigs
Most standard cosplay wigs are not going to give you a natural-looking hairline. If your character has bangs or the hairline is covered up, this doesn’t matter and the wigs will look perfectly fine. However, if your cosplay character has a hairstyle that reveals their hairline, standard wigs won’t look very good.
This is where lace front wigs come in. The front inch of these wigs is made up of lace with individually sewn wig fibers. The result is a much more natural-looking hairline. The lace on the front of the wig will blend into your forehead to look like it’s actually your hair. Unfortunately, lace front wigs are quite a bit more expensive than typical cosplay wigs, so I only use them for costumes that have an exposed hairline.
- Related reading: Learn how to wear a lace front wig
8. Understanding wefts
I mentioned them briefly in a previous section, but wefts are the rows of wig fibers that make up the inner workings of a wig. If you can understand wefts and how the wig is constructed, you can create much more complicated and creative styles.
By understanding wefts, you can sew in a secondary color to the wig. You can also add additional wefts between the layers to thicken the wig or make it poofier. You’ll also be able to make edits or changes to the wig by following the guidelines of the wefts already inside your wig. It will give you extreme creative control over how the final product turns out. Most cosplay wig shops will sell lengths of wig wefts that you can use to sew onto your wig while constructing and stylizing your character’s hair.
9. You can resize a wig
Once you understand the inner construction of a wig, you can also resize them to fit better. For someone like me, with a fairly small head, learning how to make a custom size wig has made a big difference in creating a more realistic and more comfortable final wig.
For example, my head is small enough that the ear tabs of standard wigs cover my ears when they’re supposed to be sitting right in front of my ears. It’s uncomfortable and makes the bangs and hairline look awkward. Adjusting the straps in the back of the wig doesn’t help this issue at all.
Instead, I’ve learned that I can fix the hairline by deconstructing the inside of the hairline, removing a few lines of wefts, and sewing everything back together. This shortens the hairline so the wig sits more naturally on my head. For wigs that are too small, you can simply add a piece of elastic to the back of the ears to give you a better fit.
10. How to store a wig
You’re not going to be wearing your wig 24/7. Learning how to store your wig properly will help prevent impossible tangles from forming and keep your wig in good condition for the next convention or cosplay event. In general, you should avoid storing your wig in a place that is extremely hot (such as an attic without AC), since heat can damage or distort wig fibers.
Short wigs that are not styled or lightly styled are the easiest to store. They don’t get tangled very easily since the wig fibers are so short. You should still practice basic wig care with these wigs to prevent frizzy hair and make sure they’re ready to wear.
- Give the wig a quick comb through.
- Stuff tissue paper inside the wig.
- Place a hairnet over the wig.
- Store your wig in a large plastic back.
Medium and long wigs are at a much greater risk of developing knots and tangles. You want to take more time in preparing these before you place them in a bag for storage.
- Start by thoroughly combing the wig to remove any knots.
- Loosely braid the wig. You don’t want to make the wig too tight so that it doesn’t end up wavy from the braid.
- Stuff tissue paper inside of the wig cap.
- Fold the braid and stretch a hairnet over the wig and braid. Between the braid and hairnet, the wig fibers should stay in place and avoid tangling while in storage.
- Store your wig in a large plastic bag.
Heavily styled wigs are a little more complicated to store. To avoid messing up the style, they will need to be stored on a wig head in an upright position. I recommend finding a box that is big enough to contain the wig. Stand the wig inside and keep the box closed. This will prevent dust (and pet fur) from building up on the top of the wig.