10 Quick Tips for Wig Styling for Costumes

cosplay wig styling for the complete beginner

Stepping into the vibrant world of cosplay can be thrilling, and part of that excitement is bringing your favorite characters to life. One of the key aspects of your transformation is the wig. You might feel a bit overwhelmed at first, but with some basic guidance, styling a cosplay wig can become a fun and creative process. Whether it’s achieving the perfect spike or crafting those flowing anime locks, starting with the right knowledge will make your journey smoother.

It’s not just about looking the part; it’s about making a character leap off the page or screen and into the real world. You’ll need to consider the type of wig that suits your character, as well as the tools and products that will help you achieve the look without damaging your wig. Remember, it’s all about experimentation and patience, so don’t be afraid to try something new.

Because quality results come from using the right tools and techniques, beginning with solid foundational knowledge will set you on the path to success. From learning about the importance of a wig cap to getting the right hair products that won’t damage synthetic fibers, each step is pivotal. By equipping yourself with the necessary skills, you’re not just preparing a wig; you’re crafting an integral component of your character’s visual story.

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damaged wig fibers
If you pull too hard on wig fibers they end up stretched out and damaged, creating a frizzy texture with fibers bent and curling out of place.

1. 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, you’ll want to comb your wig with a wide-toothed comb so that it won’t snag as easily on knots. 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. By combing the bottom section first, you remove any knots little by little and prevent them from clumping up and forming a major tangle.

2. Basic cutting techniques

Cutting techniques for wigs are the same techniques you would use on normal hair. Like with hair cutting, you’ll want to invest in a good pair of hair shears. If you try using regular craft scissors, you’ll end up with ugly frayed edges, rather than a clean cut.

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. Then 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.

wig styling supplies
Basic wig styling tools.

3. Products to use with wigs

Cosplay wigs may seem a lot like hair, but they are actually quite different. Wigs are made up of plastic fibers. They 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.

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 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.

4. Spiking

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 help the spikes hold their shape better and prevent them from revealing the wig cap below.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

5. 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.

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 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 before you start any heat styling. 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.

the underside of a standard wig
If you try to pull up the hair at the back of a standard cosplay wig, you’ll reveal the elastic and wig cap underneath.

6. Up-dos

Most standard cosplay wigs are not meant to be put into an 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 ponytail clips. Generally, the effect looks good enough and it’s cheaper than getting a ponytail or pigtail wig.

cutting a lace front wig
Lace front wigs come with extra lace on the front of the hairline.

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.

loosely braided wig
Loosely braid long wigs to keep them from tangling while being transported or in storage.

8. How to store a wig

Learning how to store your wig properly will help prevent impossible tangles from forming and keep your wig in good condition for the next 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. You should still practice basic wig care with these wigs to prevent frizzy hair and make sure they’re ready to wear.

  1. Give the wig a quick comb through.
  2. Stuff tissue paper inside the wig.
  3. Place a hairnet over the wig.
  4. Store your wig in a large plastic bag.

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.

  1. Start by thoroughly combing the wig to remove any knots.
  2. Loosely braid the wig. You don’t want to make the braid too tight so that it doesn’t end up wavy from the braid.
  3. Stuff tissue paper inside of the wig cap.
  4. Fold the braid and stretch a hairnet over the wig and braid.
  5. 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.

wigs are made of wefts
Wigs are made of multiple layers of wefts. Sew additional layers in between to add volume to the wig.

9. 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, you can create much more complicated and creative styles.

By using 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.

remove wefts from the front
To size a wig smaller, cut off a couple rows of wefts in front of the ear tab. Then sew the wig back together, overlapping the front seam and the ear tab by about half an inch.

10. 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 comfortable final wig.

I’ve learned that I can fix the hairline by deconstructing the inside of the wig, 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.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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