Wig styling is its own unique beast when it comes to learning about cosplay. This is especially true if you are trying to recreate any kind of gravity-defying anime hairstyle. If you jump into the process without knowing what you’re doing, the wig will look disappointing with annoying flyaways everywhere.
The good news is that wigs are not as complicated as people expect. If you get the right kind of wig for your desired style and learn some basic styling techniques, you’ll be able to make any kind of wig you want and wear it confidently.
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1. Learn how to spot a high-quality wig
The quality of your wig can make or break the costume. Low-quality wigs tend to give off a synthetic shine that isn’t easy to get rid of. They are also thin and difficult to style without revealing the wig structure underneath. If you want to level up your cosplay, it’s time to invest in higher-quality wigs.
The characteristics of wigs that you want to look for include:
- Heat resistant: Having a heat-resistant wig is not always necessary if you just need a basic style, however it is a vital characteristic if you want to do any kind of heavy styling to the wig. Always test the wig before doing extensive heat styling, because sometimes they fall prey to false advertising.
- Little or no shine: wigs that are too shiny will give an annoying and unnatural glow when you’re in sunlight or using any kind of flash photography. Shiny wigs will end up making the whole costume look cheap, even if you put a lot of work into it.
- Thick wigs: wigs that are cheaply made will have fewer rows of wig fibers. This means the wig will overall be thinner and more difficult to style without accidentally showing the gaps in the wig.
The shop best known for its quality wigs in the cosplay community is Arda Wigs.
2. Find the right type of wig
In addition to the overall quality, there are also some different types of wigs you can choose from that will make styling easier or add an extra ounce of realism to your wig. These are specialized wig types that you can use if your character has a visible hairline or part, which is difficult to mimic with a standard wig. It’s also difficult to style wigs in an up-do unless the wig wefts (lines of wig fibers) are sewn onto the wig in an unusual way.
- Lace front wig: These are wigs that have wig fibers sewn to lace at the front inch or so of the hairline. It will give the wig a much more natural look and is necessary for characters with pulled-back hair or visible hairlines.
- Skin-top wigs: Characters that have a part in their hairstyle can benefit from a skin-top wig. These have a skin-toned plastic or silicone piece under the fibers at the top of the wig that will allow you to make a part and have it appear as if your scalp is underneath.
- Up-do wigs: Most wigs cannot be put into an up-do without revealing the inner workings of the wig cap below. You’ll need to use special wigs that have backward-facing wefts at the hairline.
3. Attach combs to the inner hairline of the wig
Many wigs have the tendency to fall back on your head. If they slide back far enough, they will eventually reveal your true hairline, which completely ruins the effect of wearing a wig. Sometimes bobby pins work well enough to keep wigs in place, but sometimes you need a little extra help. This is when adding little combs to the front hairline of your wig comes in handy.
These little combs are especially useful if you are wearing a wig that is very long or has an up-do style. The weight of these wigs tends to pull back on your head more easily than short wigs. Adding combs to keep them attached and stuck in place at the front of your hairline is vital.
Many cosplay wig companies will sell heavy wigs with combs already attached, but it’s pretty simple to sew in your own if they are not. I recommend adding two smaller combs just above the temples so that your wig will have a better hold on both sides of your head.
4. You can adjust your wig to fit your head
Most wigs come as one size fits all (or one size fits most). They’ll include elastic bands in the back to make some minimal adjustments, but sometimes the standard wig size just isn’t right for your head. You might need to adjust the size of your wig to make it realistically fit your head.
For example, I have a pretty small head. Most wigs are so big that the little tabs that should be in front of the ears end up covering my ears instead. It makes the whole hairline look wrong and awkward.
To fix this, I have to subtly remove a couple of wefts to shorten the hairline of the wig. If, on the other hand, your wig is a bit too small, you can add some elastic to increase the diameter of the wig. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, I promise! (check out the tutorial for step-by-step instructions)
The other thing you have to be careful of is the size of the wig head you’re using to style your wig. Most wig heads are quite a bit smaller than an average head, so you may have to add some padding to the head or find a larger wig head for styling purposes.
Don’t use the face of the wig head as a reference either. For example, if you cut the wig’s bangs to fit a wig head’s eyes, they will almost definitely be too short for your face. Always test the style on your own head so you don’t cut anything too short.
5. Always style your wig bangs
This brings me to my next point, you should always style the bangs of your wigs. Everybody’s face looks different, so the way bangs come on wigs will rarely, if ever, fit your face. Cosplay wig makers also understand this, so most of the time the bangs will be much too long so that you can cut and style them for your own purposes.
If you don’t style the bangs, they will almost always look chunky and awkward as you try to part them in a way that actually lets you see. So don’t be afraid to take a pair of hair shears and trim the bangs. It may seem a little scary if you’ve never cut a wig before, but you can do it! In the end, it will make your wig look so much better.
Once your bangs are cut to the right length, you also want to do some basic styling to make sure they sit correctly around your face. Simply using some hair gel or hairspray will keep the bangs in place while wearing it.
The other thing you can do is glue your bangs to your face. Use eyelash glue or spirit gum to glue your bang on exactly where you want them to sit. Do this with the hair on the sides of your face as well to hide that gap that’s right in front of your ears.
6. Learn how to comb and cut the wig
When combing you want to treat the wig basically the same as you would real hair, but you want to be a little more careful since wig fibers won’t renew themselves like hair can. You don’t want to tug too hard, since that will stretch out and damage the plastic wig fibers. Instead, use a wide-toothed comb or a wig brush.
If you are combing a long wig, you always want to start at the tips of the fibers. Comb the bottom 6-inch section first. When that’s unknotted, move onto the 6 inches above that and repeat until you’ve combed the entire wig.
When it comes to cutting, you can treat your wig exactly the same as real hair. You generally want to avoid making straight, horizontal cuts across a long section, since that will give you an unnatural fringe (unless that’s the style you’re going for, of course). Instead, it’s best to make short, diagonal cuts upward into the hair to give the individual fibers slightly varying lengths. And don’t forget to use hair shears since they’ll give you a cleaner cut and be easier to maneuver than craft scissors or fabric shears.
7. Learn about wig wefts
If cosplay wigs were made up of individually sewn strands of hair, they would take forever to make and be impossibly expensive. Instead, they are made using lines of wefts in layers all along the wig. Thicker, higher-quality wigs tend to use more layers of these wefts. You can turn a wig inside out to see how the layers of wefts are added and how the wig was constructed.
Why is it important to understand wefts? If you ever want to add a secondary color to the wig, thicken the wig to make it poofier, or make any edits or changes to the wig, you can follow the guidelines of the wefts inside your wig and have 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.
8. Wash your wig after wearing it a few times
When you wear a wig, it is very close to your scalp. Over time, it will collect the dirt, oils, and dead skin cells. It can even start to smell, especially if you’ve been wearing it on a hot summer day. To avoid this, it’s recommended that you take the time to wash your wig after a few uses.
You don’t need to wash wigs after every single time you wear them. However, if you’ve worn your wig a handful of times, it is probably due for a good washing. This will help clean the inner band of the wig of all the dirt and grime, but it also gives you the chance to clean off any old products and hair sprays you’ve used on it. Over time, these products will start to degrade and look flakey on the wig. It’s best to wash it and style the wig anew.
- Tutorial: How to wash a wig
9. Heat styling with a hairdryer
When people think of a heat-resistant wig, they are quick to think of hair straighteners and curlers that can be used to style the wig like real hair. While it is possible to use these tools on low settings for heat-resistant wigs, the heat tool that I find myself using most frequently is actually a hairdryer.
Even heat-resistant wigs are made of individual plastic strands. When they get too hot, the plastic will start to melt and the wig will be destroyed. Hairdryers apply a much gentler type of heat, compared to hair straighteners and curlers, so they are much safer to use.
For example, instead of using a curler, you can use foam rollers to curl the wig hair. Then apply gentle heat with a hairdryer and let the wig fibers cool. Once they’ve cooled you can remove the foam rollers and the wig fibers will remain curled.
10. Making anime spikes
Crazy gravity-defying spikes are pretty common among anime and comic characters. Knowing how to make a basic spike will help you out in creating all sorts of different styles from comics, manga, and anime.
- 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 it 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.