Wigs have long been a part of popular culture, from Dolly Parton’s larger than life looks through the decades to Lil Kim’s rainbow selection of wigs in the ’90s. Today, the transformation pieces have become an even bigger norm in the beauty world, as illustrated in beauty supply stores, by Instagram models, and on cover shoots and red carpets by today’s biggest stars. And while everyday people, specifically black women, have been regularly wearing wigs for decades, their appeal has broadened, making the need for clear — and helpful — tips on how and where to buy and install hair wigs at home all the more necessary.
“I don’t like [wigs], I love wigs, because I can constantly switch it up,” rapper and model Dreamdoll tells NYLON of their constant appeal. “I like to keep people guessing. Different wigs let you embody different styles, personas, and give you the chance to be more creative with your look.” It’s this versatility that makes wigs so alluring to people of all backgrounds, including stars like Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian, who frequently use lace fronts, wigs, and extensions to switch up their looks (though don’t receive the same amount of backlash as some Black women face for wearing “fake hair”).
Should you be interested in experimenting with wigs, or could just use some fresh advice before you add another to your collection, read on for helpful, expert tips on how to find, buy, and apply a wig on your own — sans a celebrity hairstylist.
It’s All About The Type Of Hair
Whether you opt for human or synthetic, the type of hair you choose to make a wig will determine everything else that is to follow. Human hair lasts longer, is reusable, and can be styled like your real hair — meaning you can apply heat and products without ruining the wig or weave. You can find a short human hair style wig starting at $130, skyrocketing to as high as $2500+, with the price increasing with the length, style, and coloring of the hair. For synthetic hair, cons include not being able to apply heat, strands that tend to mat more quickly, and while you may get a few reuses out of it, it’s not the same type of investment as a human hair wig. A synthetic wig, depending on length, cut, and style can range from $40 to $100+.
“Having a human hair wig can last for years if you really take care of it. Treat it like your own hair and you can have it forever,” celebrity hairstylist, Ursula Stephen — whose clients include Rihanna, Zendaya, and more — tells NYLON. To best maintain a human hair wig, Stephen recommends having “your wig shampooed and conditioned” regularly. You can use wig specific products from brands like Brandywine and HairUWear, or the shampoo and conditioner you normally use, if it’s mild.
Another way to take care of your human hair wig is replacing the hair when needed. You’ll want to replace the hair when you notice bald spots or excess shedding. “If the density on the wig decreases significantly from the time of purchase then it’s time to have hair replaced,” Stephen explains. “This can happen as soon as two months of wearing a wig consistently.”
If you don’t have the money to buy a human hair wig, you can still thrive with synthetic hair — it’s just all about the style you choose. “A good time to use synthetic hair is for braids, twists and natural styles,” says Stephen, noting that even some of the best curly style wigs are synthetic. “I remember using a synthetic wig on Rihanna during her red phase.”
Let’s Talk Texture & Style
Once you decide on hair type, it’s all about determining the texture. Wigs inherently offer the freedom to really experiment, so you can choose one that matches your natural texture exactly, or you can have a little fun and choose a wig that’ll alter your appearance completely. Have curly hair? Opt for a straight wig, and vice versa. Wigs allow you to protect your natural hair from chemicals and can give you a new look without the long-term commitment.
Kim Kimble, celebrity hairstylist — who has worked with Beyoncé and Shakira — and founder of her namesake hair care line, notes that wig shopping is not a drive-by process, and you should be, “trying on wigs until you find what works best for you.” After texture, Kimble notes that the most important things to consider when wig shopping is the fit and what looks best on your face.
Where — & How — To Shop
You can buy hair and get your own wig made for as cheap as $40.00 a bundle. A bundle is about 3.5 ounces of hair (human or synthetic) that is wefted (sewn) on one track and sold. Some individuals will also buy a bundle or two to achieve the long ponytail hairstyles that you see women wearing. You can invest a little more and get a pre-made wig from a beauty supply store or online hair shop, like Indique (which is available on- and offline). The brand offers human hair wigs of various textures ranging from $399 to $699, and prides itself — like many other higher-end shops — on knowing exactly where its hair comes from.
Whether you are buying straight for Indique, somewhere like it, or not, the brand’s co-founder, Ericka Dotson offers some important tips on what to know and look for when purchasing hair. “Quality hair extensions have the cuticle intact from the root to the ends. Other hair companies offer hair that has been stripped of its cuticle with an acid-bath wash, [and] a silicone coating is applied to the shaft. The acid-bath washed hair is not only harmful to the consumer; but also, it has no longevity.”
According to Dreamdoll, you can still find a good wig without a huge budget. “If you don’t have a lot of money, I suggest going to beauty supply stores so you can actually see what you’re getting,” she tells NYLON. “They usually have great options.”
If you are going to shop online, Dreamdoll warns to look thoroughly into vendors. “I’ve been tricked before with online wig shopping, so do your research.” A great way to do research is to follow the hairstylists of your favorite celebrities of looks you want to emulate, often they are very forthcoming with how they achieve these styles. YouTube is also a huge asset.
Application Makes All The Difference
After you’ve chosen your hair, texture, and style, application will make or break the look. Preparing your natural hair to be covered with a wig comes down to personal preference, as you can opt for a wig cap to help lay your hair down, or you can braid your it down close to your scalp to help your wig lay flatter. If you are in a bit of a rush or have shorter hair, Kim Kardashian’s hair stylist, Chris Appleton, simply pulls the hair into a low ponytail and applies the wig on top.
To ease the process — and benefit the final result — you’ll want to look for a monofilament top or a lace front to make the wig look like the hair is growing out of your scalp for a more natural look. You can also buy a closure separate from the wig instead of having an entire lace front wig. A closure is a hair attachment used to “close” the wig or weave and is located at the front of your head (from temple to temple). While a separate closure may be a cheaper option, closures tend to be more delicate and have to be replaced more frequently.
There are a handful of options you can choose from to secure the wig to your scalp — and they all have pros and cons. The key is to find what works best for you and your hair. A common choice for a style you plan to wear for a significant amount of time is to sew the wig to your natural hair for a longer lasting and flatter look, though it isn’t ideal for all to to be unable to take it off each night, as it’s important to let your scalp breathe and take care of your hair under the wig.
Another option is to use wig glue to lay down your lace front. Many YouTubers and industry hairstylists swear by Got2b Glued ($7) to keep their wigs in place. If you are new to the process, and DIY-ing for the first time, you can apply bobby pins underneath the wig to help keep it in place or use nothing at all. If you use nothing, your wig might shift and you will have to adjust it throughout the day. Regardless of which method you choose, you want to apply your wig as close to your natural hairline as possible. If you place it too far down your forehead, extending your hairline, it will look extremely fake. If you push it too far back, you will see your wig cap or natural hair line.
Some wig wearers leave out some of their hair and blend it with the wig. To achieve this, you will braid your hair down and leave out the front of your hairline (½ inch or less), combing it into the wig hair when styling. This can help achieve a natural, more seamless look.
If your a visual learner and are still feeling apprehensive about applying your own wig, turn to YouTube. Hundreds (and hundreds) of creators have shared videos working with various hair types, lengths, and application styles that just might ease your worries.