What goes into styling a wig? In general, not much: creativity, a little bit of elbow grease, blood, sweat, tears… and the right tools. The arsenal of a cosplayer who has wigs as their calling may seem a bit daunting at first glance, but in actuality it is composed of a few basics that you will use over and over again. Look below the cut for the breakdown.
*EDIT* The previous version only listed up to wig caps, and once again Hanyaan saves the day by pointing this out. Formatting has been fixed and the whole list should be displayed now. Who knew three dashes could fuck formatting up so badly?
THE BASICS: WIG HEAD AND STAND
Of all the things in my kit, these are the two that I get the most use out of. Styrofoam wig heads will run you about $4 each, and you can find them at beauty supply stores, wig stores, and sometimes costume shops as well. I usually have one empty for styling at all times, and keep heavily spiked or structured wigs on their own heads (think spikes and updos) while the rest are stored in the bags they came in. Stands for placing wig heads on will vary in structure and price. I bought my c-clamp style one for about $13 and like it because I can easily pack it away in a suitcase for traveling to conventions. There are also other varieties that are essentially a peg mounted to a suction cup that can be stuck to any flat surface. Another option is to improvise a stand from readily-available items, such as a 2-liter bottle filled with sand or water, or an unused music sheet stand.
Wig caps are technically an accessory for wearing wigs, but every cosplayer that uses wigs or bald caps should have at least one (I have several because I’m prone to misplacing them). Wig caps squish your hair flat to your head and help control it under your wig, and when properly secured to your head, also serve as something to pin your wig into.
Pins will have different uses in wig styling and wearing depending on their type. Hair pins (the u-shaped ones above) are mainly used for keeping braids and buns in place under a wig cap (as demonstrated by Sarcasm-hime here) and in pinning a wig to your head in the case of the thicker ones; I mostly use the thinner ones for securing wig caps. Bobby pins have one straight surface and one squiggly one, and are used for pinning small sections of hair flat to your head. They’re useful both for styling wigs and pinning your hair flat under a cap, but like all small things, they tend to disappear quickly. I like to have several in two or three colors, and will usually carry a few in a pocket while in cosplay at a convention.
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to avoid brushes when working with wigs, as most are designed to pull out loose hairs… which you don’t want to happen to wigs. In fact, finger combing is enough to keep most wigs well-groomed, and a wide-toothed comb can be used at times when finger-combing isn’t practical (decora nails, peeling skin around fingers, etc). A fine toothed comb (even-length teeth) is useful for precision styling, or neatening up areas that are already tangle-free. Teasing combs (in the middle, with the uneven teeth) are exactly what the name indicates: their primary use is in teasing/ratting hair to add volume. Always remember this: whenever you encounter a tangle in a wig, never yank. Be patient and work at the knot with your fingers if you have to. If the knot persists, loosen whatever you can from it and cut the rest out. Your wig will thank you.
You will love these clips, and they will love you back. Duck bill clips (larger curved) and slide-in clips (smaller straight) are both used to temporarily hold sections of hair out of the way. They’re particularly useful for holding hair that’s being parted off in preparation for styling, or while wearing a wig, for keeping long hair out of your face while eating or touching up makeup.
Finally, the sharp things! It’s a good idea to invest in a pair of scissors made specially for cutting hair (left), if for nothing else than the precision they offer. Wig fiber tends to eat up metal like nothing else, so you may need to sharpen them occasionally. Thinning shears (right) are useful but not a necessity; their primary purpose is to take thickness out of hair; you should only use these if you know for certain that your wig will be too thick for your purposes.
I first learned about razor combs when attending a wig panel hosted by Hanyaan years ago, and I’m not quite sure how I lived without them before that. They’re ridiculously easy to use and quite impossible to hurt yourself with (except if you’re changing blades), and are incredibly useful for achieving natural ends on fiber. Ones like the black comb at the bottom can be found at nearly every beauty supply store, but they are only good until the blade runs out. If you live near a Daiso or know someone who does, try to get your hands on the kind like the ones with the mint-green handles above. They have replaceable blades that are sold separately, and are inexpensive as a bonus.
Alongside scissors, hairspray will be the key player in your styling tool lineup. I have two favorites: Aquanet for lighter styling and keeping flyaways in place, and got2b Glued Blasting Freeze Spray for heavy spiking, curling, flips, and pretty much anything else that upon seeing makes you go, “There’s no way real hair should do that.”
If you’re wearing a long, loose wig and hate dealing with tangles, or simply want to give nice movement to a shorter wig, then a tangle-prevention spray is what you’ll want to call on. Some people swear by homemade detanglers made from a mixture of either fabric softener or hair conditioner and water, others prefer silicone lubricants, and a good portion of the cosplay community still swears by Motions Oil Sheen & Conditioning Spray. It’s really a matter of preference and local availability.
Last, but not least is your trusty hair dryer. You’ll want to be careful when using it with wigs that aren’t specifically identified as heat resistant (most recommend holding it far from your wig and restricting use to the lower temperatures), but in general hair dryers are useful for quickly setting hairspray, changing the direction hair falls in and the like; when used with caution, it can also be used to set curls and flips, and to blow fiber straight.
The above list covers most of the tools you’ll use repeatedly when styling wigs for cosplay. There are other tools you’ll use occasionally that are also pretty handy, such as flat irons and rollers, but it’s these tools that will make your life much easier as far as wigs are concerned. Thank you, Hanyaan, for providing input on this list! You should all check out her Ultimate List of Basic Cosplay Items while you’re feeling info-ey. 8D Happy cosplaying!