What are wigs made of? Sugar, spice, and everything nice would be great, but the reality we have is caps, elastic, wefts, and fiber. The many variations on each of these components can be combined endlessly, leading to a vast amount of cosplay wigs available for purchase today.
This two-part information post is a consolidation of what I’ve learned over the past few years about the basic elements of wigs. Part 1 covers the structure of common cosplay wigs and their key components. Happy learning!
Look under the cut for Part 1, or skip to Part 2 if you’d like!
When learning about wig construction, it might be helpful to think of them like they’re organisms… or maybe a monster, depending on the wig. The beast, of course, would be divided into three main portions: bones, muscles, and skin.
The “bones” in this case are the CAP of the wig. This is the underlying structure that all the fiber of the wig will be attached to. Most commonly, the cap will consist of small pieces of stabilized mesh and vertical strips of elastic, a design that allows for the best fit and adjustment. A slightly less-common cap design for cosplay wigs is a mesh cap, which is sturdier but not as form-fitting as the elastic. Almost all wigs will have strips of elastic start a little behind the ear, and end in a hook near the nape; these are for adjusting the fit of the wig.
Another prominent feature of the cap is the top, or crown. There are a few ways this part of the wig can take shape.
Wigs that have NO SKIN TOP will have densely-spaced wefts at the crown, and sometimes kinked, matted fiber to give the wig volume and lift. Wigs that have minimal kinked fiber can be styled like normal wigs, while wigs with a lot are particularly useful for styles that are messy, or have some serious height going on (think insane spikes).
Wigs that have a FULL SKIN TOP will usually have a half-oval of flesh-colored resin that extends from the hairline of the wig to the back of the crown with wig fibers rooted directly into it. This allows you to give the wig deep middle parts, side parts, zigzag parts, and even limited twists and cornrows, while still maintaining a natural look.
Sometimes, wigs that are labeled as having a skin top will have what is actually a SKIN PART (long rectangles/ovals of resin) or a SKIN COIN (small circle of resin). Both have the “scalp-exposing” like a wig with a full skin top, but on these two varieties the resin part is only where the “scalp” is exposed.
Attached to the cap are the “muscles” of the wig: tracks of fiber called wefts. On most good wigs, they should be thick and densely spaced. Wefts can be harvested from wigs to add thickness to other wigs; some companies even sell packs of wefts that can be cut to size and added in. Additional wefts can also be made from loose wig fiber by using various methods.
The “skin” of your wig is the fiber itself. Fiber types can be separated into two main groups: NON-HEAT-RESISTANT and HEAT RESISTANT.
Many wigs on the market are made from NON-HEAT-RESISTANT fibers. This category includes Elora, Toyokalon, and Kanekalon; if a wig isn’t specifically labeled as being made from heat-resistant fiber, it’s likely made from one of these.
Heat-styling tools like blow-dryers and straightening irons can be used on wigs made from these fibers, but you run the risk of damaging the wig (kinking, melting, frizzing, etc). I’ve successfully used a straightener on wigs made from Elora and Kanekalon, but I also accidentally fried small patches of fiber when I was getting accustomed to the method.
Wigs made from HEAT-RESISTANT fibers like Hiperlon, Powerlon, and Henlon/Chilon can tolerate much higher temperatures, so they are particularly useful for wig styling that needs to be heat-set in. For many years, they were out of the price range of most cosplayers, and mainly available from Japanese wig stores and some Ebay shops. Nowadays, there are a few trustworthy America-based wig companies that offer quality wigs for reasonable prices, and many slightly less expensive alternatives available from Asian sellers on Ebay.
That covers the three basics elements of wig construction!