The Hair Up There – Enormous Wigs of the late 18th Century…

Much planning has already gone into The Barn Owl gown, from the undergown to the robe, to the underpinnings, and hair is not to be left out! I am mainly starting down this road because I have been looking almost entirely in vain for a good, definitive “How To” for making late 18th century wigs. It seems like everyone wants to keep this a secret (or my Google skills are fail).

Truth be told, I am completely petrified by the idea of creating this wig. I have almost none of my own hair to speak of, so I can’t use extensions, falls/partials, since it will look funny. I may even have trouble blending the wig with my existing hair, and then there’s always the problem of the haircolors not matching, since mine is always in a state of change.

So my intention here is to relieve the fearful and educate the curious by flopping my way through the construction of what will hopefully be Hair of Great Enormity.

The 1790s Hair of Great Enormity is essential to the costume and should be regarded as having as much importance as any piece of the dress. Without the hair, the whole ensemble just doesn’t come off right. WITH the hair, you’ve catapulted yourself into costume awesomeness, hopefully appearing as if you’ve just stepped out of a painting.

Here is what I’ve gathered and gleaned so far…

There are two good tutorials (in English) on creating fake hair pieces, located at Vivcore’s Fancy Girl site, and Kendra’s Demode site. I’ve seen a wig of Kendra’s that was splendid, but unfortunately the tutorial on her site is for a “pouf”, not the one I saw in person. Her “Pouf” tutorial still has good techniques, though, that we might be able to use for the Hair of Great Enormity. Sarah over at Mode Historique has used Viv’s tutorial to make some pretty amazing hair, with a little information on how she did it, but a huge gap between the first steps and the finish. Informative, none-the-less.

The basic method seems to be this:

Step 1 – acquire wig. From all accounts, this can be a full wig, weave tracks, fake or synthetic, cheap or expensive. Also get hanks of hair to be attached at the base for what is essentially a tail. Viv’s tutorial has you create a partial wig by gluing the hair bits onto a pouffy form, but this seems complicated and scary. I think I will go with the full wig.

Step 2 – curl the wig up tightly. Do this either with a curling iron (if it’s real hair), or a method of dipping synthetic rolls in boiling water. Since my wig will almost certainly be synthetic, and a full wig, I will have to devise a method for dipping the whole thing, which means affixing curlers to it first, then dipping, then letting it dry and reset. Kendra mentioned that she was able to curl her wig with the curling iron – this might work if the iron is on a very low setting, so I’ll have to test once wig has been acquired.

Step 3 – Wig is dry/cool, so unroll the curlers (if you’ve dipped or hot-rolled), and run your fingers through the curls to separate them. Then pull out your trusty rat-tail comb and start teasing the bejeezes out of the hair. In my experience, this turns out bad, but let’s trust it this one time. I reckon it will take quite a lot of playing with, sculpting, twisting, resculpting, finger-curling, and all manner of fiddling to get the shape and height you want. All through this, of course, there will be a cloud of hairspray slowly suffocating you.

Step 4 – hanks, tails, barrel curls. These are the pieces of hair that hang down the back or around the side. People with long hair can use their real hair, but I’m not one of those people, so I’ll be going with fake hair once again. This step seems like it might be the easiest – curl a piece o’ hair, sew it to the base of the wig, tucked up under the rat’s nest that you’ll be wearing atop your head.

By all accounts, wig should be successful and you’re ready to wear it. Blending the wig with your real hair involves hairspray, pins, fiddlage, and do make sure the wig is attached securely to your head. I intend to dance in mine, so I will have to take pains to avoid the monstrosity flying off my head, hitting people in the face, or causing a nasty headache.

Photos/Pics are from “The Duchess,” “Marie Antoinette,” and “The Affair of the Necklace.” There are lots more great photos at The Costumer’s Guide To Movie Costumes.

Now, you may be mad at me because I didn’t post any pictures of me actually making this wig. This is because I haven’t made it yet. Rest assured I will post an extensive, in-depth, edifying tutorial when the wig actually happens!

One Comment

  • Anonymous

    December 17, 2009 at 5:29 PM

    As a reenactor, I searched for a high quality, AFFORDABLE ladies' 18thc. (a la Duchess), wig for a long time. I FINALLY found one from the UK! It is so exquisite, I purchased 2—ONE for ME, and ONE to sell on my website! I can't get more. The second one is now up on my website OFFERINGS page. If anyone is interested, please visit
    Elsewhere on the site you can see photos of me wearing mine. This really is the MOST wonderful wig, especially at $150.

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