On Wiglets and Hair Pieces, Part 1

I say “Part 1” because this is a work in progress.  I would also like to say up front that I am not a hair genius, in fact I suck really really badly at hair, which is probably why I don’t have any of my own to speak of – I get frustrated and cut it all off.

That being said, I want to show you my most recent Big Hair Adventure, because I’m actually proud of it.

I was looking through old vintage photos and ads recently, and kept running across the most fabulous “Hair Fantasies” of the 1960s.  Ladies 50 years ago really knew how to sculpt their hair, and the height they achieved rivaled the hair hoppers of the 18th c. and then some.  How did they do it?  With the teasing comb and hairspray of course, but more importantly, with hair pieces.  Big ones.

These images are from The Hair Hall of Fame blog – http://thehairhalloffame.blogspot.com/search/label/1960s

So I undertook to make a hair piece from a package of 18″ human hair wefts I bought a little while ago.  The idea with the hair pieces is that it sits on top of the head, like a hat, and blends with your real hair, which takes a lot of fenagling and style trickery.

Click for notes

My first experiment with the piece proved quite awesome…in front.  What you can’t see is that there’s absolutely nothing going on in the back, and I learned very quickly that I need MORE hair.  Another part of my problem, though, was the absence of rats.

Experiment #1 – looks good in front, but nothin’ going on in back

Rats?  What’s a rat.  Let me disperse the visions of rodentia living in your hair…a hair rat is an understructure for hair, commonly and historically created from wads of your own hair that you have brushed out and saved and rolled into these thick tube-like shapes.  For those of us who don’t have any discarded hair to make rats out of, you can make them out of polyfill and old nylons, or net stockings.

FatRat with wig clips sew on both sides, to attach it securely to the wiglet cap, which is made of net.
A smaller, longer rat.

Don’t be afraid of the rats, they are fantastic.  They are like the hoop skirts of hair, and they allow you to get the height and shape without wasting valuable hair by having to backcomb it into shape.  I created three rats of varying sizes – small, medium/long, and super-huge.  They should really be very close in color to the hair you are working with, so in my case I will need to paint/dye/something them.

The FatRat placed on the crown of the head.  There’s a lot of hair pulled forward that will be smoothed over this rat
Look at the height you can get when the hair is pulled over the rat, and it can get higher and higher as you like

The rats in front allowed me to pull the hair up and over, for the pouf, and I then had more hair in back to work with.  In this case I curled the tendrils and let them fall down the back, but the plan is to create individual clip-on additions – more barrel curls, and the characteristic rolls – that can be added wherever needed to “fill” the space back there, and get the period look.

Late-night photos, no makeup, but look at the hair – my own hair is blended in to the front, over the poof
Blending is more difficult on the sides because I have so little there, but backcombing, smoothing, and spraying is the trick.
Tendrils down the back.  Adding some clip-on rolls will make a big difference, I think.

I do want to say one thing about all this wiggery – IT’S HARD.  At least it’s really flippin’ hard for me, and if it’s hard for you too, know that you are not alone.  I foolishly thought this hair thing would come together easily, but it’s a difficult skill that an entire industry of specialist studied and apprenticed for years to learn, just like shoemaking and staymaking.  The wigmistress who worked on The Duchess studied wigmaking for 2 years and has worked on countless productions to get to the level of wiggery she accomplished on that film!  Me?  I think I’ll try the book Wig Making and Styling: A Complete Guide for Theatre & Film and practice, practice, practice!


  • Anonymous

    May 11, 2011 at 10:51 PM

    I LOVE that book. It is so informative. Nice job on your wiglet. I have a whole suitcase of hair waiting for me to do something with it. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Cynthia Griffith

    May 11, 2011 at 11:37 PM

    Very nice! I would also like to say I have knee length hair, and I will still probably also have to use hair pieces to help achieve certain looks… oh bother, but I'm all thumbs with hairstyles! No wonder I just throw my hair into a bun all the time!

    As I've said before, it's just awesome that folks share information — even their mistakes and trials — because it helps the rest of us figure things out.

    Actually, now I remember someone talking about the chemise a la reine they were making on their blog, and they posted a lot of paintings of examples. Thing is, I seem to recall seeing a painting of one lady who had a tendril going down her back that was very, very long. I wish I'd thought to save the image, because while I know hair like mine wasn't the norm, it's nice to have some ideas of what to do with it other than just "up in a bun" all the time. Especially if there are hats involved… and I don't want to tease it or put hairspray in it either.

    Ah! I just found her… yay!! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie-Anne_Pierrette_Paulze

    Thanks for reminding me to look 😀 She's later than I will most likely ever sew garments from, but it's just neat to see. Do you know of any other hairstyles from the mid-18th (40's-50's?) century that show longer bits of hair like that? They probably just wore it all up, but except for my usual bun, I just can't get things to stay securely… my hair spits pins out too easily. I guess there's always just a regular braid and using a bit of ribbon for a pretty bow.

    Best wishes!

  • Lauren Stowell

    May 11, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    Eleanora, I haven't gotten the book yet, but I think I will next time I order from Amazon. I'm too curious, haha.

    Cynthia – I think long hair can be as difficult as too-short. The updo is the key to the mid-18th c. syles, but unfortunately I think there's a lot of backcombing and product involved to get it to stay. Rats will be a big help, and lots of pins. Some of the wigs in The Duchess have some interesting things going on in back – the one she wears at her wedding looks like an updo with some sculpted curles and twists happening. There is also a wig she wears at the beginning that looks fairly simple – a small wavy pouf in front, then braiding and twisting in a fat hank down the back. Might work?

Leave a Reply

Discover more from American Duchess Blog

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading