Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Shopping for Hair Replacement Systems : Deciding to buy a hair replacement system , Finding the right place to buy a system , Understanding how wigs are made , Taking care of your new hair and Choosing a wig for temporary hair loss

Shopping for Hair Replacement Systems

In This Chapter

  • Deciding to buy a hair replacement system
  • Finding the right place to buy a system
  • Understanding how wigs are made
  • Taking care of your new hair
  • Choosing a wig for temporary hair loss

With all the options today to seed, replant, or clone hair (just kidding about that last one — for now), you may wonder why you should consider a wig. Many people consider wigs, or the more modern term, hair replacement systems, because they’re fearful of surgery or can’t afford hair transplant surgery, or because they only need to cover temporary hair loss as with chemotherapy.

In this chapter, we talk about how wigs are made and measured, how to find the right wig for you, and how to care for it. We also explain how to tell a good wig from a bad one.

Getting Wiggy with It

When deciding to cover up your balding or thinning hair with a hair replacement system such as a wig, you may be leery because of the number of jokes made over the years about “bad rugs” and the cartoons illustrating wigs landing in someone’s soup, or blowing across the parking lot.

Rest assured: Modern hair systems can be can be completely undetectable — and are well anchored, so that gaffes of the past can be completely avoided.

Don’t be misled by the term “wig” into thinking that we’re just dis- cussing cover-ups for women; men’s toupees and hairpieces are also considered wigs, or hair replacement systems.

Going Shopping: Where to Start?

For the most part, specialty shops such as wig makers aren’t part of most people’s daily shopping routine. So where do you start when you’re looking for a hair replacement system — the yellow pages, the Internet, or by following someone with a good-looking wig and asking them where they bought it?

The wig market has expanded greatly in the last few years, particularly in Asia, and is now a billion-dollar business. So lots of companies are competing for your business, and being a careful consumer can get you the best product at the best price. But before you start shopping, you’ve got to know how to do your research first.

Deciding which wig fits your needs and budget

Not surprisingly, your biggest consideration before shopping for a wig should be price for the initial purchase and in finding out the long-term cost to maintain it. A wig is expensive, and even good ones need replacing every year or two.

You may also want a “hair and a spare” for times when you want a different hairstyle, or as a back up if something happens to the one you have.

The price of the wig depends on its quality and on what it’s made of. The most common wigs are made of the following materials:

  •  Human hair: Wigs made of human hair are the highest quality and the most natural looking (and feeling). They usually start at around $1,200, and maintenance costs average a comparable amount per year.
  •  Animal hair: A wig made of goat or horsehair is a popular, cheaper alternative (in the low hundreds of dollars). Wigs are also made from other animals’ hair, such as yak. These wigs also require maintenance similar to that of natural human hair.
  •  Synthetic materials: This is the cheapest option — such wigs  are available for around $50. Wigs made of synthetic materials are the easiest to care for because the color and shape last longer. However, these wigs are also the least natural to the touch and eye.
  • Combination of human hair and synthetic materials: Wigs often consist of both human hair and synthetic materials. The downside is that human hair needs to be maintained differently than the synthetic fibers.

The price of a wig also depends on whether it’s been hand- or machine-made. For more on hand-made wigs, see the section “Understanding How a Custom-Fit Wig Is Made” later in this chapter.

  •  Machine-made wigs: This is the cheaper option. Strands of hair are sewn into a net base singularly or in groupings tied to a netting. They look very realistic when the hair falls in the style in which it was sewn, but if the wind blows or you pull the hair up, the netting below can be very visible and obvious. These wigs are normally used for costume parties rather than as hair replacement systems.
  •  Hand-made wigs: These wigs are more expensive and more realistic-looking. Each strand is sewn individually rather than in strips to make the hair fall and move more naturally — in fact, you can style hand-made wigs as you do your own hair.

Remember that the real cost of a wig made of human hair can add up to a few thousand dollars a year when you weigh in the purchase, replacement, and maintenance costs. You may also want to have your wig washed at the shop, because shop equipment probably can do a more thorough job of it than you can, and careful washing and drying can help extend the life of your hair system.

Finding a specialty shop

After you’ve determined how much you plan to spend, you have a better idea of where to shop. Some specialty shops may simply be out of your price range, but you never know until you ask. If you know someone who wears a hair replacement system, that person may be able to recommend a shop in your area. But if all your friends are skittish about discussing what’s on top of their heads (a common problem for the new wig candidate), you may have to resort to opening the phone book and calling around. Look under both “Hair Replacement” and “Wigs” for shops near you.

Most specialty shops have full services, from sales to fitting and repairs all under one roof. Salespeople who are skilled and knowledgeable about the various products they sell generally work at the stores, but remember that they’re still, first and foremost, salespeople who have a product to sell. Ask the following questions before you sign on the dotted line:

  • How long has this shop been in business?
  • Is the owner of the shop here? What’s his background in replacement?
  • How long have you (salesperson) worked here?
  • Do you have any references I can talk to?
  • What are the total costs, including fitting and adjustment costs?
  • How often will I need maintenance on this product? (If the answer is “none,” you’re in the wrong shop! Every wig needs regular maintenance.)
  • How long does a wig usually last? (If the answer is “forever,” run! Most wigs last only a year or two.)
  • What kind of materials do you use?
  • What attachment systems do you use, and which ones do you recommend?
  • Do you have a warranty? (In case hair starts falling off the minute you leave the shop)
  • Are your wigs hand- or machine-made? Who makes them?

As with buying a car, you probably don’t want to buy at the first shop you visit. Go to several specialty shops to get a better idea of the differences among shops and among their products. These are people you’re going to be seeing often for styling and repairs, so if you don’t feel comfortable in the shop, it’s probably not a good choice for you.

Don’t be talked into having any part of your head shaved in order to try a wig on, no matter what the salesperson tells you. Some sleazy facilities are very skilled in the art of the sale, and may try to get you to shave the front of your head so that you’re stuck having to buy the wig just to keep from looking odd when you walk out the door.

Haircuts for wig wearers

One perk to wearing a wig is that getting a new style, even for an evening, is just a matter of getting a new wig. But most wig wearers still have some of their own hair underneath that still needs cutting and maintaining.

Do you take off your hair system for a hair cut or do you leave it in place? If your hair system is fixed on with clips, you can easily remove it to get your hair cut, but if you use glues to hold it in place, the hair cut can become a challenge. Often, the scalp is shaved under the hair system, but even hair buried under a wig continues to grow, and will eventually need a trim. If you want you hair cut around your wig, be sure the person cutting your hair knows how to manage your wig.

Fortunately, many wig shops offer haircuts as part of the services they supply their clients. Be sure and ask if your shop provides this service.

Choosing a style

Choosing a new hairstyle can be a bewildering task. Should you go radically different from your current color and style and buy some- thing that looks like you magically woke up one morning with a new full head of hair? Or should you go for a gradual increase of hair and buy several wigs, each one a little fuller than the last, so no one will notice?

In general, you should choose a wig in the same way you choose a hairstyle: it should be a color that suits your skin tone and a style that suits your face shape. A stylist or wig salesperson can help you find the right style.

Buying online: Worth the risk?

Combine the popularity of hair replacement systems with the popularity of the Internet and what have you got? A lot of online options for ordering instant hair! But online sales don’t give you that warm fuzzy feeling that any manufacturing or fitting problems will be taken care of. That’s why most people seek a personalized service at a local wig salon when purchasing a hair system.

An Internet search for “hair replacement systems” returns hundreds of thousands of possibilities! The advantage to Internet shopping is mainly the cheaper cost and the extra privacy. You can choose a design, fill out and send the special forms for fitting requirements, and finalize the sale in a matter of minutes. Of course, experience taking measurements and buying off the

Internet may be difficult if you’re a novice. And then when it comes in the mail, what do you do with it? How do you attach it? Does it feel custom made for your head? Very doubtful!

If you can’t try a wig’s fit before buying, try sizing your head by trying on a series of baseball caps and matching them up with wig sizes. Many of the wigs come in a series of standard sizes ranging from small to extra-large, so you may increase your chances of ordering a better fit if you have some idea of where you fall in that spectrum.

However, the old adage about getting what you pay for is definitely a factor in Internet shopping. Among the caveats of shopping online are the following:

  • You don’t know much about the people you’re buying from.

The Internet businesses come and go, and getting shafted is unfortunately not all that unusual when dealing with Internet companies that have to turn high volumes of sales.

  • You can’t see what you’re buying in advance; materials used in wigs vary greatly, and cheap materials look just that: cheap.
  • You may not measure your head correctly; an ill-fitting hair- piece is the biggest giveaway that your hair isn’t your own.
  • Corrections and adjustments are difficult; a local shop is much better at fixing problems as they occur. Internet trans- actions start to seem less convenient if you can’t get anyone to answer your e-mails or calls.
  • You still need to find someone locally to style, wash, or maintain your hairpiece, unless you really want to send your hair back and forth through the mail.

Make sure you have a way to contact the Internet shop if you have problems. Do they have an 800 number? A hotline? E-mail that’s answered frequently?

The dying art of wig making

Things have certainly changed in the wig making business over the past three centuries. The art of wig making, a growing and thriving trade in the 17th through 19th centuries, is being replaced by low-cost labor and mechanization. For years, wig making was a craft that took decades to learn and perfect. But like many trades- men skills of old, the economics of mass production are killing what’s left of the old, personalized wig making business and the skills that went along with it.

Choosing a Human Hair Wig

If you decide on a human hair wig, be sure you know how to differentiate between the quality of the hair used and the way in which the wig was made. The variables that dictate the quality of the wig include the following:

Thickness of the hair: Thick hairs are usually less expensive but cover better; finer hairs, which don’t provide as much cover for each strand of hair used, are more natural in appearance and softer to the touch. Wigs made of finer human hair require more hair to provide adequate cover, which, of course, increases the cost, because the more hair used, the greater the labor and the time required to build the wig. The hair needs to be dense enough to prevent light from penetrating through it, into the netting, and down to the scalp.

Using three or four fine hairs combined together may increase the thickness of the hair and reduce the cost of labor, but it doesn’t feel as delicate as when single strands of hair are used and appropriately knotted in position. Animal hair (such as horse or goat hair) is popular among some wig makers to keep costs down because these hairs are thicker and less hair is needed to fill out the wig.

  •  Method of hair attachment: Each hair is either glued to the foundation (a process more common in cheaper wigs) or sewn into the mesh one hair at a time (a technique more common in quality wigs).
  •  Type of knotting: The number and style of knots used to attach the hair contribute to the security of the hair fixation to the mesh. Single strands of hair with single knots tend to loosen and come apart; these wigs don’t hold up well over time. Single strands of fine human hair with multiple knots are more secure. The type of knots and the stitch techniques that are used are critically important.

Sometimes, three or four hairs are tied together at the base, which reduces the labor cost. More hair tied at the base may be visible on close inspection.

If each individual hair is fine human hair placed one by one in high density and knotted with at least two knots to secure it to the mesh, the wig becomes a quality product that looks and feels more natural.

It may sound odd, but to get some insight into wig making, go to a carpet store and ask to see the rugs that they sell. Ask the sales- person to tell you the difference between a fine expensive carpet

and a cheap one. He or she will almost certainly tell you about the number of stitches per inch, the quality of the fibers he is using (wool or silk quality), the type of wool or synthetics used, the number of knots per strand, and so on.

Choosing a Synthetic Wig

A handmade human hair wig may not be in your budget at the moment, but if the thought of a synthetic wig makes you cringe, you may be surprised when you do a little shopping around! Synthetic wigs are more natural-looking than ever before. The synthetics are most frequently made of a monofilament, somewhat like a piece of fishing line. These come in many sizes and colors and can be sewn into the foundation mesh. They don’t hold the knots well, so more knots must be used. Popular monofilaments include Kanekalon and Toyokalon.

The advantages of going synthetic include the following:

  • It’s yours the day you buy it; you don’t have to wait for your new hair to be custom made.
  • You can see exactly what you’re getting.
  • It’s relatively inexpensive.
  • You can change your look by buying several different wigs without breaking the bank.

The disadvantages of a synthetic wig include some of the following considerations:

  • It doesn’t look as natural as human hair.
  • You can’t style it.
  • You can’t get it fitted specifically to your head.
  • It may feel plastic to the touch.
  • Depending upon the foundation and any stitching, close inspection may reveal your secret.

Synthetics don’t accept a perm, and the color can’t be changed to any significant degree. Synthetic wigs are designed to stay looking the way they did when you originally bought them; trying to change or restyle them can cause significant damage to the wig. The life of a good synthetic wig can be one or two years or more, depending on their quality, how well you take care of them, and how often you wash them. Synthetic materials are fairly sturdy and are likely to last longer than human hair wigs.

Understanding How a Custom-Fit Wig Is Made

The foundation of a custom-made wig starts with a fabric mesh cut to the head size of the wearer. The foundation is usually a large size polyester-cotton-type lace fitted over a wig-block and cut according to, the penciled outline. The master wig maker then pins a finer lace to the front and to the back of the foundation while holding the leading edges with pins (see Figure 7-1). The mesh foundation is pinned to a block, and the wig maker places individual hairs into the mesh one at a time. Each hair is knotted so that the direction of the hair is controlled.

imageMeasuring for a wig

The fit of a wig does a lot to enhance its overall appearance and realistic look. Think of a customized suit of clothes that accounts for your uniquely sized shoulders and waist. Humans just don’t come in standardized sizes. When you measure for a wig, the measurer holds a cloth measuring tape snug to the scalp, keeping the tape flat to avoid twists and kinks in the tape. Expect the following areas of measurement:

  • The circumference from your proposed hairline to the back most prominent part of the skull, keeping it about 1⁄2 inch above the ears.
  • The lowest rear point of the skull in the middle (just before the place where the bend in the neck can be felt when you tilt your head back) to the top of your forehead.
  • From ear to ear with the tape going over the top of the head.
  • From ear to ear with the tape going across the forehead.
  • From the temple prominence to the very back of the head.

The temple prominence should be at a line equal to the upper arch of your eyebrows and is generally located approximately 11⁄2 inches from the side border of the eyebrow.

The wig maker then cuts the mesh foundations to these measurements.

Remember that the head is oval or round, and the mesh foundation is flat. Like a map of the world, the curves must be created from the flat mesh.

Less expensive wigs have a stretchable foundation, with the size chosen so that one wig size may fit many head sizes. More expensive wigs are customized, so you can choose the color, hair length, hair texture and style. Some wigs have Velcro strips inside them that the wearer can tighten for a better fit, much like the belt on your pants.

Most wig sales facilities have a variety of stock sizes (small, medium small, medium, medium large, and large), from which your wig can be fit to your head (like fitting a suit from a fine haberdasher). This fitting process is a clear advantage over an Internet purchase, where you can’t feel and see the product as it may appear on your head.

Sound complicated? At least it helps explain why custom wigs are better, yet so much more expensive, than wigs off the rack.

Tools of the trade

As with every trade, wig making requires a particular set of tools. The basic tools are as follows:

  •  A punch needle: This is the needle used to attach the hair to the wig’s base. The traditional punch was just a sawed off sewing needle, but it was hard to push through a latex or silicone pad. A

properly designed punch needle has a hook near the tip of the needle, making it possible to just push the needle through a latex edge, grab a hair or a group of hairs and pull it back through the mask.

  •  Nylon or polyester lace: A very fine, skin-colored lace made of nylon or polyester is used at the periphery of a quality wig that is attached to the central foundation. Figure 7-2 shows a very expensive wig with a lace front.

A full range of colors for the mesh is necessary because of the wide variety of skin colors found in the population. The mesh takes on the person’s regular skin color so that the hair looks natural when parted, as in Figure 7-3.

  •  Make-up brushes of varying sizes and textures: Make-up brushes are used to refine the leading edge to match the skin tone in the final steps of the construction process. These brushes refine the final product stroke by stroke.
  •  Styling tongs in various shapes and sizes: Tongs help shape the hair to produce the desired hairstyle. The process of shaping and styling the human hair wigs is the same process used in salons for creating the style, shown in Figure 7-4.





Styles range widely from gentle wavy to more radical, ornamental hair styles. With the many options available, styling the wig is only limited by the imagination of the buyer and the creative skills of the wig maker, and the owner’s input is critical in this part of the process.

Cosmetics help touch up the leading edge of the wig and blend the hair with the person’s natural hair. Streaking a blonde or platinum color to individual hairs can add that touch of luxury to the styling.

Picking Up Your New Hair

You just got the call — your new hair has arrived! Nervous? Excited? Scared about being seen in public for the first time? These are all normal reactions as you open the package or head to the shop to pick up your new hair replacement system.

Trying it on for size

If you had your head measured at a specialty shop, your new hair probably fits like a glove after a few minor adjustments. If you bought online, the measurements you provided determine the final product’s fit, and having adjustments done isn’t going to be as easy.

Attaching your hair easily

You can attach your wig to your head in a number of ways; you can even have it grafted into your scalp! (We discuss specific ways to attach hair replacement systems in Chapter 6.) Practice makes perfect; be involved in attaching your wig even in the store so that you begin to get a feel for the process. Eventually, you’ll be able to streamline your attaching routine.

Adjusting to wig wearing

Not everyone adjusts easily to wearing a hair replacement system. If your first day with your new hair leaves you feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable, you’re not alone. You may hold your head funny because it feels unfamiliar on your head or walk more care- fully because you’re worried about disturbing your ‘do’. You may even feel like people can sense your discomfort. Give yourself time to adjust; most new habits take time to adjust to, so be patient when it comes to getting comfortable with your new look.

If you aren’t happy with your wig

If you’re not comfortable with your new hair after a few days or weeks, try to figure out why. Consider the following questions:

  • Is your hair system uncomfortable? Is it too hot, heavy, or itchy?
  • Are you sweating too much?
  • Is the adhesive or attachment that you’re using uncomfortable?
  • Are you self-conscious or worried about your wig falling off?

After you figure out exactly what’s bothering you, go back to the specialty shop where you purchased it, or contact the shop if you bought it online. If it’s a problem with comfort or the adhesive, you may be able to have the wig altered to correct the problem.

In a short time, the nerve endings on your scalp will get used to the feel of the wig on your head, and you won’t even know you have it on. If you wear glasses, you may remember how difficult it was to adjust to them in the beginning; something on your head is just as hard to get used to at first.

As for self-consciousness, just give yourself time. Wearing a wig takes getting used to, like everything else.

Going Public with Your Hair

Walking out in public the first time with a new wig is a strange feel- ing. You may feel self-conscious, but don’t fret — you and everyone else will be used to your new hair in no time, and in the end it will make you more confident rather than less.

  •  Have an answer ready. You’re going to get questions if you’ve suddenly grown a new head of hair overnight! If you’re the boss at your workplace, you may not get direct questions, but you can be sure you’ll be the object of conversation! Consider beating everyone to the punch by bringing the topic up first.
  • Consider a holiday. It may be easier to get away for a while and get used to wearing the wig around people who didn’t know you before you wore it. This tactic can give you time to feel more comfortable and hence more confident about your new look. Confidence is ever-critical in whatever you decide.
Caring For Your Wig

A hair replacement system is no different than your own hair; it requires washing, styling, and sometimes even trimming. Your wig will stay natural looking if you care for it properly, and in the next sections, we tell you how.

Maintaining human hair wigs

You can style human hair wigs much like your natural hair, but they do require care. We recommend using only styling tools such as curling irons and rollers that are made specifically for wigs to avoid causing unnecessary damage to the wig.

When cleaning your wig, start by removing the wig (very carefully!) and any tangles with your fingers or a fine comb. Never apply force. You can gently remove any stains with a toothbrush and warm water. Wash the wig with shampoo, and always use condi- tioner afterward. Human hair wigs can be washed more often than synthetics, since their attachment to the mesh is more secure.

Never use a blow dryer or wring your wig dry. Always blot it with a towel and then place it on its stand to dry.

Maintaining synthetic wigs

As we mention earlier in the chapter, you really can’t style or alter the color of a synthetic wig, so your main maintenance task is washing. How long you go between cleanings of your wig depends largely on your lifestyle and environment. For normal wear, a good rule of thumb to use is to wash and condition your wig every 15 to 20 uses or so.

If you work in an environment with more pollution, such as in a restaurant where you’re exposed to kitchen grease or a place with a lot of cigarette smoke, you may want to wash your wig more often. You can also opt to have separate wigs for work and home. In any case, if you wash your wig more than once a week, it won’t last long.

Remember, the nose knows, and if your wig doesn’t smell fresh to you, it doesn’t smell good to others around you either.

Washing and cleaning is an art form for all wigs, particularly the synthetic wig. Never use hot water — it can damage the synthetic fibers. Lukewarm water is okay. Soaking the wig for a short period of time and even using gentle steam may work, but don’t let too much heat get to the wig.

Dry the wig with a towel. After it’s somewhat dry, you can use a blow dryer, but very high heat settings can singe the edges, melt the synthetic fiber or the foundation, and crack the filaments. Hot rollers may also damage or melt the synthetic hair.

Wearing a Wig for Temporary Hair Loss

Wigs aren’t just used by balding men and women with thinning hair. They can also be a valuable solution for people who have temporary hair loss as a result of some medical conditions (such as alopecia areata or cancer chemotherapy).

Dealing with a life-threatening illness is hard enough without having to worry about losing your hair too. Some people who know they’re going to be taking drugs that cause hair loss find it less stressful to buy a wig before they start treatment. As soon as you start to feel uncomfortable about you hair falling out, you’ve got the wig handy.

Because hair loss caused by chemotherapy and other disease is often temporary, you may feel that a less expensive synthetic wig is adequate for your needs. Consider buying several to give your- self a lift when you’re feeling down about your appearance.

Many insurance companies cover the cost of a wig used when hair loss is the result of chemotherapy. Your doctor will probably need to write a (carefully worded) letter to the insurance company requesting the benefit; most insurance companies don’t cover the cost of a “wig” but do cover a “hair prosthesis” or “cranial hair prosthesis.”

Some organizations recycle wigs for cancer patients at low or no cost. The American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) may be able to provide you with the name of an organization near you.