Saturday, November 12, 2011

Taming the Monster: My First 18th Century Wig

There's been something a bit...flat about my 18th century ensemble.

It's my hair.

It isn't that I don't have enough hair to pull off 18th century height of hair--I do. I just don't have enough hands. Plus, when camping, it's not very easy to tease and train your hair into something 18th century fabulous. So I usually just go with a simple bun and a cap over it. Which, for the Forlorn Camp Follower look, is ideal. For something a bit nicer, however--for Officer's Wife Steps Out or Christmas Ball--it's a bit...flat.

So I decided to foray into wigmaking.

Step One? Research and inspiration.

Despite the inherent coolness of powdered court styles, I'm not really a powdered court hair kind of girl. I'm a colony girl, a country gentry sort of girl. Giant white (or, well grey) wig wasn't going to do it.

Plus the idea of blending my dark brunette hair into a grey powdered wig made me itch.

So when I found this portrait by Gainsborough of the Linley Sisters, I knew I had a winner.

I actually squeed a little over Mary's hair--she's the seated one. It's still 18th century voluminous, but tasteful. And quite nearly natural. (And aren't the two ladies just gorgeous?!?)

Step Two? Procure supplies.

This was the point at which my inner cheapskate emerged. I refuse to spend much on a first attempt wig--I know this won't be perfect, and really want something for an experiment more than anything else.

I found this at a post-Halloween 50% off sale. It's a monster. No, really, I think it's actually alive:

Egads. That's a LOT of fake hair. Felicity was a little weirded out helping me out by propping it up. The one thing I'll give it--it has some nice color variation, which helps it look a touch less fakey. But it's still pretty shiny.

And, of course, supplies to corral the Monster Wig. Secret weapons:

That's a large can of aerosol hairspray, bobby pins, scissors, and a needle and thread to match the hair.

Step Three? Go to town and get creative.

I started by untangling the whole thing a bit and shaking it out. I then created a rat at the crown of the wig. I would normally advocate teasing and pinning to create a rat, or even adding some extra hair. There was so much darn hair in this wig--and it was honestly such a snarled mess--that that was neither needed nor really possible. So I wadded it up and pinned and then, eventually, stitched it down.

I then sectioned the fronts and sides and pinned them back into the rat. This ended up with a nice swoop from the forehead and sides, and then I just twisted and pinned until most of the hair was up. Again, I would have loved to have gotten more creative than this. But--Mary Linley's hair wasn't elaborately coiffed. And the Monster Wig was already receiving some fun visits from the scissors, snipping serious snarls out. This was going to be a simplistic attempt.

My basic method was to arrange the hair, pin it to my liking, hit it with the hairspray, let it set a bit, and then stitch it into place. I'm sure a better wigmaker than I could probably work with pins alone, creating a wig with more future flexibility, but I saw pretty quickly that between my amateur abilities and the insanity of the Monster Wig, that was not going to happen. The fanciest I was going to get was a little pigtail at the base, like Mary Linley had.

I ended up with something a little like this:

Now, this is when I discovered something else about the Monster Wig that I was initially frustrated by but came to adore. It doesn't quite fit my head. And I do not have a large head. Perhaps the band at the edge is too wimpy, or I'm bundling too much of my own hair underneath, but it's too small to stay securely on my head. However, when I came to trying it on, I found that securing it a bit behind my hairline and keeping quite a bit of my own hair out to sweep over the top produced a more natural--and quite fetching--look.

To make this happen, I stitched two combs to the front edge of the wig. Once they're slid securely into my hair, they Do.Not.Budge.

For a first attempt, I'm quite pleased at how it turned out! I plan to purchase a slightly higher-quality base (no offense meant, Monster Wig) to create a second, more structured wig.

The view from the front--see, I'm wearing my Armistice Poppy!

And from the side:

Still ahead, experiment-wise: I need to work on blending the shininess of the wig out a bit. Another coat of hairspray helped, and I'm going to give a bit of powder a shot, too. Also, a wee bow for the bit of pigtail.


Butterfly said...

That looks amazing! I'd never dare to do anything like that. Just out of curiosity: Did you try hair de tangling spray on the wig? I always wondered if that would work. Oil might have done the job too, but getting it out would have been a real pain.

Atlanta said...

Fabulous project!!! Too cool.

Anachronist said...

Good idea with the wig project and I adore that portrait of Linley sisters! They are gorgeous indeed!

Carrie C said...

Very cool. I love your time-traveling adventures :)

Rowenna said...

Butterfly--I wonder if detangling products would have helped--something to consider for next time!


Anachronist--isn't it an awesome portrait? I heart Gainsborough.

Carrie--thanks for coming along for the ride :)

Angela said...

Great job Rowenna!

Isis said...

Great job!

Rowenna said...

Thanks, Angela and Isis!