Return to the Costume List

Wig and Hair Tricks

Last updated: 8/20/12

For helpful links, check out the links page. I don't claim to be a hair and wig expert (it is to laugh) but over the years I've learned a couple of things I thought might be helpful. Suggestions are very welcome.


  1. What are some basic supplies?
  2. What should I look for in a wig?
  3. How do I put this thing on?
  4. What are some wig care basics?
  1. What are some basic supplies?

    Bobby pins. You probably figured this out already. Bobby pins are available in a variety of colors (beauty supply shops may offer a wider range, or at least larger containers, than your local drugstore). I keep black, blonde, and brown/red on hand for my black, blonde and brown/red wigs; I keep white ones on hand to pin down my Magenta cap.
    I mostly use the larger "roller pins" - my mother calls them bun pins. They're like a bobby pin but bigger. They're good for making sure my wig stays on, and I've used them before to hold costume pieces together (go ahead, laugh, but they kept the buckle on my space belt in a "temporary" fix that lasted 4 years).
    People will borrow these and they'll get lost, so go ahead, get the bigger box.

    Wig caps. These keep your wig from getting (quite as) dirty and sweaty during a show. I started off using the wig caps that look like a stocking; I hated them because they didn't stretch well over my hair. Then several years later a friend introduced me to the fishnet type, sometimes called weaving caps. They're much more comfortable and you can pin through them a lot more easily. I'm sold. If you pay more than a couple of bucks, you're paying too much. Available in a variety of colors; when I'm on my game I wear a black one with a black wig. Since the wig covers them it doesn't much matter.

    T-pins. You can buy them at fabric stores. Used to pin wigs to wigheads. Minimum is one on each side, plus I like to use one to hold the scarf on. I'm told I should have one on the top, too, and maybe one in back (I play Magenta; if I put one in back I can't find it). I keep a box in my bag; they get lost. I've always used T-pins as have my stylists, though I have to admit occasionally the wig, or the scarf pinned over it, gets caught in the "head" part of the T. Renee Reyes suggests oversized pearl-headed pins; I may buy some and see what I think.

    Wigheads. If you're wondering where to get them, they're at beauty supply stores for about $5. You might want to get the kind with a hollow neck; some wig boxes have a peg that fits into the hollow neck, and you can stick the head onto something to hold it still for styling. Storing your wig on a wighead helps it keep its shape and is convenient if you want to style it.

    Hairnets and bags. If you bought your wig in a bag, instead of on a head, it may come with a hairnet. In theory, if you're not storing the wig on a head, you can ease the hairnet back over the wig and store it in its bag. In practice, hairnets are hard to see and mine usually get tangled and don't last more than 2-3 wearings. I think wigs store better on heads, but they do store a lot smaller in the bags.

    Gauzy scarves. I buy large gauzy scarves at the thrift store and then pin them lightly over my wigs to keep the dust off. Since I use a lot of hairspray, the wigs are slightly sticky which can attract dust. Some wigstores sell these, but why pay retail?

    Wig luster. I'd never heard of this til a year or so ago; my friend who works at a costume shop recommended it. She works in their wig department, so who am I to argue? Wigs tend to lose their sheen over time (unlike your hair, there are no hair follicles producing natural oils). Applying wig luster should help your wig keep its shine.

    Wig spray. It's supposed to be less sticky, build up less and contain less alcohol. The label reads about the same as a bottle of hairspray (this stuff that contains less alcohol's first ingredient is...alcohol?) I have a bottle someone gave me, but I use hairspray myself and have for years. Kind of a specialty product; it's more expensive than hairspray, but if it works for you...

    Wig boxes. Handy when transporting wigs. Some people enjoy getting vintage ones on eBay or vintage stores. When transporting something like a space wig, you're probably looking at a cardboard box. They're usually rectangular or octagonal, and come with a lid and string handles like a fancy boutique shopping bag. They're surprisingly expensive: $25 to $35 or so. Don't, naturally, get them wet.

  2. What should I look for in a wig?
    There are two reasons to wear a wig. Either it helps you look more like your character, or you're tired of torturing your hair to make it look like that.

    So essentially, your wig should look better than your hair, or at least look reasonably good and be a lot easier to maintain. I bought my first wig when I got tired of putting my hair into 35 tiny braids every Friday. (I have really straight, long hair and I play Magenta. It's not the right color, either.)

    The easiest way to get a wig that looks like your character is to buy from one of the fans who styles wigs for Rocky Horror people. Check out the links page; you may also want to read some of the caveats in the Tailors section (get references, trust your own eyes, etc. etc.). They all apply here too.

    Looking for a wig is like looking for a costume piece. Look at shape first, then worry about color. Getting the color right is a lot easier with wigs than with clothes. If your character wears a part, consider a skin top wig, where there's a fake plastic scalp that shows through. (They look fantastic. I miss mine.) It's easiest to buy a wig that is already parted on the correct side; if yours is parted on the opposite side, you'll have to decide if you can live with it or if it can be styled. Consider length, amount of curl, etc. You can't make a wig longer, but you can cut it. You may be able to brush out a curly wig, but you can't make the curls tighter. Do remember that the wig will look shorter on you than on the wighead - at least I always find this to be true. Many Franks, in particular are wearing wigs that are too short (and too damn curly. Brush them out, boys! Frank does not have an Afro.).

    If you're a beginner at wig styling, I'd recommend calling around first, finding, if possible, a place that has at least some theatrical wig experience, and then taking photos with you to the store. The stylist may be able to make helpful suggestions and may be able to do things you probably don't want to try, such as steaming the bangs on a wig to blend them into the hair. S/he will also know the store's stock and probably has a good eye for all the stuff I just told you to watch for. If you are buying on the internet, please go read that paragraph again, and good luck. It is very difficult to properly gauge the length of a wig on-line, and if there is a good keyword method of searching for them, I haven't found it. To keep things interesting, wig styles change often because hairstyle fashions change. At least the colors tend to stay the same.

    This brings us to price. A good general rule is that a costume wig will be made of cheaper stuff, may be less adjustable, and probably won't hold up as well. It will, however, be cheap. If it actually looks good, it's a nice bonus. I buy streetwear type wigs, figuring that they're more durable and people are in theory willing to be seen in public wearing them.

    Another thing that drastically affects price is synthetic versus human hair. Synthetic is easier to care for and the style is pretty much programmed in (though a knowledgable stylist can alter it). A curly style will stay curly and won't frizz up in humid weather; you don't need to restyle it. Human hair is, well, human. It looks more natural, is usually a LOT more expensive, and is probably Asian or Indian hair stripped of its color, dyed and styled. If you wash it, you have to completely restyle it. It can, however, be dyed, styled with a curling iron, etc. If you're reading this, you probably want a wig in a particular style, so the flexibility human hair provides isn't a real advantage.

  3. How do I put this thing on?
    • If you have long hair, pin it flat. Pin curls are recommended. I braid mine and pin the braids onto my head, but I have really long hair and I'm hiding it under a giant Magenta wig.
    • Apply wig cap, if you're wearing one. (Amie from Midnight Madness states: "it's like underwear for your hair!") Secure with bobbypins, if needed. I like the fishnet style as opposed to the stocking style; they're stronger and the bobbypins go through them easily. They're like $2; well worth it, and when you see how sweaty and gross they get, you'll be grateful that at least some of that isn't getting on your wig, which is a lot harder to wash.
    • If the wig is a loose style, give it a shake to let the air fluff through the fibers. This works well for Frank wigs. If you've thrown your wig into a costume bag, you may want to give it a quick brush or fluff it up with a wig pick. I like to brush my wig while it's pinned to its wighead so that I don't apply strain on the wig.
    • Grasp the wig at the top (back), with your hands placed on each side of the label.
    • Slip the wig over your head starting at the hairline and then gently pulling the wig to the nape of your neck. The front of the wig should lie on the front hairline. (Check in a mirror at first; this won't feel natural, and if you wear it too far forward it will look really fake.) The ear tabs on each side of your head should be evenly placed in front of your ears.
    • Secure the wig with bobby pins over the ear tabs.
  4. What are some wig care basics?
      Many on-line wig stores include a care section. Your alternative is to find an old cosmetology textbook (modern ones don't appear to cover wigs in as much detail) or find a book on stage makeup with a wig chapter.
    • You can find some wig care tips here:

Return to the Costume List Index