”“We were all happy when it was over,” she said. “Now no one asks about Indian hair.”Wigs are worn for either prosthetic, cosmetic, or convenience reasons. People who have lost all or part of their own hair due to illness or natural baldness can disguise the condition. For strictly cosmetic reasons (or perhaps to alter their appearance), people might wear a wig to quickly achieve a longer or fuller hairstyle or a different color. In an article in Vogue magazine, the wife of a prominent politician was described as using a wardrobe of wigs to avoid $8,400 and 160 or more hours spent with professional hairdressers each year, in addition to the complicated task of finding appropriate hair care while traveling.Curling sticks at Claire Grunwald’s studio.Credit…Demetrius Freeman for The New York TimesWigs are constructed in two major ways: machine-made and hand-tied (pre-custom and full-custom). Machine-made wigs are often thought of as being made for people with hair, but this is not always the case. In fact, many women find these wigs to be comfortable as well as economical. These ready-made wigs are chosen by hairstyle, hair color, and head size (ranging from petite to large). Since heads don’t come in uniform sizes, machine-made wigs can be easily altered for a near-custom fit.The staff at the wig store can help you if you have trouble securing the wig in place.Raffaele Mollica works on a wig at his studio in Manhattan.But he figures he is pretty much set. “I still have two lifetime supplies.”Fortunately for Mr. Piazza, hair decays very, very slowly. An Egyptian mummy on display at the American Museum of Natural History was put through a CT scanner, and the images revealed the outlines of what look like flattened pin curls on her skull.Ms. Grunwald, 85, learned to make wigs from a German wigmaker while living in a displaced person’s camp outside Nuremberg after World War II. (She details this on a blog called Wigs, Poetry and the Holocaust.)“So there you go, I hope you like it,” she says. “Very simple. Very easy.”When Ms.
Grunwald arrived in New York, in 1949, her skills were in demand. Hats were going out of fashion, and sheitels were coming back. She immediately found a job with a wigmaker, and in 1960, after beauty school and marriage, she struck out on her own.Merria Dearman styles a wig in her studio in Manhattan.Credit…James Estrin/The New York TimesWigmakers are only one stop in a long supply chain. Merchants scour the earth looking for hair, which they buy from peddlers who travel, usually alone, through poor, remote regions. In Myanmar, villagers untangle hairballs that will be sold to make extensions. In La Parada, a Colombian border town, hair stands recently appeared for women who enter the country from crisis-stricken Venezuela to sell their hair.Often, it wasn’t clear what was real. By 1970, human hair mixed with synthetic or animal hair was so common that the Federal Trade Commission reminded wigmakers that “‘true hair,’ ‘natural hair’ and ‘genuine hair’ should mean human hair.” That year, it issued regulatory guidelines. (They were rescinded in 1995.)D’Wanna Randolph’s solution, like Mr. Piazza’s so long ago, was to go find good hair herself. “I got tired of getting bogus hair in the mail,” said Ms. Randolph, a model who lives in Detroit and recently started Infallible Luxe, which sells hair online. She had been in two Delta Air Lines safety videos and took a job in customer service for the carrier so that she could travel free, inspecting small hair factories.Boston’s WCVB TV Channel 5 reporter Kelley Tuthill is a breast cancer survivor treated at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. Watch her share tips for selecting a wig and wearing it with confidence. Learn how to wear a wig, keep it in place, find the right look, and more.“I started converting my clients from weaves to wigs,” said Ms. Barbel, noting that they were the latest development in the so-called natural hair movement, which encourages black women to forgo harsh chemical treatments like relaxers or perms.And that is where things get strange.
Hair is unregulated, a largely hidden economy open to abuse.Claire Grunwald makes wigs and beards for the Orthodox Jewish community at her studio in Brooklyn.Brooklyn’s sheitel machers came to the attention of the wider world in 2004, when rabbis in Israel issued a ruling that Jews could not wear hair from India, because of its possible association with Hindu religious practices considered idolatrous.It is important to go to a store that offers privacy and individual attention, such as a shop specializing in wigs with a sales staff that has experience dealing with women with cancer or hair loss. When you shop for a wig, be sure to ask three questions:When Louis and Charles died, wigs stayed around. Perukes remained popular because they were so practical. At the time, head lice were everywhere, and nitpicking was painful and time-consuming. Wigs, however, curbed the problem. Lice stopped infesting people’s hair—which had to be shaved for the peruke to fit—and camped out on wigs instead. Delousing a wig was much easier than delousing a head of hair: you’d send the dirty headpiece to a wigmaker, who would boil the wig and remove the nits.Mr. Mollica said chemotherapy changed his approach. Wigs for everyday use had to be both undetectable from a yard away and durable; wigs for film, TV and fashion don’t have to be routinely washed or handled.By the end of the decade, the United States was the biggest importer of hair, re-exporting it to more than 60 countries. Hair was marketed even to men — even to those who weren’t bald. Men were encouraged to wear fake mustaches and mutton chops, which Playboy magazine referred to as “short-order shrubbery.” Soldiers who were off-duty wore wigs over their buzz cuts.“Forget about this supposed ‘I’m a single black woman woe is me’ epidemic,” a writer for the news site The Root named Yesha Callahan wrote on her blog one day in 2010. “The real crisis sweeping the nation are lace-front hairlines that start at the eyebrows!” Her tongue-in-cheek sendup of celebrities with imperfect wigs concluded: “I blame Tyra and Beyoncé for this lace-front wig epidemic.”Claire Grunwald makes wigs and beards for the Orthodox Jewish community at her studio in Brooklyn.Credit…Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times“Do you smell anything?” Mr. Piazza asked, handing me a braid.
Another mark of a superior wig is the quality of the hair. Hair of the kind Mr. Piazza has in his garage — long, European and “remy,” which means cut from one head, lined up roots to ends — is the most valuable. It is $4,000 per kilogram, roughly the going rate of truffles. High-grade Indian hair sells for $2,000 per kilogram.For people who can’t afford their own wigmaker, the problem with wigs remains the quality. Lace-front wigs can be found for less than $100 at beauty supply stores or on Alibaba, the Chinese Amazon.com, which now sells directly to consumers. But they’re made from processed hair — stripped of the cuticle, bleached, dyed, dipped in silicone — and can fall apart after a few washings, once the chemicals are gone.And so, the syphilis outbreak sparked a surge in wigmaking. Victims hid their baldness, as well as the bloody sores that scoured their faces, with wigs made of horse, goat, or human hair. Perukes were also coated with powder—scented with lavender or orange—to hide any funky aromas. Although common, wigs were not exactly stylish. They were just a shameful necessity. That changed in 1655, when the King of France started losing his hair.For the next 11 minutes, Jacquee demonstrates the ins and outs of weaving hair to lace. “Grab the hair, pull, let it engage and then like so,” she says. The video has nearly a half-million views.Gently swirl your wig in a mixture of cold water and a small amount of shampoo. Let it soak for a few minutes, then rinse it in cold water. You can wrap the wig in a towel to remove excess water, but DO NOT wring it out or brush it while it is wet. Drape your wig over a slender bottle or a wig stand, and let it dry overnight. When your wig is completely dry, give it a quick shake and brush it back into style.At the time, hair loss was a one-way ticket to public embarrassment. Long hair was a trendy status symbol, and a bald dome could stain any reputation. When Samuel Pepys’s brother acquired syphilis, the diarist wrote, “If [my brother] lives, he will not be able to show his head—which will be a very great shame to me.” Hair was that big of a deal.“We really had to make it look like it was coming out of her scalp,” she said of Ms.