Friday, 6 March 2015

Diva skills - Keep your wig on

Continuing with my series about the stage skills we can learn from drag queens.

I like it when you don’t touch my hair.

Wigs are an important part of a drag queen’s arsenal. Although there are a few who style their own hair (not to mention Ongina, who is often bald in drag) wigs are so much a part of the drag queen deal that many even wear more than one at once!

Bellydancers often utilise hairpieces, usually in a more subtle or natural way, to enhance their look or give versatility between looks. On stage you need to be larger than life, and even if you have amazing hair, you may want to give it a bit of a boost. I also always carry an emergency wig in my gig bag, in case I run out of time to style my hair, get caught in the rain or otherwise might struggle to get a satisfactory ‘do for the performance.

I love hairpieces and I have an enormous collection in different colours and textures that reflects the evolution of my stage look. The range of hairpieces available is enormous and can be overwhelming. There’s a lot of great resources out there that provide you with a tonne of detail about different hairpieces, but I’m going to give you a quick rundown from a bellydancer’s perspective.

Real or synthetic.

In theory real human hair is the ultimate in terms of quality and look.

Human hair wigs can be washed, dyed or styled just like your own hair. Human hair falls or clip in extensions will blend well with your hair in terms of texture. As a performer though, you aren’t looking for up close, daytime realness.

On the downside this is a very expensive option. You aren’t going to save time with these, in fact you’ve got a whole extra bunch of hair to style and keep in good condition. If you have especially fine, or curly hair, you might find it hard to get a good match for partial hairpieces, most human hair for wigs is straight, thick and initially dark. Fine, lighter hair is even more expensive. There are also ethical issues with cheaper human hair.

There are different classes of synthetic hair. Traditional synthetic wigs tangle easily, don’t retain a style well and generally look like fancy dress accessories.

Can I just take a moment here to tell you, though it should not need saying: Never wear a fancy dress wig on stage. They are thin, poorly styled and generally awful.


No. Just no.

Japanese wig makers have more recently been using some excellent synthetics. The original is a fibre called Kankelon. It is soft and silky. The style is baked in, so even if you wash it, you just have to let it drip dry then run your fingers through it. You can stuff it in the bottom of your gig bag, shake it out and it’s ready to go. It’s as natural as you need for stage. There are also other fibres coming onto the market off the back of Kankelon's success, which really raise the bar in synthetic wigs.

Another benefit of synthetic fibre is that you can get it in any colour, or length you fancy. Down to your knees and bright blue if that’s your thing!

Which hairpiece is for you?

Depending on your natural hair and your needs you have a variety of choices:

Clip in extensions

These are wefts of hair with clips sewn on. If you want to add extra volume or a little extra length to your natural hair, this is a great option.

Apply them by parting your hair horizontally and clipping them in close to the scalp. Start at the nape and work up. A spritz of hairspray before you clip them in will stop them slipping.

You’ll need to match the colour and texture closely. It is possible to get a good finish with shorter hair and clips, but if you are not a whizz with hairpieces I would recommend that you either have natural hair past your shoulders, or only opt for a couple of inches extra length.


Falls are hairpieces that encompass only the “free” part of a ponytail. Some clip in with a crocodile clip, some have a drawstring that fits around a bun made of your own hair. Falls are also available as dreadlocks, which are popular among tribal style dancers for a temporary dreaded look.

You will need to style the rest of your hair as usual, then make sure you have a firm base to fix your fall onto. The colour match needs to be good, although you can get away with a texture difference. Hide the seam with flowers or hair decorations for ponytail realness.
This fall clips into a chignon or bun 

½ or ¾ wigs

Partial wigs are an excellent introduction to wig wearing as you don’t need to worry so much about your hairline.

These hairpieces fit onto the back part of your head, but the front inch or few of the style is formed from your own hair. You can sweep your hair back over the seam to cover it, or use a hairband. Usually you will use a wig that matches your hair colour, but it is also possible to use a broad hairband which comes right onto your brow, with no visible hairline to cover your hair for a completely different colour.

These wigs are easiest to style, but they are still quite heavy and hot to dance in.
In this image I am wearing a 3/4 wig, the hair in front of the band is my own.

Full wigs

If you are going for a full cap wig, your biggest challenge is going to be the hairline. I would recommend a lace front wig, unless your wig has a fringe/bangs, as the artificial hairline will give you away.

Lace front wigs come with a section of mesh at the hairline which firstly needs to be cut to a width you feel you can work with. The lace is fixed to the forehead with wig/toupee/body tape and you’ll need to use make up to blend it.

It’s a bit of a fuss to get right, and hot to dance in, but this is your best bet for a totally different look, or to avoid having to use your own hair at all.

Choosing your style

Traditional convention says that bellydancers have long, loose hair. This is still the case for some traditional styles such as khaleegi, but fashions in bellydance include updos and short hair too. Unless you are aiming for an authentic, culturally representative look, your choice is up to your personal aesthetic.

Drag queens wear enormous (and multiple wigs) to, as Courteney Act puts it “disguise their big man faces”.

The proportions of your hair need to be taken into account in balancing your face and your body. As Courteney explains, heavy, masculine features are balanced by voluminous hair-dos. Like any hairstyle, make sure that your wig compliments your features, play with sweeping back, trailing tendrils etc. Think about where the strands lie in terms of your cheek or jaw bone, see what works for you.

If you want to give an impression of height, you can add height to your hair in terms of high ponytails, tiaras, pomps, rolls or beehive style bumps.

You can balance a juicier figure with volume in the hair, though be wary that very long, very voluminous hair will swamp you, especially if you ar not tall, so keep it above the bra strap or even shoulders. Width up top will balance broader shoulders and emphasise the narrowing of your waist.

Long, straight hair elongates the body, especially with a little height on top.

Practical wig wearing

Make sure your hairpieces are secure. Use plenty of hairspray with clips, use more hairpins than you think you need. Beauty suppliers also sell wig hairpins, which are larger, to help secure wigs.

Secure your hair underneath, I usually pincurl under a wig for an even finish that the wig can be pinned to. Pin through the wig into your hair, all around the edges and through the centre of the cap.

Like any part of your costume, always stress test your hairpieces. If you are partial to hair tossing, make sure that you give your head a good shake, then check in the mirror before you hit the stage (and with enough time to set it right if it shifts!)

As Mama Ru says, it’s only acceptable to take your wig off on stage, if you have another on underneath.

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