A series of other improvements followed rapidly, including knotting techniques, fitting methods, and the use of silk net foundations. These matters were so important that a major lawsuit arose, and one inventor committed suicide after selling his patent cheaply and watching others become rich using his technique. One of the manufacturing processes that was tried at this time was based on the use of pig or sheep bladders to simulate bald heads on actors. In the mid 1800s, some wigs and toupees were made by implanting hairs in such bladders using an embroidery needle. In the late nineteenth century, children and apprentices of wigmakers amused themselves by playing the “wig game,” in which each participant accumulated points by throwing an old wig up to touch the ceiling and catching it on the head as it fell.The following description reflects the making of a full, custom-fitted, hand-tied, human-hair wig. Such a wig would take four to eight weeks to make, and would sell for approximately $2,000 to $4,000.The owner, Shulamit Amsel, acknowledges that she is in a different category than Ms. Grunwald. “I’m not a wigmaker,” she said. “I’m a wig manufacturer.”Wigs are made out of either a synthetic fiber, human hair, or a combination of these two.These are not the hot-pink bobs at Halloween stores. They are made from human hair and have intricate hairlines that blend into the skin. To make one requires weaving hair, a few strands at a time, to a lace mesh cap with a small needle, a process known as ventilating. Ventilating a lace wig, which may have as many as 150,000 knots at its roots, takes about 40 hours.“I’m the only wigmaker who can make a wig from start to finish on earth all by myself. If anyone thinks otherwise, I accept,” he shouted, standing in his 84th Street atelier. “We can go into a room, bring our fabric, our hair, our ventilating needles, and we can make a wig.”Merria Dearman styles a wig in her studio in Manhattan.The three-foot braids in Mr. Piazza’s garage came into his possession in the mid-1990s.
One day, two Russian men appeared in his shop carrying suitcases. “Natural blonds, natural reds, straight off people’s heads,” he said. It was the kind of hair known in the industry as “liquid gold” — Caucasian hair untouched by Western chemicals, long and remy.Louis XIV was only 17 when his mop started thinning. Worried that baldness would hurt his reputation, Louis hired 48 wigmakers to save his image. Five years later, the King of England—Louis’s cousin, Charles II—did the same thing when his hair started to gray (both men likely had syphilis). Courtiers and other aristocrats immediately copied the two kings. They sported wigs, and the style trickled down to the upper-middle class. Europe’s newest fad was born.New York’s Old World wigmakers have not systematically passed on their knowledge to apprentices, though they have taught countless immigrant women to weave hair for them. And when Merria Dearman, a wigmaker for theater productions, wanted to learn how to make wigs for the public, she said, she had to come seek them out.The enormous popularity of wigs in England declined markedly during the reign of George III, except for individuals who continued to wear them as a symbols of their professions (e.g., judges, doctors, and clergymen). In fact, so many wigmakers were facing financial ruin that they marched through London in February 1765 to present George III with a petition for relief. Bystanders were infuriated, noticing that few of the wigmakers were wearing wigs although they wanted to protect their jobs by forcing others to wear them. A riot ensued, during which the wigmakers were forcibly shorn.One measure of a good wig is its hairline. It’s the most difficult thing to imitate, which is why a lot of wigs tend to have bangs. To achieve a naturalistic look, wigmakers stitch hair individually at the hairline, often even adding baby hair.By the early 1900s, jute fibers were being used as imitation hair in theatrical wigs.
Today, a favorite material for theatrical wigs, particularly those worn by clowns, is yak hair from Tibet. The hair of this ox species holds a set well, is easily dyed, and withstands food and shaving cream assaults.Wigs of synthetic (e.g., acrylic, modacrylic, nylon, or polyester) hair are popular for several reasons. They are comparatively inexpensive (costing one-fifth to one-twentieth as much as a human hair wig). During the past decade, significant improvements in materials have made synthetic hair look and feel more like natural hair. In addition, synthetic wigs weigh noticeably less than human hair versions. They hold a style well—so well, in fact, that they can be difficult to restyle. On the other hand, synthetic fibers tend not to move as naturally as human hairs, and they tend to frizz from friction along collar lines. Synthetic hair is also sensitive to heat and can easily be damaged (e.g., from an open oven, a candle flame, or a cigarette glow).“Then a man darted inside the ring of people to throw yet another wig on the fire.”Use a plastic, wire, or natural bristle brush. Light, short strokes give the best styling results. Heavy brushing tends to “pack” the fiber instead of creating the “airy” look that fiber is meant to have.The late 1960s was a good time to get into wigs. The fad had begun with the bouffants popularized by Jacqueline Kennedy and the Supremes, which were nearly impossible to achieve without added hair. Hairpieces were clipped to the back of the head; big headbands had hair attached to them. In stores, hat departments became wig departments.The cost of wigs increased, and perukes became a scheme for flaunting wealth. An everyday wig cost about 25 shillings—a week’s pay for a common Londoner. The bill for large, elaborate perukes ballooned to as high as 800 shillings. The word “bigwig” was coined to describe snobs who could afford big, poufy perukes.Machine-made wigs are fabricated by weaving hair into wefts (hair shafts that are woven together at one end into a long strip). These can be sewn in rows to a net foundation. When the hair is disturbed, by blowing wind for example, the foundation shows through the hair. Thus, such wigs are less desirable for people who have no growth hair under the wig.
Hand-tied wigs, on the other hand, give a more natural look, particularly if slightly different shades of hair are blended before being applied to the foundation. Hand-tied wigs shed hair and must be repaired from time to time. With proper care, human-hair wigs generally last for two to six years.Wigs on display at Apollo Beauty Land in Harlem, Manhattan.Credit…Demetrius Freeman for The New York TimesShe was working at a salon and making wigs for companies like the Berkeley Repertory Theater, when one day she realized the wigs she was making for performers were higher quality than what was available for people with alopecia and cancer. “There is a gap in our market,” she said. “It clicked.”The world of wigs in New York is vast, and various. In Midtown, Korean-American wholesalers sell them in bulk in the human hair district, and a roomful of wigmakers weaves hair for the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway musicals. At the hair emporiums along 125th Street in Harlem and Fulton Avenue in Brooklyn, women sort through styles with names like Senegalese Twist and Peruvian Bodywave. In parts of Brooklyn and Queens, among the few public places you’ll find Orthodox Jewish women not wearing their wigs is the swimming pool.And the hair trade had exploded. In 1966, the United States banned the import of “Communist hair” from China. The same year, a new source was discovered: Hindu temples in India, where pilgrims had their heads shaved. “Hair of High Quality Plentiful There, American Says,” The New York Times reported; “$22 Million Deal Made.”Wigs on display at Apollo Beauty Land in Harlem, Manhattan.By the late 18th century, the trend was dying out. French citizens ousted the peruke during the Revolution, and Brits stopped wearing wigs after William Pitt levied a tax on hair powder in 1795. Short, natural hair became the new craze, and it would stay that way for another two centuries or so.Ms. Glikas came in for some upkeep on her wavy wig not long ago. “I was shocked to find he was bald,” she said. “He had lymphoma, after helping so many people.” The cancer is in remission, Mr. Mollica said; he has no plans to leave the business. “I’ll retire when I die,” he said. “There will never be another custom wigmaker after I die.