Hair extensions are all the rage right now, and you will be hard pressed to find a model who isn't wearing them. But when did they become such a trend? How are they made? And where does all of these 'human hair wigs' come from anyway? There are some pretty crazy facts about human hair wigs that most people don't know about... some that may even turn you off of the whole idea completely! But... maybe not... cause they look so nice!
14 What’s in a name?
Wig is short for ‘periwig’ which first appeared in the English language around 1675, referring to the large, elaborate, powdered wigs that judges and barristers would often wear. The word wig may also have relation to the white powder, or flour used. The wearing of wigs also contributed some other words. The French King Louis XIV started wearing wigs in the 1600’s, and the fashion trickled down through the upper classes. It became a status symbol to wear a big, elaborate wig, as only the upper class could afford them- the ‘bigwigs’. The word toupee was first used in France in the 1700’s, meaning ‘tuft of hair’ and we’re still using it today.
13 History of wigs
The history of using human hair in wigs goes back further than you may think! Even earlier than 1675. It’s certainly not a recent invention, with many ancient cultures using wigs for a variety of reasons including fashion, sun protection, and theatre. The Egyptians used beeswax on theirs, and often scented them, and the Romans, which could at times have quite elaborate hairstyles, are just two of many cultures. A little more recently, think of Marie Antoinette and her elaborate hair designs, sometimes featuring ships, birds, and bows! That’s definitely not all her hair!
12 Wigs were more popular with men than women
Maybe a bit surprising at the moment, but at certain points in history wigs were much more popular with men than with women. They first experienced a resurgence with certain male monarchs who were starting to show their age a bit, and then after the French Revolution, when hairstyles all around were becoming a bit tamer, women tended not to wear wigs, whereas men still did, although they were a bit more toned down. Part of this was the continued tradition of certain professions wearing wigs (which still continues in certain countries today). Women would often continue to use some hairpieces to pad out certain styles, but wigs would not be as popular again until the 1950s.
11 Most hair comes from India and China
This comes from demand- there is high demand in the western world, especially the US, for human hair wigs, and partially its supply. Many in India and China shave their heads as a traditional religious practice. At one temple in India up to 25% of the 40 million pilgrims per year shave their heads. Temples then sell the hair to wigmakers which brings in cash to help with charitable endeavours and also serves as a way to deal with all of it, without resorting to burning it. Seems like a win-win situation, really.
10 But we don’t know where all of it comes from…
Only about 20% of the hair coming from India comes from temples like the Venkateswara Temple. The reality is, no one knows where the rest of it really comes from. Some comes from barber shops and salons, and some comes from waste pickers who gather it from trash and dumpsters. Hair traders will also go to villages and barter with women for their hair. Unfortunately, hair is not always sold or gathered willingly- women may be forced by their families to shave their heads, and female prisoners may be forced to shave. The hair business is big business, and can be highly lucrative.
9 Hair is worth a lot of cash
From the women who sell their hair, to those who gather it, to the temples who can sell it for $700 per pound, human hair is worth its weight in gold. It’s even sometimes referred to as black gold in India. In 2014 fashion companies bid almost $14 million in just one temple’s hair auction. It’s worth so much that some salons have been burglarized, and the burglars are not after the cash register or the safe- it’s the wigs and hair extensions. The hair business is worth billions per year.
8 Pizza dough
The hair business is so lucrative that even locks that aren’t so long can be worth quite a bit. All of the hair that’s not used for wig making purposes can be used for other things- things like false eyelashes, or industrial by-products like fertilizers, stuffing for clothing and other products, and even to make amino acids that are then used for pizza dough. Waste not, want not? Maybe re-thinking that pizza though?
7 Blonde hair is in high demand, and worth even more cash
Women with long, blonde hair in Russia can often get $50-hundreds for their hair, and there have been cases where women have been flown out to wigmakers for their hair. One woman from Indiana was paid $1,500 for hers. Although that’s nothing compared to what someone paid for the wig made out of it. Hmm… maybe a quick way to make some cash if you’re lucky to have lush, long, golden locks? (Sorry… natural blondes only).
6 Wigs are incredibly expensive
That $1,500 of blonde hair was made into a wig which sold for $8,000! Where a synthetic wig might cost $250, a comparative real human hair wig would cost $1,500. Even extensions can be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. One of the most expensive wigs ever sold at auction was the one that belonged to famous painter Andy Warhol, best known for his pop art paintings of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe. The wig sold for $10,800 (although that number seems a bit low, really, considering how much they can cost normally!). Michael Jackson’s also fetched a hefty sum.
5 It takes a lot of effort to make a wig
First the hair needs to be collected, sorted by length, as well as direction of hair, and untangled (imagine untangling thousands of people’s hair!) Then it needs to be washed and dried, and then dyed a variety of colours. It is then either made into a wig, which can take several days as hairs are sewn with a needle and thread or using a special sewing machine, or shipped out to salons to be sewed, taped, or bonded as extensions. A fully custom-made wig could take up to eight weeks to make.
4 There are two types of wig
There are two main types of human hair wigs: the traditional machine stitched weft wig and the hand tied lace wig. The machine stitched wigs are the most popular, and made more quickly, ensuring a bit of a degree of affordability, but hand tied lace wigs are much more realistic, as it gives the illusion that hair is growing from the scalp. These are made with a lace base to which each strand is individually stitched, meaning huge effort and time (and money).
3 Some people really love their wigs
When you find a good wig or wigmaker… you keep them! Queen Elizabeth I had more than 150 wigs, and King Louis XIV had more than 40 wigmakers. Kylie Jenner has several wigs and loves changing up her hair style, which she does with the help of wigmaker Tokyo Stylez, who’s worked with many other celebrities including Naomi Campbell and Rihanna. Variety is the spice of life! Tour Kylie’s glam room and some of her wigs here and check out Tokyo here.
2 Hair Care is super important
While a human hair wig means it looks and feels like real human hair, and can be styled just as easily, that means you need to give it just as much care (if not more) than real human hair. Human hair wigs need to be shampooed and conditioned, and can get damaged from over styling in the same way your natural hair can. And while you’re taking care of and wearing that wig, don’t forget to keep taking care of your own hair underneath too!
1 Locks of love
While wigs and crazy hair colours may be some of fashion’s biggest trends right now, wigs are also needed by a variety of people with medical conditions, including children. Locks of love is just one of the many organizations that provides wigs to children in need, by accepting hair donations. Most wigs on the market don't fit children and are often not that affordable for people undergoing medical treatment, so they provide a much needed service! Six to ten donated ponytails go into just one hair piece, which at retail would cost between $3,500 and $6,000 each. They provide up to 300 pieces per year.