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Make your own 18teenth century style wig | History of Fashion Design

Make your own 18teenth century style wig

When researching past productions of Les Liasons Dangereuses on the net I noticed that lots of the photos had an inappropriate comic-opera feel because the wigs used were standard spun glass “colonial” type wigs that look more like what liveried footmen wore than actual gentleman’s wigs of the period. I decided that instead of buying new wigs (“colonial” or otherwise) I’d try to have us make ones for the gentlemen and Azolan out of old wiglets of human hair. Here is how we did it:

Stephanie pulls apart a early 1960’s human hair wiglet so we will have strips of human hair for the men’s wigs. We have a couple of dozen of these “bubble” wiglets in assorted colors that are never used but which have been saved for the hair on them, for just such an eventuality.

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The bits of hair are sorted by color, and thread selected that matches the hair, for later sewing on the rows.

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I sew slightly stretchy nylon/lycra net into a wig cap for Azolan, binding the edges with bias tape. I later found that I needed to trim a space for ear holes and rebind in those spots. Strips of the hair from the wiglet above are sewn to the cap, Starting From The Back and The Bottom, Working up to make a wig.

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Azolan wig made on the cap above. Slight alterations need to be made to this wig because the back is not low enough, and the area at the temples needs a slight extension and stiffening.

How it looks after alterations.

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Wig cap made for Danceny, incorporating things learned while making the Azolan wig.

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Blonde hair is sewn into rows with a part for Danceny.

The wig before curling and cutting.

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The internal construction of the wig, with Ridgline boning on all the points and an elastic drawstring casing running around the inside.


The curled wig gets a first fitting:
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I decide the front needs to show the curved 18th Century “male” hairline better, so I slightly alter the style to make it less girly-looking.

MVC-025F (1)The changes

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Final fitting. It is decided to reduce the side curls to 2, and angle them more sharply.

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a wig bag is made with a hair bow clip to attach it.

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Once the style has been seen to work at first dress, the wig is sprayed firmly, and covered with hairnets that are sewn to the inside edges to keep the wig perfectly smooth.

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How it looks.

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Beginning the wig cap for Valmont. The stretch net is draped loosely on the head form, and stitched down in darts before fitting.

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Fitting the cap. The hairline edges are marked with chalk.

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The cap is trimmed to size. (we later find that the wig “shrinks” slightly while being worked on, so it is better to cut it slightly oversize, rather than having to extend the back as we did later).

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Sewing on seam tape, hat wire (in the front edge) , & Ridgeline stays at the temples.

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Completed wig on a form.

After figuring out how often Valmont needs to take his wig on and off on stage, (about five times each, plus he gets smacked about in the face 4-5 times in one scene with Merteuil till it comes off in the fight) I add a stretchy-comb to the front edge inside so that it won’t slip back (except during that scene), and an elastic band inside to quickly and easily grip when it is stuck on:

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A hair clip is sewn to the wig bag so it is easy to take off for re-dressing.

The top is covered with sewn on hair nets like Danceny’s to keep it from needing total re-grooming every day.

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Photo by Kade Mendelowitz

You can learn more about real 18th Century men’s wigs at my 18th Century Hair Page

What To Do:

Step 1: Gather together the necessary materials:

  • A drawing or source photo of how you want the finished wig to look for reference.
  • A bag of 6-8″ long strips of hair taken from a wiglet or wig (about 1 & 1/2 wiglets, or 3/4 of a wig of hair will do. You can use fake hair, but real hair works a little easier with this project),
  • 1/2 a yard of slightly stretchy heavy netting in a color similar to the hair color you want
  • 1 yard of bias tape in the hair color
  • A matching hairnet
  • Matching thread and a hand sewing needle
  • A large (head size) head block that can be pinned into
  • 14″ of rigeline boning
  • A small flexible wig comb
  • T pins
  • Hair pins
  • A curling iron
  • Hair spray and/or setting gel
  • 10″ of narrow elastic
  • Decorative ribbon or “wig bag”

Step 2: Pin the net loosely around the head form, and stitch in tucks to make a loose head cap shape:

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Step 3: Put the cap on the performer’s head and mark the edges of his desired hairline with chalk.

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Step 4: Add a full inch to this measurement to allow for “shrink” and cut the excess off the cap.


Step 5:
Sew bias tape binding around all the edges of the cap, and sew two 3″ pieces of Rigeline boning as shown in the diagram to the inside temples of the cap to hold down the “sideburn” area, and two 4″ pieces to the back corners to hold in the back points.

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Step 6: Starting from the bottom, sew lines of hair in layers onto the cap fairly sparsely. Putting on too much hair will give you the “footman wig” look. The direction you intend to curl and dress the hair will determine where you want to put the lines. However it is a good policy to sew in rows going across the back in ascending rows going up (with the hair pointing down), and then to put a long neat row all along the front hairline, as in the diagram below.

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Step 7: Brush, curl and pin the wig. Fit on performer. Adjust as seems advisable.

Step 8: Sew in a casing, or series of thread loops to hold in the internal elastic adjustment band (see all pictures below). Sew in comb to forehead area.


Band placement

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with a casing

with a series of thread loops.

Step 9: Fit again to check on final form. Use hair spray, gel, or setting solution to fix final shape. Sew the hair net over the shape (for stage), or use the net to hold the shape when the performer is not wearing it (for film or reenactment).

Step 10: Attach a ribbon or wig bag.

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a wig bag made with a hair bow clip to attach it.

1760’s bag wig and bag details from Diderot.

When it is finished, photograph the wig from a few angles as jpeg files and post them to your File folder at the class eGroup. Post a message to the group letting everyone know you have posted the pictures so you can get feedback.


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