Professional shows usually utilize a professional wig-maker who makes custom costume wigs for each role. This article is to help costumers for high school and community shows get as close to that result as possible, without spending a ton of money.
Selecting a Costume Wig
Many cheaper costume wigs found on Amazon.com may work for ensemble members, but aren’t great for leads. Leads often wear a wig for the entire show, and by the 3rd or 4th run of a show, cheaper wigs can become tattered and less convincing.
For the Velma wig pictured, we started with this wig in Dark Brown. The best bet to see what works best on the actor is to have them try on costume wigs at a local store. The actor should try on different styles and colors to pick the wig style that is most flattering. For example, because our Velma was so pale, the black wigs gave her skin a blue-ish tint, but the dark brown ones were more flattering. An example of a good local shop is “So Good” in Duluth, GA. If you are in the Atlanta area, it’s worth the drive to Duluth. A good wig shop like “So Good” will have a broad selection of nicer wigs, and a visit makes it easy to find the look that you need for the specific actor and role.
Wearing a Costume Wig
To make a wig look natural on stage, you need to be sure to hide all of the actor’s natural hair. If the actor’s hair is long enough, the easiest way to do this is to put the actor’s hair in braids, and pin these to the crown of the head. Then, use a wig cap that matches the actor’s skin to cover the hair and hold it in place.
If you are using a lace-front wig, your wig will come with a mesh cap that extends below the hair line in the front. This mesh can be (and should be) trimmed so that only a small amount (1.5” – 2”) is left. Then, be sure to blend makeup over the lace so that the lace isn’t visible from the audience. There is nothing that looks more amateur than to be able see the lace on a wig while watching a show – and yes, I’ve seen it more than once in high school theatre. There are many articles on the internet which give more specific advice on the use and care of lace front wigs.
Once you have purchased your costume wig, find a good wig stand to store the wig on. Because stage performers, and especially Musical Theatre performs, tend to sweat inside a wig, I prefer an open-frame wig stand to a solid one. Storing the wig between performances on an open-frame stand allows air to circulate around the wig cap and dry it.
Between each performance, your show wigs should be groomed with a wig brush. Avoid using a regular hair brush, as this can pull too hard, and split the hair.
If a wig needs to be trimmed or styled, a local salon or beauty school should be able to help with this. If you decide to DIY a minor trim or styling, be very careful and conservative – remember that this isn’t real hair, and it won’t “grow back” if you make a mistake. For the Velma wig used as an example here, the wig originally needed a trim of about ½” around the face. We had a skilled hair and makeup person on this show, who was successful in doing the trim, but I would not have attempted to cut the wig myself.