Drag queens wear wigs! Well, when they perform, most of the time they do. I have seen a few queens all pained without wigs on, but that is a different icon from a queen aiming to look as womanly as possible. Since wigs are the crown jewel of the queen’s outfit I went to a salon store to check some out with a hairdresser friend.
We entered Not Just Wigs a salon store in the Berlin Farmers Market and are greeted by hundreds of foam heads topped with varying lengths, colors, and styles of wigs. The shelves from the floor to about 2/3 the way up all three surrounding walls are stocked with hairpieces, hair accessories, and hair products. Above that all around the perimeter of the store/stall are two shelves that run parallel to each other one above the other. Here is where all these heads from white faceless foam to darker brown with eyes, lips, and noses. Stare down at us. I am so mesmerized by the selection and the way it is displayed I absently roll behind my friend who bee-lines it to a glass counter where a worker is stationed. She asks to see two types of wigs and only after the store clerk goes to get them do I ask her what we are going to look at.
“There are basically two types of wigs,” she says, “Real hair and synthetic. The real hair is usually human, but some are made of animal hair and synthetic is the fake stuff.”
She goes on to say she doesn’t use animal hair wigs, because she is never knows if the goats they get it from are treated humanely. I start to imagine a billy goat with a head of long red curls and giggle to myself. I shake off the thought as the clerk brings the two wigs to the counter.
My friend takes them both and turns them inside out. “The other thing about wigs is how they’re made.” She is showing me the inside of a blonde bob. I quickly scan the shelves to locate the bald head where it came from, but she calls my attention to how the construction of the wig before us. “This one is a lace-front cap. Every single hair is hand-tied in place, so it looks real, moves more like real hair, and looks like is grew out of your head.”
I exam the delicate sheer fabric and imagine how long it must have taken to tie each hair in place by hand. Then I spy the price tag attached inside and realize all that work is reflected in the price: $289! I mention the price to my friend who is checking out the other wig. She informs me that is actually on the low end as she has seen real hair monofilament (one strand tied at a time) hand-tied wigs go for anywhere from $650-$2000. Drag queens are not kidding at all when they talk of how expensive a quality wardrobe, including high quality wigs (yes often more than three), can be. I put the blonde bob right side out and back on the counter. I get a little nervous considering I haven’t washed my hands and have been touching the tires of my wheelchair.
The next wig we look at is a much longer, dark brown, curly one. My friend has it inside out too. This is what is called a basic wig. Instead of the lace on the inside there is a cap made like a lattice work and wefts, or long reams, of hair are sewn into the cap. wefts are what people often think of when they imagine hair extensions. These basic wigs can be made of human or animal hair, but the one before us is synthetic and therefore costs a lot less than the others. It’s still too pricey at $69.99 for me though.
My friend has to leave to go to work, so we thank the young woman who helped us and let her know we are done looking at the wigs. On the car ride home I ask about taking care of these expensive creations. I guess right when I think I probably could not throw one of these wigs into a plastic bag and hang it on a nail until I am ready to use it again like the cheap wig I picked up at a party store for Halloween decades ago.
“Synthetic wigs are easier to take care of then real wigs, but after a while you get a routine going for either one,” she begins, “With the real hair you have to comb them gently to get any knots out first literally with a fine tooth comb. Then you wash it like you would your own hair with shampoo, but you have to be sure not to get the cap wet. Once you rinse that out you condition it and rinse again. Real hair can be blow dried, but not synthetic. Synthetic hair will melt or shrivel up in heat. No curling irons, straighteners, or hair dryers for fake hair.”
Synthetic hair has to be replaced on its stand a foam or plastic head to dry. Luckily, because it isn’t human or animal hair it won’t absorb the water and will dry quickly. There isn’t as much versatility in styling a synthetic wig contrasted against a real hair wig, but they can still look very good and natural especially on stage.
As my friend leaves me at home and drives off, I think about my mild obsession with wigs. I would like to go back to the store some time and try a few on. A wig can really bring out a persona, which is why queens use them. Between the cost and the care though, I don’t think I will be rolling out of the store with a new persona anytime soon.