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Wigging out: The rise of wig fashion

Hair. It’s everywhere, even sprouting up in closets across Canada. No cause for alarm, however. This type of hair is a fashion accessory, and it’s sometimes hard to spot.

Wigs have been present since Antiquity: They’ve graced the heads of famous figures like Cleopatra and Marie Antoinette.  But now wigs are coming at us more subtly. They are blending in seamlessly with natural hairstyles, enabling everyday women to experiment with fashion.

“I’ve noticed an up-shift in the fashion-wig market,” says Alexandra Gunn, fashion editor for Ottawa Life Magazine and anchor for Sun News Network. “Fashion changes so quickly, and this emerging market of hair pieces and wigs allows women to avoid any sort of commitment.” Molanda Joseph, sales representative at Wigs R Us in Toronto, is of the same opinion: “It’s a new trend, I would say.” New people are trying it, she explains.

Joseph says she has witnessed the trend taking shape on Canada’s streets: In cities like Toronto and Montreal, there are increased numbers of people wearing wigs. Consumers are embracing the idea that they can switch up their hairstyle as easily as any other fashion accessory.

Roaming the streets and catwalks

The idea of effortlessly switching hairstyles has even recently made its way onto the fashion runways. The spring/summer 2014 collections that hit runways from designers like Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Fendi and Rodarte featured models wearing wigs, hairpieces or extensions, says Gunn, adding that designers are using these accessories to change a model’s look without consequence. “It really is a big beauty trend, something that the industry is keeping tabs on because it has become quite prevalent.”

Retailers are also taking note of the trend’s popularity. “Fast-fashion retail giant ASOS is keen to capitalize on the trend and has launched a fun and affordable wig range,” says Gunn. “This alone suggests that retailers are aware of this growing trend and the possibility that it may become a commonplace accessory in the future.”

Sarah Graf is no stranger to wig wearing. The fourth year biology student admits to wearing more obvious wig styles once a month.

“Another way to express yourself”: Fourth-year undergraduate Sarah Graf says she wears a more obvious wig style about once a month.

Off the runway and on the streets of Ottawa, one might encounter Sarah Graf wearing one of her wigs. The fourth-year Biology student at Carleton University has used wigs as a fashion statement since high school; she admits that her wig choices tend toward the more obvious. For her, the appeal of wigs stems from her interest in things like comicon (conventions held for comic book fans) and cosplay (wearing costumes associated with fictional characters). “I see it as another type of accessory,” says Graf. “It’s another way to express yourself, if you want to have long hair one day and short hair another day. You can kind of colour that to your outfit.” Wearing wigs at least once a month, she explains she has had a lot of positive reactions: People are surprised at first, but soon become intrigued by the style choice.

Lady Gaga performing in a turquoise wig.

Lady Gaga’s love of wigs for performance and for everyday is inspiring many people to experiment likewise.

Also helping further interest in wig wearing are celebrities. As Gunn notes, “Characters like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, [are] leaders in this trend where we are seeing women and men using wigs as a form of expression, to better portray and to depict the character they’re looking to show to the world.” Currently this seems especially true in the United States, home and playground to many world celebrities and their imitators. “Although we don’t often see women in Ottawa sporting a Lady Gaga–style turquoise wig, women are becoming more adventurous and will opt for a wig when [attending] a stylish event, or to try out a new hair colour or style,” says Gunn.

Katherine Riley, a Client Care Worker at Inner City Health in Ottawa, wears wigs for personal necessity. She says she’s recently seen a substantial increase in the number of wigs in public and on social media: “As a wearer of wigs, I’m able to pick someone wearing one out of a crowd. I’ve noticed an increase in wigs worn for fashion.”

Shedding the stigma

“It’s like eyeglasses,” says Evelyn Valcourt. “I’m finding that there are a lot of women who wear glasses for fashion. So it’s the same thing [with wigs]. It just needs a little bit more tweaking here in Canada.”

Winnipeg's Evelyn's Wigs owner Evelyn Valcourt

Rebranding wigs with the term “spare hair,” wig vendor and activist Evelyn Valcourt hopes to weave a positive spin on this style option.

Valcourt has owned and managed Evelyn’s Wigs, a wig shop in Winnipeg, for 27 years. Throughout that time, she has noticed a shift in the way wigs are accepted in society. “I remember seeing women going to their work with a black-haired wig one day and then the next day they’d go red and who would care,” she says about wig wearing in the ’50s and ’60s. “They thought that was fun. That was great. And then it all kind of folded up into nothing really.”

Valcourt explains wigs’ dip in popularity as  a side-effect of more people with cancer wearing wigs in the ’60s. A stigma developed around wig wearing. Women did not want to be signalling misinformation about themselves.

Removing the stigma from wigs has been a long process. Acceptance of both wig wearing and cancer in society has allowed wigs to once again enter into everyday fashion culture. Using the term “spare hair” to refer to the item, Valcourt hopes to eliminate any negative association that might still remain. She sees wigs as an extra style option — allowing women to test out new looks without damaging their hair through processes like dying and perming.

‘Characters like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry are leaders in this trend where we are seeing women and men using wigs as a form of expression.’ — fashion editor Alexandra Gunn

Technology has also helped fuel the trend, as more people are realizing that itchy, hot, heavy wigs are a thing of the past. “[The trend] is growing because the wigs are getting better and better,” says sales person Joseph.  Similarly Valcourt, with over 300 wigs in stock at her store,  has definitely noticed wigs’ improvements through the years. She says that the quality of some synthetic wigs today outshines the human-hair wigs available, making it easy to adjust to wig wearing.

These new and improved wigs provide an outlet for those seeking a means to express themselves. “Many people identify themselves through their hair, whether it’s for confidence, sex appeal, individualism, et cetera,” says Cindy Yip, president of Eva & Co. Wigs in Vancouver.

And if you’re having trouble spotting this new trend on Canada’s streets, that’s to the wig’s credit. Says Gunn, “Sometimes the wigs are so well done that you won’t even notice that they are wigs on some people.” Such is the case for Valcourt. When she chooses to wear one of her wigs, she often gets confused reactions from peers. “They can’t figure [out] ‘is it her hair?’ I had one girl sitting beside me at a meeting, and she looked at me and said, ‘Is this yours? Is it your wig?’ And I said, ‘Well, what do you think?’ and she said, ‘I don’t know. I can’t tell.’ And I said, ‘Ok. So let’s leave it at that.’”

Home-page photo courtesy of Evelyn Valcourt.

Photo by Eva Rinaldi from Sydney, Australia (Lady Gaga) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.