New hair… (sorry no pictures yet!)

monna-lisa-logoToday I tried to ‘save’ an old wig, which I particularly liked, because of its straight hair and natural weight… I did my usual routine of soaking in special shampoo, do some conditioning, and use a new high-tech ‘dry conditioner’, plus some rolls at the end… but I really think that it’s the end of the line for that wig, no matter what I do to it. Oh well. Tomorrow I’ll see the results of the rolls, but I don’t have high hopes, the ends are so split that they look more like a plastic brush and not like hair at all…

So, well, after looking around for a new wig, and considering spending a bit more than usual — my wigs, so far, rarely last over a year… — I went back to my faithful old hairdresser and wig seller. She has somehow a knack to figure out what will fit me exactly right! Often I frown a bit at what she shows me, then I put it on, and I see that she has figured out exactly what I like!

This is a wig designed for people with severe hair loss. Because of that, the cap construction is a bit unusual, compared to what I’m used to wear. It doesn’t feature lace — apparently, people with alopecia complain that wearing lace for a long period irritates the scalp (although that is only noticeable if you wear the same wig for many days — not just a few hours now and then). So this one has a (mostly) monofilament cover with some special areas where you place the glue or adhesive, although it’s such a tight fit that I will very likely not need that.

And this time it’s guaranteed that it uses Indian remy hair, and no imitations or a mix of synthetic and human hair. That means that you can dye it and style it with heat, and wash it with all sorts of conditioners, to keep it shiny and good-looking. After some years of use, the colour might lighten, but it can be dyed again — which means that it should survive many years with some maintenance.

As you know, I’m fond of relatively long-haired wigs. Most of my early wigs were all straight, and 18 inches is what I tend to prefer (I have some shorter ones, though). The last one I bought was announced as being 18″ long but it didn’t look like that — mostly because it’s wavy, and the measurements are made with the hair straightened out. Hmm. That’s something I had not considered last year when I bought the other wig. This one is guaranteed to be a bit over 18″, also wavy, though, so I mumbled ‘longer, longer’. Well, my hairdresser suggested that I added a few extensions to it! Now that’s something I had never thought: obviously, with human hair wigs, you can add extensions. Hmm. I might consider that: after all, I don’t need a *lot* of extensions, just perhaps a few extra inches. And, of course, over time, it will be the extensions that get split ends, etc., and so they can be replaced, while keeping the original wig intact…

So much to learn. I guess that you get a lot more out of an expensive wig!

I didn’t bring it immediately back home. My hairdresser insisted that she would give it a good wash first, because, unlike synthetic wigs, which always look great out of the box, human hair wigs suffer a bit when they have been packed inside a box for some time. She’ll also put the usual assortment of clips; wigs designed for patients with alopecia are meant to be glued-on, not clipped-on. So I’m curious about how it’ll look like when I pick it up on Monday.

Did I mention that it was quite expensive? Yes it was. But I really compared a lot of prices from different suppliers, and even went to a shop of the competitors. It looks like these days prices don’t vary that much. The main difference with human hair wigs is the extra charge for styling and cap construction, and the amount of customization you wish on the wig. Online, you have way more choices, but usually human hair wigs don’t come styled. Instead, they come ‘raw’, because they’re expected to be styled by your hairdresser. Of course many online shops will also do some styling, but most of the ones who do that, will be in the US or UK, where hair styling is prohibitively expensive! (Around here, you can get a cut & brushing for as little as €30; just washing & conditioning & some hair mask will be around €20)

Because human hair wigs are usually meant for the ‘higher end’, there is much more that you pay beyond the hair itself, which, of course, is also expensive by itself. My last choice was to cut through the middleman and simply order directly from a factory in China. The advantage is, of course, that you can get it much cheaper. But there can be a few catches. The first is that you really have to trust them. I’m still confused about my last wig. It was announced to be a 100% human hair wig, and apparently, some people have complained to the factory, and they have issued a statement that they really, really use human hair. My old hairdresser thinks that it’s a mix of human hair and synthetic hair. Another two hairdressers, of whom I asked an opinion, are pretty sure it’s synthetic. So who’s right? There are two tests that you can do. The first is to use some heat: most synthetic wigs will not stand any heat and the hair will literally melt, so the problem is that applying heat will ruin them… The other test is to try do dye the hair. Synthetic wigs cannot be further dyed. Human hair can, if it was properly manufactured. So, as you can imagine, I haven’t tried any of those ‘tests’…

Traditionally, human hair is supposed to be applied in a salon. That means that hairdressers — often with special training from the supplier — will do all the measurements, recommend a certain type of hair, and let the factory manufacture the hair precisely to specs. The hair will come raw from the factory and it’s supposed to be styled at the salon. It might also get some extra dye, to match the customer’s own hair, for instance. All this adds to the cost. Even today, although there is a lot of competition, you might easily pay US$2000 for a human hair wig — even up to $5000 if you wish for European hair, the most expensive of all (I’ve also learned today that Indian hair, although it’s the cheapest available, is not that different from European hair in terms of texture and thickness — after all, we Indo-Europeans have a common genetic inheritance — even though it tends to last longer, and, of course, virgin Indian hair comes in its natural dark colour and requires bleaching or whatever they do at the factory to be able to be dyed with other colours).

Obviously you can also get ‘stock’ human hair from most suppliers, and this will be much cheaper. They will usually select a handful of lengths and volumes, give you a few colour choices, limit to the most popular cap construction, and that’s it — but it means the price can go down considerably, perhaps half of what it costs to do a custom-made solution. Because the competition is so fierce, some suppliers might offer you way more choices (a good example is Hair Direct, but there are many more) for the price of ‘stock’ hair, and sometimes even style the wig slightly.

The problem with ordering online is that you really have no idea what the final result will be. My last two choices came from factories in China. They matched the colour I wished almost perfectly. There was no styling. The texture came pretty close to what I wanted. But on the wig I bought two years ago, I noticed that it would look a bit too ‘flat’ on my head: I really needed a bit more volume on the top. So on the next year, the wig I’m usually wearing has a lot more volume and density on the top. However, they saved some costs by making the bottom part much lighter. The result is a bit weird, even though with some styling my hairdressers managed to disguise those flaws, even though if that meant that the wig now looks much shorter than it actually is.

By contrast, buying it on a shop where you can try what works best for you (and ask for advise!) might also mean having far less choices. Recently I was researching the Great Lengths brand, which has raving reviews on their extensions, but they usually don’t do full wigs. You can get ‘full extensions’, though, and those are expensive enough. However, the local representative does something clever: they launched their own brand, by using Great Lengths hair, and having it sewed on caps — thus being able to offer a reasonable selection of ‘stock’ hair. Their synthetic hair product line comes already styled; the human hair product line has less styling. Prices are in the US$1000 range, depending on length, which is reasonable for a real human hair ‘stock’ wig. However, I hated the texture when I tried it out: it looks very stiff and artificial! The reason? They use Japanese hair instead of Indian hair. Japanese hair is very, very strong, which means that it will last quite a long time, you can sleep in it, go to the beach or a swimming pool, and never fear that your wig gets ruined — and it will tolerate enough heat (perhaps not on the highest settings) from curlers and straighteners. One rule for all kinds of wigs is that you have to trade off appearance for durability. A wig that might resist everything you throw at it will very likely not look so realistic. In fact, I saw their synthetic wigs as well, and the texture was almost identical! I remember commenting on that: from the perspective of a lay person, you couldn’t really distinguish between their two product lines… so, although I was tempted at first, I gave up.

So, as said, I went back to my old, faithful hairdresser, whom I’ve been buying wigs for many, many years now. From past conversations, I knew that they also did custom wigs for their customers with alopecia and/or hair loss due to chemotherapy. So I asked for the prices for that, and what kind of hair they used. Well, my hairdresser said that a custom solution might not be worth the price — since, in my case, I’m not looking for a ‘replacement’ that looks like my real hair, and which has to be an exact match. Instead, she showed me one ‘stock’ wig from their brand, Monna Lisa. I own a few synthetic wigs of that brand. You won’t be much impressed by their website, it’s full of small typos… Monna Lisa is a Spanish brand, and they have been doing wigs for almost 60 years, specifically for alopecia/chemotherapy, and they technically always work through special salons catering to those types of customers. Now, you might not see Spain as a powerhouse in wig manufacturing, and you might be right… but the truth is that some areas of Spain are crossdresser paradises (remember the Pedro Almodóvar movies?), and they’re very, very demanding of the high quality of their products. Also, traditionally, Spanish women are among the best-dressed in Europe; perhaps only second to Italian women. So they are very demanding. And in good Mediterranean tradition, they’re very vocal about their complaints! The result is that some of my crossdresser friends in Portugal tend to do a short trip to Madrid just to buy their wigs there — it’s not too expensive — since there are so many choices and they have so much quality.

Another advantage of my hairdresser is that, after all these years, she tends to have a very good idea of what I like in a wig. I sometimes just go over to their salon just to see what choices they have. Because they cater more to elderly women, their styles tend to be a bit conservative, and the hair is usually short. But they also have quite a lot of customers from the transgendered community, so sometimes they have some special wigs in longer sizes. The one she showed me today is about 50 cm (that’s slightly over 18″) long, which is the kind of length I tend to buy. It’s in a deep honey colour, straight out of the box, pretty close to my natural hair colour when I was 6 years old, but I’m curious how it will look like after she washes and conditions it. If the colour is still too light for my taste, that’s not a problem, it can easily be dyed with a deeper colour. Unlike my current wig, this one seems to have less flaws, and its volume is more naturally distributed. I was immediately attracted to it 🙂 and, although I didn’t expect to buy anything today, I couldn’t really resist…

It has a few drawbacks, of course. I’m very fond of lace wigs, because nothing looks more realistic than a lace wig (if applied properly!), but this wig has a monofilament cap. There is no ‘baby hair’, which looks always incredibly realistic (although, to be honest, it’s the one more subject to getting quickly dried, since it’s in contact with my face makeup…) on lace front wigs. The cap is also a bit tighter than I’m used to, and, unlike the lace wigs I own, it might not cover the sideburns perfectly. My hairdresser told me that there are a few tricks that can be done to overcome those limitations (e.g. cutting some hair in order to provide some coverage on the sideburns as well as to simulate baby hair), but I guess that, for now, I will start using it just as it is, and see if I get used to it.

And no, you won’t get any pictures of it soon 🙂 because currently my wife’s new routine has seriously limited my crossdressing days, and I still haven’t found a way to fit my own routine into it…