The Everything Guide to Wigs

Wig Design by Thanos SamarasPhoto: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

It’s likely the average New Yorker encounters as many wigs on a morning commute as knockoff Goyard totes. The former can be hard to spot these days, thanks to increasingly bespoke construction and clever details like second-skin mesh caps and individually knotted roots. And their popularity is rising: Wig and hairpiece revenue in the U.S. will climb to $849 million by the end of the year, fueled in part by the buzz surrounding schizophrenically coiffed pop stars like Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga and the plethora of wigged models who walked the fall runways of designers like Louis Vuitton and Jean Paul Gaultier, not to mention the infamous teal-blue rat’s nest that Amanda Bynes wore last month to court. As the city’s salons, suppliers, and weeks-out-booked weavers meet the growing demand, here, a look at these faux-hair specialists. Plus, insight from a few well-known wig wearers and expert advice on how to keep a giant banana-shaped coif in place (hint: very carefully).

Drama King
431 W. 54th St., nr. Tenth Ave., Ste. 1B; 212-233-0908
Sought out by design houses such as Chanel and style provocateurs like Daphne Guinness and RuPaul, ­Wigbar’s bi-coastal co-founder Isaac Davidson books up weeks in advance. The faux-hair maestro, who learned his craft from Broadway wigmaker Robert-Charles Vallance, will work with you on your grand vision—be it an asymmetrical bob or a sky-high beehive (from $200)—and within your budget, creating pieces with remy (for the uninitiated, see the glossary below), European, or synthetic hair, or some combination of the three. When you’re ready for an update, wig cuts and coloring start at $45 and $65, respectively.

The Volumizer
Hadiiya Barbel Collection
225 W. 10th St., nr. Bleecker St.; 212-966-5987
Barbel, 34, who won an Emmy for hairstyling on the wig-loving Wendy Williams Show, opened her namesake boutique in March. The subterranean former jewelry shop is decked with ornate mirrors and tufted consultation chairs; on floating shelves, an array of head forms model Barbel’s human-hair and synthetic wigs (from $500 for ready-made and $3,000 for custom), whose caps come in adjustable sizes and with flesh-tone plastic inserts, among other features. The “crowns,” as Barbel calls them, run the gamut of shades and styles, though her curls (bouncy spirals, a Diana Ross Afro) tend to stand out.

Medical-Hair-Loss Specialist
Hair Place NYC
855 Lexington Ave., at 65th St., second fl.; 212-717-4000
The classic-salon vibe (wooden stations, warm lighting) is reassuringly familiar for the many clients here suffering chemotherapy-related hair loss or alopecia. Available in both human hair and synthetic, the wigs at this fifteen-year-old spot are hand-sewn using ultradurable grafting technology, wherein each strand is crocheted into a stocking-thin cap (rather than applied with a machine à la the traditional wefting method). Turnaround ranges from 48 hours for ready-made versions (from $500) to six weeks for custom pieces (from $625), with maintenance like wig trims and highlights starting at $250. Cancer patients receive complimentary consultations and can drop off their wigs for free next-day styling once a month.

Balding Man’s Best Friend
Joseph Fleischer Company
276 Fifth Ave., nr. 30th St., Ste.; 302 212-686-770
Tucked discreetly on the third floor overlooking a tree-lined Murray Hill block, this nearly century-old shop is said to have coiffed such legends as John Wayne and Tony Bennett. Its highly customized work (no premade stuff here) starts with precise hairline-to-hairline, ear-to-ear measurements; a careful study of baldness patterns; and, for color and texture accuracy, a look back at photographs from the client’s less heady days. Each piece, including full wigs and partial “fillers” and “toppers,” is hand-sewn in-house, frequently with European hair (from $3,000). Synthetic is recommended for would-be silver foxes, since real grays tend to yellow over time.

Everyday-’Do Go-To
Helena Collection
120 W. 31st St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-967-9945
Stylists for magazines like Harper’s Bazaar can be found shopping the panoply of ready-made wigs, extensions, toupees, and clip-in bangs here. The range is a rare combination of quantity—everything from pixie crops to shoulder-sweeping layers to long blunt cuts—and quality: The styles come in hyperrealistic hand-tied human hair (from $850) as well as synthetic ($175). Despite the wholesaler-like setup, no appointment is required, even if you want to go custom (price upon request).

Uptown Sheitel-Maker
Raffaele Mollica
318 E. 84th St., nr. Second Ave.; 212-535-6735
Mollica’s painstakingly hand-knotted European hair wigs even have their own nickname (“Ralfs”) among local Orthodox Jewish women, who are required after marriage to cover their real hair. A routine consultation process with the former Vidal Sassoon wigmaker (or sheitel-maker) can span multiple appointments, involving measurements, adjustments, and perusals of wig-filled closets. Once the ideal texture, color, and fit are nailed down, he produces each work of follicular perfection in about four weeks; prices start at $3,800.

Quality Locks Shop
Indique Hair
296 Elizabeth St., nr. Bleecker St., Ste. BF; 646-701-0026; and 65 Bond St., nr. State St., Boerum Hill; 718-797-1910
The mission of this mini-chain: 100 percent virgin remy hair, known to stay tangle-free for as long as a year (lower-end counterparts can become unmanageable in a few months or even weeks). Quality doesn’t come cheap, of course: The sew-in extensions—­primarily Indian locks, which tend to be the most compatible with African-American hair—are sold in four-ounce bundles from $159 to $330 (often you’ll need more than one), and that’s before you take them to your salon for application, which can set you back a few hundred bucks. A selection of clip-in extensions (from $199) are available too.

The Extensionist
Ryan Trygstad at Sally Hershberger Downtown
425 W. 14th St., nr. Ninth Ave., No. 3F; 212-206-8700
Trygstad’s custom so-called Wig­stad extensions—in which the faux hair is fastened to an elastic band, thereby slipping onto your head sans clips or glue—got a boost when client Kelly Ripa showed them off on air last year. (They start at $875.) He also does tape-ins and keratin bonds, incorporating the extensions to create a subtle enhancement (say, a more voluminous updo; from $150) or a full-blown Rapunzel (permanent extensions run around $3,000).

Cheapskate’s Paradise
Feel Beauty Supply
370 Fulton St., nr. Court Sq., Downtown Brooklyn; 718-852-6889
While other drugstore-style shops have a similarly costume-y selection, the prices tend to be lowest at this Fulton Mall fixture, where you can get Blonde Ambition–style clip-in ponytails from $14 (at Ricky’s, for instance, you’d be hard pressed to find any hair for less than $50). Among the hundreds of choices are an array of $20 synthetic wigs in colors from basic brunette to acid pink and Smurf blue.

Dream Weaver
LaVar Hair Designs
134 W. 72nd St., nr. Columbus Ave. 212-724-4492
Owner Ellin LaVar is something of a celebrity herself, thanks to a 30-year career that’s included a onetime reality show on WE, a roster of famous clients like Whitney Houston and Naomi Campbell, and, at the root of everything, a pioneering weave technique (dubbed the “invisible braid”). The method, which she developed in the seventies, involves threading extensions through cornrows of the client’s existing hair. A less damaging alternative to glue-in and tape-in extensions, it remains the salon’s gold standard (from $600), though LaVar offers the aforementioned too. For private types, the weaving can be done in a back room.

Wig Advice

Wig Tip No. 1
“If you’re just dipping your toes in the wig pond, wear it around the house first; wear it around your neighborhood. Then you’ll feel bold enough to wear it to work and out at night.” —Wendy Williams, talk-show host and wig designer

Wig Tip No. 2
“Get a wig with bangs—it’s much cheaper than Botox.” —Lady Bunny, drag performer and founder of Wigstock

Wig Tip No. 3
“If your wig isn’t an expensive custom one, wear a hat with it—cheap wigs tend to look fake at the roots, but the ends are just fine.” —Bevy Smith, host of Bravo’s Fashion Queens

Wig Tip No. 4
“I make my wigs look more natural by darkening the roots—about a full inch—with brown eyeliner or eye shadow.” —Kim Zolciak, Bravo star, singer, and wig designer

The Everything Guide to Wigs