Fashioning Fashion’s Paper Wigs: How’d We Do It?

Since the opening of Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915, the Costume and Textiles Department has received many requests to share how we created the paper wigs seen on the exhibition mannequins. The process of hand-crafting the wigs began nine months before the opening of the show as the curators were finalizing their exhibition checklist of fashionable dress and deciding on display methods. While we were very excited to share the fantastic new collection of European clothing with the public, secondary details such as hairstyles and accessories were essential to shaping a stylish, historically correct presentation.

Fashioning Fashion, installation view

In order to accurately recreate hairstyles of the past, we looked at portraits, fashion plates, and photographs corresponding to the historical periods of each ensemble. Factors such as the purpose of the clothing (e.g., court dress, at-home dressing gown) and if the mannequin would be wearing a hat were considered.

An example of the research we used to determine hairstyles for the ensembles. Le Bon Ton, no.868, August 1901, Doris Stein Research Center

Dress, France, c. 1900, purchased with funds provided by Suzanne A. Saperstein and Michael and Ellen Michelson, with additional funding from the Costume Council, the Edgerton Foundation, Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer, Maureen H. Shapiro, Grace Tsao, and Lenore and Richard Wayne

Fibre rush, starched buckram, curling iron, and hot glue gun were used to create the wigs.

The buckram was softened with warm water...

...and stretched over a hat block and left to dry into a stiff form.

Once dry, the molded buckram was removed from the form and trimmed into a cap. The cap was the base for building the hairstyle.

Fibre rush, a paper product used in chair caning, was used to create the actual “hair.”

The fibre rush was flattened and cut into narrow strips, then hot glued onto the outside of the buckram cap.

The paper strips were wound around curling irons and pencils to produce curls of various sizes.

The paper strips were manipulated into knots, buns, braids, and waves.

Some of the wigs were filled with padding to maintain their shapes. Ribbons and feathers were added as finishing touches.

Once the wig was completed, it was placed on the mannequin’s head for final adjustments. Et voilà!

Sophia Gan, Installation Assistant, Costume and Textiles

12 Responses to Fashioning Fashion’s Paper Wigs: How’d We Do It?

  1. Kristi Strasbaugh says:

    Love ‘em! In grade school we made big Hello Dolly type hats from posterboard & tissue paper-they were awesome, just like these wigs!!!!

  2. Large Rugs says:

    Wow, especially like the use of the curling iron to make the hair. So intricate, we love them!

  3. Diane S. says:

    The paper wigs are a great solution for looking correct for the period while not distracting from the clothing featured in the exhibition. I love the creativity of your exhibition team. Thanks for the behind-the-scenes stories.

  4. Laraine Lord says:

    I love the idea of paper wigs. The would be good for stage work and puppetry as well. Great to show off headbands too!

  5. Irina says:

    AMAZING!!!!!!! Loved the wigs, and the whole exhibit. As a textile designer, children’s book illustrator and doll maker – I just couldn’t have enough of the visit to the exhibit, going in circles, trying to absorb it all. Wonderful presentation of a fascinating subject. Congrats on a job superbly done!

  6. Shoshana says:

    This is fabulous! When I had to make paper wigs for a costume exhibition we jerry-rigged something out of printer paper strips and curlers made of pencils, so color me impressed.

  7. Geri says:

    Saw the exhibit yesterday. The fashions were amazing, but I was in awe of the paper wigs. They were elaborate, but so understated without color. It really added to the costumes without detracting from the outfits. Great job. It is interesting to read here how they were created.

  8. Connie Martin says:

    Sophia,

    Wonderful wigs! I wish I could have been in LA to see the exhibit. How creative your team is.

  9. jenni says:

    I wish I were in LA to see the exhibit. This blog posting is extraordinary. I can’t wait to show my HS students.

  10. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley says:

    I saw the Jackie Kennedy Wardrobe Collection at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. Naturally it was important to present her coif (she was such a style-setter with her bouffant-do) to compliment the apparel. The distinct hair styles also helped to serve in stressing the most important event (as she wore many of the clothes several times) she attended wearing the garment. Everyone knows what her hair looked like when she was present for JFK’s swearing-in… and it needed to compliment the displayed tan coat, dress and hat from that Jan. 1961 day.

    Her hair-pieces (for the show) were fashioned from what resembled buckrum – layers bent and heavily starched or coated with a hardening substance. I thought the hair pieces were fascinating and was greatly impressed. Many were so stunning they almost merited a show of their own as ‘a form of art.’ Strangers in the crowd of visitors were all discussing the clever fabric wigs.

    It is intersting to note how important this facet is in the overall presentation of any apparel – especially when trying to present a loooong ago perior or just a half century back. THANKS!

  11. It’s texture within texture and technique. We love it. Just so utterly amazing. Thank you for sharing the entry and processs!

  12. Charlotte Bloxham says:

    I am making paper wigs for my art project and i was wondering where i can get some fibre rush and starched buckram. I have looked at a lot of website and i was wondering if you can help.

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