Tuesday Tutorial: Wig Updo

28 Jun

This week we’re starting Tutorial Tuesday, showcasing a new tutorial every week! This week’s tutorial is brought to you from Kukki-san.

High ponytails and updo’s are one of the most essential, yet tricky wig-styling techniques. You really need to wrap your mind around how wigs work, as opposed to real hair, and you’ll need a lot of patience and precision if you want a ponytail wig that is neat and clean looking, fits your head well, and will last throughout more than one convention.

I compiled a tutorial with photos from different projects I completed over the last year or so, and some that I made specifically for this tutorial. So the wig colors, styles, and photo quality will vary throughout the tut, but they all illustrate the same basic styling technique.

The tutorial will conclude with a few examples of how to evolve the basic ponytail shape into completely different styles. (In progress.)

While this tutorial is for wigs with a SINGLE ponytail (or hairbun) and does NOT show how to make a back part for two or more pigtails, the technique for pulling up the hair into the ponytail(s) is the same. Only where and how you add the extra hair to fill up the bald spots in the wig will differ.


1. Clips and Combs

2. Glue/Adhesive Caulk

3. Cut open elastics (should be with metal bands)

4. Scissors

5. Extra Hair

6. Base Wig

7. Wig Head and Stand

1. Finding the Right Base

The basic idea here is to STUB the base wig (i.e., make a ponytail, seal it at the base, and cut it off!) – then ADD long extensions to create the actual ponytail.

So you DO NOT need to start with a LONG wig at all!

For most ponytail and updo styles, a shoulder length through shoulder blade length base wig (16-24″ / 40-60cm) is perfect. It should be as thick as possible, and you’ll probably want it to have a large skin top and a versatile front so you can either pull all of the hair back into the ponytail, or style all kinds of bangs and side bangs known in the world of anime^^

The wig should be non-layered, meaning all of the hair in the wig will come down to the same length and there should be no short, frizzy hair at the nape of the neck (this is a trick used in some wigs to add volume.)

I usually recommend the Femme Fatale from Amphigory.com, as well as the Angela 750 and the longer Ashley 850 from New Look brand (available at cosworx, Amphigory, and a bunch of other stores.) Look out for this type of wig from other brands too. They all come in a slightly wavy style, but they can easily be straightened using hot water (160-185°F / 70-85°C.)

DO NOT use a LONG base wig unless the character has full, long side bangs that you cannot possibly create by adding extensions.

Why not use a long wig? Putting it in a ponytail is a pain because it tangles like hell and the weight pulling on the roots makes it difficult to style the hair or even fix it in the desired position. You will probably not be satisfied with the result (you might even ruin the wig in the process) if this is your first time putting a wig into a high ponytail.

Plus, extra long wigs are usually way thinner than shorter wigs, so you will need to add more extensions for overall thickness and to conceal the undermesh in the back. You’ll end up investing more time and money compared to a mid-length wig.

2. Making the Wig Fit

 With a ponytail or updo, the size and fit of the wig is vital, because the updo reduces the ability of the wig to stretch and relax in the back and to adjust to any head size and shape.

Measure your maximum head circumference (preferably over a wig cap, with your own hair put up in the back like you would when wearing a wig!) and compare that to the size of the wig head you’re using. If the wig head is too small (most wig heads are), you will need to stuff paper between the wig and head when you style it.

While it’s usually a good idea to use a laaaaaarge wig and simply stretch the wig to the max in the back while styling it, this may not work for people with smaller heads. Ponytail wigs will look lumpy in the back if they are too big.

If you have a small head, put on the wig you’ll be using. If it’s big on your head and you need to adjust the hooks in the back to keep it from shifting, you will have to take it in before making a ponytail. Cut open the elastic and the lower rows of wefts on both sides (a few inches behind the ears) and sew them together again so that the wig fits you just fine without needing to adjust the hooks at all.

Wigs are designed to be worn with their hair down. Whenever you pull them up into some sort of high ponytail or updo, the undermesh will show in the back. Ugh!

In order to prevent that, you will need to sew an extra weft or two along the bottom of the wig. This is done BEFORE you make the actual ponytail, so let’s take a look at how it’s done and what you need to get started…

3. Finding Wefts to Sew

How to obtain matching wefts to cover up the bald spots in your wig?

1.) You can make them yourself from loose extensions (silky straight kanekalon) using one of several no-sew or sewing techniques. Take a look at my tutorial: http://www.cosplay.com/photo/1079221/
or at this thread: http://www.cosplay.com/showthread.php?t=113387

You must use extensions that MATCH the color of your wig, so you need to be aware of the color number or color code (e.g., 12; 613; KAF1) when ordering both the wig and the extensions. Color numbers are a standard across the industry, color names – like “medium brown” or “blue” – are not!!!

Extensions are available in a limited range of colors, so be aware of what colors your supplier carries before you order the base wig.

2.) You can buy pre-made wefts (e.g., at the cosplay.com store or amphigory.com) or harvest an existing wig for wefts (use a seam ripper or sharp scissors to disconnect the wefts from the elastic or undermesh without cutting into the hair.) Again, make sure the colors match.

If your base wig is fairly thick, you can also rip a few wefts off of the back of the wig without leaving a bald spot!

Your weft(s) need(s) to be at least 15″ wide (the number of layers/wefts depends on how thick they are), and the fiber should be at least 12″ long.

4. Attaching Wefts

Using a ribbon or cut-open (!) elastic, tie the hair into a loose ponytail (simply to get it out of your way and keep it from tangling; claw clips are also helpful.) Turn the wig inside out. The elastic along the bottom back of the wig is where your weft(s) will go, and possibly the tabs and side front of the wig too. How much you need to conceal depends on how much coverage the hairstyle is going to give you – i.e., how tight and high the ponytail is supposed to be, and on how much hair from the front and sides is supposed to be pulled up into the ponytail.

Stretching the elastic TO THE MAX (!!!), pin the weft to the INSIDE of the elastic, pointing OUTWARDS.

Making a zigzag pattern will keep the weft from being too tight or bulging out when relaxed. A little bulging is fine, though, because the elastic will be stretched while it’s on your head later! If you don’t stretch the elastic enough while sewing on the weft, the wig will end up being too small!

Sew the weft on by hand, using matching thread. Make small, elastic (zigzag) stitches and be sure to catch the full width of the weft so it does not shift or flip.

Depending on the color and fullness of the wig and on how thick the wefts are (home-made, sewn wefts being thickest), you may need more than one weft to conceal the undermesh. Simply sew them on top of each other.

5. Attaching Wefts (Pt. 2)

Pin the wig to a wig head. The head MUST be your size; if it’s too small, stuff the wig with paper pin it down until it’s stretched to the max in the back. Pin down the edges of the skin top too if it looks like it’s warping.

Make sure the wig is centered on the head – use the center seam underneath the scalp, the elastic and tags in the back, and the tabs on the temples as guidelines!

Put lots of pins in the back of the wig to hold the elastic down and keep it from flipping or relaxing when you pull the fiber up into a ponytail.

6. Sectioning the Bangs

Separate the hair for the bangs from whatever you want pulled up / back into the ponytail. Make sure the undermesh does not show when the bangs are brushed forward and the rest of the hair is in a ponytail. Use a thick needle or the handle of a comb to section off the strands precisely. It’s usually a good idea to take some hair from the tabs / temple area and pull it back into the ponytail, while leaving the hair on top to hang over it and cover up any bald spots. In general, the loose hair should arch over the hair that is tied back.

If needed, sew more wefts to the sides of the wig, inbetween the existing wefts, to thicken up the base wig and cover up any bald spots.

Brush the hair forward and tie / clip it out of your way. You will cut and style the bangs last, after the ponytail is finished.

7. Centering

First of all, place a long pin on the center back elastic of the wig, wherever you want the center of the ponytail to be. It’s usually a good idea to place it a little higher on the head than you think, because the ponytail may sag or tilt a little due to its weight. Plus, you need to place the ponytail/bun really high on the head anyway to make sure it’s visible from the front at all (and it would be sad if no one noticed the beautiful ponytail or hairbun you made, wouldn’t it^^)

8. Stubbing

Put the hair closest to the pin / center into a ponytail. This doesn’t have to be a big ponytail, it’s simply going to be the stable anchor for the rest of the hair, so use your fingers and a fine comb to make sure it’s completely centered and the hair is pulled back tightly and evenly (especially the hair on the top, which is where the ponytail will really pull on later.)

Pin away the top / outer layers of hair on all sides of the wig – these will be pulled into the ponytail last!!! Pulling part of the top layer back now will eventually result in an uneven surface, with strands criss-crossing, and it also makes it harder to conceal the understructure of the ponytail.

Tie a cut-open elastic around the small ponytail, as close to the base as you can (secure it with a pin if necessary.) The ponytail should stand upright, rather than pointing backwards or downwards.

Cut off the hair 2″ above the elastic (if you want to stub it). Smear glue or adhesive caulk all over the stub and distribute it with your fingers to make sure it goes inside the stub too and covers every single hair!

I prefer clear-drying adhesive caulk (not silicone caulk) that remains elastic when dry. You can use any kind of adhesive, though, as long as it has the right level of viscosity (if it’s too hard, you won’t be able to distribute it evenly and make it penetrate the bundle of fiber; if it’s too liquid, it will run and possibly ruin your wig.)

If you’re not stubbing the wig, but want to leave the hair in the wig to be part of the ponytail, fix the base with adhesive the exact same way, except that you don’t cut off the hair above the elastic. Depending on how high and thick the ponytail is supposed to be and what kind of hairtie the character will be wearing, you may want to keep the caulk mess to a minimum and only apply the adhesive to a narrow portion at the ponytail base. You MUST fix all of the fiber properly, though, if you want your ponytail to last.

It’s a good idea to tie a second elastic around the ponytail above the first one for added security and to make the stub as slim and tight as possible (this will also make it easier to attach things to the stub later on.)

Note how I used the placement of the wefts and elastics as a guideline to create a symmetrical ponytail and pick up the same amount of hair from both sides. This is vital if you don’t want the ponytail to end up messy-looking, being off center, leaning to one side, or exposing the undermesh on one side.

9. Keep the undermesh UNDER

Before we proceed with pulling the rest of the wig into the ponytail, here’s a few tips on how to keep the undermesh from showing in the process:

Rather than pulling the hair up straight and tight into the ponytail (as seen before), it may be a good idea to keep the hair on the bottom in a somewhat relaxed position, so the undermesh is less exposed and plaster the hair down with hairspray and a blow dryer (on a low setting) so that it is spread out flat against the head.

This is helpful when the wig is a light color, fairly thin, or when you expect the style to expose the entire back of the wig (as with Sailor Moon odango or a topknot.) The more coverage the hair gives you, the better, especially near the bottom of the wig where it will be stretched to the max and there are few layers of wig hair to cover up the undermesh.

10. Second Layer of Stubbing

Let the caulk dry until it is no longer sticky to the touch, so you can put up the next layer safely. Repeat the previous steps (=pull more fiber up into the ponytail and seal it) once or twice until most of the wig’s hair is in a ponytail, but remember to save the top layer / outer layer (on all sides – top, side, bottom) for the very last step! It’s better to take small steps rather than tackling too much fiber at once and ending up with a messy wig. Trim the hairtie (from the previous stub) before you put up the next layer, then use a new hairtie (or two) for each new layer. (Of course, you could also use the cut-offs from the first hairtie if it’s long enough^^)

11. The (almost) Last Step

What we have left now is the top layer of wig fiber, from all around the wig – front, sides, and back – that will be pulled up into the ponytail last.

Whether you pull up the top layer of hair NOW, or add extensions or foamcore to the ponytail stub FIRST before covering them with the final layer of hair, will depend on the style you’re trying to achieve (see the examples for different ponytail styles I’ll post to follow up this tutorial.) If you just want a short ponytail or a stub you can attach extensions to, simply proceed with this tutorial.

You’ll definitely want a smooth finish, the fiber being distributed evenly, no undermesh showing, and the wig shouldn’t look lumpy in the back. To achieve this, you need to be extra careful when putting up this last layer of wig fiber.

12. Training

First of all, we want the hair along the bottom of the wig to point upward instead of hanging straight down. Train the fiber by applying heat and pulling the hair in the desired direction.

Given that you’ve pinned the wig down properly (cf. step 6), it shouldn’t flip or ride up when you pull on the fiber.

Pull up one strand of hair towards the center of the ponytail, press it flat against the wig head if needed, and heat it with a blow dryer for a few seconds (low heat only!). Let the fiber cool off and set for a few more seconds, then let go.

The wig fiber is now pointing upwards at the “roots”, so it will conform to the shape of the head (instead of bulging out) and it will look more natural when you put it up.

13. The Ponytail! (No…Really)

Because the wig fiber is slippery, I usually pull it up strand by strand first, brushing it repeatedly with a fine comb or a brush with parallel bristles, and clip each strand to the stub.

Make sure to catch all of the fiber and pull it up as tight as possible. (If the undermesh is showing in the back or on the sides because the wig is too thin, relax the fiber a bit until it covers up the bald spots.) Keep in mind that the wig and wig head must have been adjusted to your size, and the wig needs to be stretched to the max and pinned to the wig head very thoroughly so it doesn’t warp or flip inside out as you pull on the fiber (cf. steps 2 and 6.)

After clipping the whole top layer to the stub, grab the ponytail near the base with one hand, remove the clips, and carefully brush and pull on the hair with the fingers of your other hand or a comb until the fiber is distributed evenly across the head and covers up all the undermesh and the previous layers of hair. No single strand should overlap the others, because this will look unnatural later. Make it look like all of the hair has been pulled up into the ponytail at the same time, just like in a natural ponytail.

Never let go of the ponytail and don’t let the fiber slip or sag down! Don’t worry about single stray hairs, though, they can the trimmed or fixed with a coating of hairspray later.

When you like the way it looks, tie a cut-open elastic around the ponytail base. You can carefuly pull on the hair to adjust it some more.

If the ponytail is messed up in the process of loosening your grip and fixing it with the elastic, untie it and start over! Do not caulk an imperfect ponytail – you’ll be sorry later.

14. Caulking the Ponytail

When you’re satisfied, caulk the ponytail and stub it just like the previous layers. Be extra careful not to get caulk on the rest of the wig. Use a strip of cardboard or plastic to distribute the caulk accurately. Carefully mash it in with a wet finger.

This is what a mid-back length wig looks like when it’s pulled up into a high ponytail, with no additional extensions (except for a weft along the bottom to cover up the undermesh, see step 5.)

It started out as a non-layered, 24″ (60cm) long wig. However, the resulting ponytail is only about 18″ (45cm) long, the shortest layers are only 8″ (20cm.)

So this is good if you need a tapered, or very short ponytail. For anything longer or poofier, you’ll need to add extensions to the ponytail; or stub the entire ponytail and replace it with foamcore and extensions.

You can check out the original tutorial here and her Works in Progress Gallery here.



3 Responses to “Tuesday Tutorial: Wig Updo”

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  1. Wet Look Updo With Side Part A Hairstyle Tutorial For Any Length | Hair Modern Styles - August 5, 2014

    […] Tuesday tutorial: wig updo | acosplay – acosplay | a 1. clips and combs. 2. glue/adhesive caulk. 3. cut open elastics (should be with metal bands) 4. scissors. 5. extra hair. 6. base wig. 7. wig head and stand. […]

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