base wig with bangs

How to Choose a Base Wig for Styling

When you look for a wig to style for your cosplay or for a stage show, the variety of available wigs and the price range can be overwhelming. In this guide, I’ll show you a way through the jungle:

  • What to watch out for when you buy wigs online?
  • How can you tell whether a wig can be styled and modified the way you want?
  • What are the features that generally make a good base wig?

It’s (not) all about the money

You can find short and simple wigs on amazon, eBay or AliExpress for under $10, or spend $100 on specialties like lace-front wigs. Offline prices are usually even higher.

Why the huge price range? As a rule of thumb, the price of a wig depends on the type of cap, the fiber quality, and the amount of hair that is sewn or knotted into the wig.

$10 or $20 budget wigs have their place in cosplay, but they also have their limits. They’re usually quite thin and don’t give you a lot of styling options. Many character styles do require more hair and more versatility, so it can be worth investing in a better base wig or a ready-made character wig.

thin white wig
This wig is so thin you can see the holes between wefts

Regardless of the price, most wigs come unstyled and have to be modified by you: trim the bangs or the overall length, add shape and volume with heat and styling products, or even transform the base wig completely by adding extra hair and foam core.

ponytail styles
Styling examples from my book, Wigs2 – Level Up! (Cosplayers: Calssara, Tsubomi and me)

I need a plan

Before you go wig shopping, look at your character’s hairstyle and write down the basic elements of the style:

  • bangs (how long, how thick)
  • parting (center, side, none)
  • hairline exposed or covered
  • hair hanging down or slicked back / styled into an updo
  • straight, wavy or curly
  • any gravity-defying elements like giant curls, spikes, ponytails
  • solid color or multiple colors
  • minimum and maximum hair length (measured from the crown to the tips)

Many elements can be changed if the base wig is versatile enough. Bangs can be trimmed or cut into a bangless wig, hair can be rerooted or thickened up with more hair if needed. Research styling tutorials for each element you’re unfamiliar with to find out what kind of base wig and materials you need.

Aim for the top!

At the crown, wigs are thicker and they may even have a fake scalp, a so-called skin top. This is a piece of soft plastic that has individual hairs punched into it. A large skin top or a very dense top allows the wig to be parted without revealing the cap. If your wig has neither, you must pay attention to where the parting is located on the product photos.

Wigs with a long and narrow skin top have a fixed parting (center, left or right) that should not be changed. Wigs with a small, button-sized skin top have hair radiating from the center and cannot be parted without revealing the wefts underneath – unless the wig is very thick. If you know you’ll have to change the parting for your character, look at product photos that show the wig from the inside or ask the seller about the size of the skin top.

button skin top
This wig has a small skin top and cannot be parted without revealing the wefts

Wigs that are made for spiking may not have a skin top at all, but are very densely wefted. The hair is often crimped at the roots to add body and make for easy teasing and styling. The seller should have close-up photos of the top where you can’t see any holes or wefts at all, only hair and more hair. From the inside, you’ll see rows of wefts that sit extremely close together.

jareth top
Wig with a very dense top (Jareth by Arda Wigs)

An exposed hairline will look better on a lace-front wig. This type of wig has individual hairs knotted onto a piece of lace or tulle that gives the illusion of real hair growing from your scalp. Lace-front wigs are more expensive than regular (hard-front) wigs. The price varies depending on the quality and size of the hand-knotted piece that may extend well into the wig, so it can be parted like real hair.

coscraft vayne LF
Unstyled lace-front wig (Vayne by CosCraft)

“Weave” got style

When you’re planning to style the wig’s hair upwards for spikes or a ponytail, keep in mind that in most wigs, the wefts (rows of hair) are sewn in with the ends pointing downwards. The wig looks nice and thick as long as it’s hanging straight, but pulling the hair up or back will reveal holes between the wefts.

wefts on a wig
Most wigs are not made to be styled upwards

For heavy styling, like spikes, updos, braids or voluminous curls, you’ll want to buy a thick wig. If you have a chance to look at potential wigs from the inside, compare the density of the cap and the number of wefts in the back.

On specialty wigs meant for spiking or high ponytails, the wefts are sometimes sewn in upside down so it it easier to style them upwards without leaving holes in the back.

reverse wefts
Wig for spiking with reverse wefts (Jareth by Arda Wigs)

You can always modify a thin wig by sewing in extra wefts, but it’s a tedious process and you also need to buy the extra hair.

It’s usually more efficient to spend a few extra dollars on a thicker wig that makes a good base for your styling. The more hair that is sewn into the wig, the more versatile it is.

Long story short

short-layered-wig
A short, layered base wig

When you buy a wig, pay attention to its length, cut and style. The total length is measured in cm or inches from the crown to the hair tips. However, many wigs are trimmed and pre-styled into a fashionable, layered cut. Keep in mind that the top layers will be shorter on these wigs, maybe too short for the style you’re trying to achieve.

Hold a tape measure to your head to determine the perfect length. Don’t trust the product photo, the size of the mannequin can be misleading! Learn how to measure your head here.

measuring head
Measure the hair length from crown to ends

Base wigs without bangs or with longer bangs offer more styling options than the ones with pre-cut bangs. However, you should pay attention to the top (see above) to make sure the hair can be parted for the bangs without revealing the wefts underneath.

Unlike a cut that’s too short, waves and curls can be reversed by applying heat. When you plan to restyle your wig, always straighten it completely to create a clean slate for cutting and styling.

My favorite type of base wig is straight(ened), unstyled, and non-layered. It has long bangs or no bangs and a thick top for flexible parting.

mona lisa wigs lily
Classic base wig, wavy and straightened (Lily by Mona Lisa Wigs)
arda wigs buttercup
Classic base wig without bangs (Buttercup by Arda Wigs)

Well done, moral fiber!

How well your wig takes to styling depends on the type of fiber, its texture, and how heat-resistant it is.

Kanekalon, a common wig fiber, is very malleable and easy to style with low heat (with a blow dryer, for example). Extra heat-resistant fibers can take more heat and are often easier to brush and maintain, which is perfect for long wigs! However, some heat-resistant fibers are very slick and can be more difficult to style yourself.

For spikes and heavy styling, I prefer fiber that’s easy to manipulate and that has some texture to it. This can be regular Kanekalon or a coarse type of heat-resistant fiber, like Arda’s Classic fiber.

For long wigs especially, pay attention to the fiber quality to reduce maintenance. While you can reduce the sheen on a shiny wig with products like baby powder, you can’t improve the overall quality and how it handles. Spending more money on a high quality wig can save you hours of detangling and frustration.

I suggest that you test wigs from various brands and sellers to get a feel for the different types of fiber, which ones you like best and what styles they are best used for. There is no magic fiber that pleases everyone.

wig fiber

It’s not always possible to find a wig that looks exactly like your character, but don’t let that stop you! Just like transforming a pile of fabric into a perfectly tailored costume, I love seeing a plain, straight-haired wig glow up and turn into something completely different.

Ready to start styling your own wigs? Read my other wig tutorials or buy my books!

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