Much ado was made of Viola Davis wearing not a wig, but her natural hair at the Oscars this year. And while a good deal of the news coverage focused on the politics, history and cultural Sturm und Drang that surrounds the topic of African Americans and hair, the event also illuminated a simple truth — false hair is ubiquitous in Hollywood, on runways, in magazines and, increasingly, on the heads of women across America.
No matter their ethnicity, stars and models frequently augment their natural hair with wigs, woven-in or clip-on extensions or hairpieces.
"The wig business now is crazy ... it's just exploding," says French wig maker Julien d'Ys, talking by telephone from Paris. D'Ys is renowned for his avant-garde, flamboyant and fantastical wigs that have appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair and W; his collaborations with designers Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and Comme des Garçons; and several exhibitions at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including "AngloMania," "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy" and "Dangerous Liaisons."
Today's hottest trends start with celebrities, are picked up by the masses and can be helped along with some fabricated tresses.
Fantasy shapes, bold color
The fantasy wig is bursting out of its Halloween store confines into the forefront of pop culture. D'Ys attributes the trend in part to 21st century divas such as Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry, who perform and pose for paparazzi donning far-out wigs as if they were interchangeable Easter bonnets in an array of fluffed-up cotton candy colors: yellows, blues, pinks.
In L.A., New York and Paris, "you see all these retail shops that have all these wigs in different colors or different shapes or different textures," he says. "It's fun.… Young people love that type of thing."
For the "real" woman, his preference is for the fantasy wig to be worn for special occasions, not every day. Experiment with transformation by wearing a less extreme bob, styled à la "Louise Brooks or Anna Wintour. ... That's a classic look," the wig maker says.
Many celebrities seem to have lots of hair. And it's very likely that some, if not all, of that hair was added on with a lace-front wig or a weave.
Lace-front wigs are full wigs made of either natural or synthetic hair sewn onto a delicate mesh lace base. The wigs are glued or taped along the hairline, clipped on or sewn onto braided natural hair. They are ready-made or custom-sewn strand by strand, measured, dyed, fitted to your hairline, cut and styled.
"The lace-front wig is definitely in big demand," says L.A.-based hair stylist Kim Kimble, owner of Kimble Hair Studio, who has done hair for a host of celebrities, including Beyoncé and Shakira. Her new reality show "L.A. Hair" premiered May 31 on WeTV.
"[Lace-front wigs] work well in the entertainment industry because you can switch the hair up quickly and get different looks in a video or photo shoot. ... And people, you know, they follow the trend of what the celebrities do," Kimble says.
D'Ys says that models commonly wear lace-front wigs too and that for fashion shows, wigs can serve as a kind of uniform, giving all the models a similar look.
Wigs, in general, are of a better quality than they used to be and feel lighter on the head. A custom-made natural-looking lace-front wig can cost as much as $10,000, but "a woman can get a synthetic wig for $40, $70," he says.
Having hair extensions woven in is another alternative for achieving bigger, longer or more colorful hair. Weaves are about looking natural. "That is the one reason why I am successful," says Kimble, citing several techniques she uses that make her weaves look as if the hair is growing from the scalp.
Getting a weave can cost from $150 to thousands of dollars. A variety of textures are available, and Kimble is working on creating more extensive African American textures. Color techniques have improved, although blond extensions can be dry or damaged from overprocessing. "Now there is natural blond hair from Russia, but it's more expensive," says Kimble, adding that using ombre hair (dark at the root graduating to lighter tips) is still popular. Rihanna wore this trend this year.
Twists, braids and cornrows
"The messy braid on the side is definitely not that happening anymore," says Mary Guerrero, chief hairstylist for "Dancing With the Stars"for 14 seasons and a five-time Emmy winner for hairstyling, including one win for "Mad Men."
Instead, today's hot styles are variations of the French braid or the cornrow, which can be added with braided hairpieces. Try with a trendy side part.
This trend jibes with 2012's love of fairy tales such as "Once Upon a Time" on ABC. "I still see quite a bit of that messy but elegant bun in the back of the head," Guerrero says. "Elegant buns will never go out of style."
A hairpiece can help create the look. Guerrero also strives to make the familiar look original, different or edgy by adding tiny hair ornaments, minimal sparkle, ribbon, tinsel or different textures in the hairpieces. "For something that's more rock 'n' roll-looking, maybe a piece of leather going through the braid, or if you're blond, we'll weave black hair extensions through their hair," she says.
"We use [clip-on] bangs like nobody's business on 'Dancing With the Stars,'" Guerrero says. Perhaps this trend is the influence of Rooney Mara from "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" on so many red carpets this year or the persuasive cuteness of "New Girl" Zooey Deschanel.
Ponytails can be sporty or elegant, and thanks to hairpieces, even short-haired women can wear the look. Try combining one with slicked-back hair. "You can make it a little bit more rock 'n' roll by popping in highlighted or colored clip extensions," Guerrero says.