One of the things I always have trouble with in historical costuming is figuring out what to do with my hair. It’s reasonably long, which (depending on the era) can be a good thing, but it’s not that thick, so doesn’t provide the sheer volume that’s often necessary for historical hairstyling. But then again, many of the women back then didn’t have a ton of hair either, so what did they do? They made hairpieces, often out of their own hair. (If you’ve ever read a book and wondered what a “hair receiver” is, wonder no more!)
Well, I don’t have a hair receiver, but I do have access to plenty of fake hair, so when I was putting together my Belle Epoque/Gibson Girl outfits I decided to make my own hairpiece to provide extra bulk and volume to my pompadour. It really couldn’t be easier.
1 hank fake hair in a shade as close to your actual hair as possible
1 invisible hairnet (or you could use a pair of fishnet stockings, but hairnets are less obtrusive)
Needle and thread to match your hair reasonably well (I used black)
I decided to make my hairpiece into a very long sausage-shape so I could bend it around my head in kind of a halo and comb my real hair up over it to form the pompadour.
First, I cut the gathered ends off of my hairnet to make a long rectangle-ish shape.
Then I took half of the giant hank of fake hair (it was a lot) and back-combed and teased it until it was basically a tangled mess. I rolled that mess into a sausage-y shape about 20″ long and placed it on top of my netting rectangle. At this point the netting was a lot shorter than the hair because it was unstretched.
Using black thread, I sewed the edges at the top of the net rectangle together over the hair. Working an inch or so at a time, I folded and stretched the edges of the net over the top of the hair sausage and stitched them together. As I went down the hair, the net stretched out longer and longer, all the way to the bottom of the hair.
Once the hair was completely encased I sewed the ends together to make it into a donut shape, which fit comfortably around the top of my head.
Since the original color of the fake hair matched my own pretty well and the hairnet was almost invisible, it blended in nicely with my own hair. It still had a matte look to it (not shiny like real hair that’s been combed smooth) but it wasn’t going to be all that noticeable when mostly covered by my actual hair.
Here’s how I styled it:
Mesh bun shaper
Mini claw clips (optional)
Firm hold hair gel and hairspray
Curling iron (optional if you have curly hair)
1. Separate out a circular section of hair at the back of your crown– where you would put a really high bun if you were making one, but not smack dab on top of your head– and make a ponytail a little bigger around than your thumb (larger if you have really thick hair).
2. Finger-comb a bunch of gel through the ponytail making sure to get the ends and the base.
3. Using the mesh bun shaper, roll the hair into a fat bun and secure with bobby pins.
4. Plop your halo hairpiece on top of your head, surrounding the bun and setting it about an inch back from your hairline in front. Secure with claw clips and bobby pins.
5. Comb some more gel through your remaining hair. Use your curling iron to curl 1″ sections of the hair, starting at the front. It’s really only important that you get the last few inches curled, to keep the ends from fanning out messily. If you have naturally curly hair you can skip this step.
6. After doing 4 sections in the front, gently comb each section of hair (separately) over the top of your halo hairpiece, fanning it out to cover as much surface area as possible, and secure just inside the hairpiece with a bobby pin. You’ll still have a long tail of curled hair past the pin– wind this loosely around your bun and rest the curled end in the gap between the bun and the inside of the hairpiece. If you need another pin to secure the end, use it now– but if you can, wait until you’ve done a few curls and secure them all at once to conserve pins.
7. Continue curling sections of hair a few at a time, draping the hair symmetrically over the hairpiece and working your way to the back until you’ve used all of your hair. You’ll find that some sections naturally want to be wound clockwise around the bun, while others want to go counterclockwise. Just go with what looks and feels right.
8. Spray the whole thing generously with hairspray. Like, a lot of hairspray. Add more bobby pins if you need to keep flyaways to a minimum. The style is actually really secure once it’s done– all of the hair acts like a cage to keep the hairpiece in place, and the bun is trapped by all of the curled and pinned ends around it.
9. Feel free to pin some flowers, feathers, or jeweled pins around the bun for decoration.
- I think you could do this style with hair as short as 2″ below your shoulders, though you might have some trouble in the back depending on how layered your hair is, and shorter hair will make your top bun a lot sparser.
- If you have bangs like I do, you have a few options. First, you can curl them and just let them hang down in front– it’s reasonably in period to have curled bangs. Otherwise, you can gel the heck out of them and just comb them over with the rest of your hair. It’s probably better to do this if you can, because otherwise the hair in front of your head is a bit sparse for covering the hairpiece.
- Which brings me to my own solution for this issue– at the front of your head don’t just comb the hair straight over the hairpiece in a vertical direction. Instead, bring it diagonally across your forehead to cover up the thin spots where your bangs are. If you give the hank of hair a little twist right where you secure it with the pin, it also helps to keep the gelled bangs part of the whole structure. This diagonal method has the added benefit of giving the whole style a nice swirly look, since you’re continuing the diagonal combing around your head (at least for a few inches on either side before it evens out).
- While it’s really helpful to have the hair in your hairpiece match your own hair pretty exactly, it’s not strictly necessary if you have reasonably thick hair to begin with. I didn’t find that the hairpiece showed much at all after I finished the hairstyle, so if you’re a few shades off (go darker rather than lighter for a more natural look) you should be fine.
- If you don’t like the look of a bun, or just don’t have enough hair to fill one out even with a bun shaper, consider making or buying a bunch of ringlets to put in the middle of your pompadour instead of (or in addition to) the bun. My favorite method is to wind the fake hair around sponge curlers and soak them in almost-boiling water for about a minute, then remove from the water and let air-dry completely (it may take a few days) before unrolling. The hair will stay in perfect, permanent curls. Here’s what my hairdo looked like with the ringlets added and a decorative comb.