(Yes, I realize it’s been ages since I posted about this outfit, but I needed to get photos back to complete these posts! Forgive me?)
That’s right, today we’re talking about HAIR. Not just “hair,” but HAIR. Seriously, it’s deserving of all caps in this context. After all, you didn’t think I’d go to an event decked out in this gloriously glittery gown without correspondingly fabulous hair, did you? Of course not– you know me better than that!
So yes, Audrey Hepburn had some seriously gigantic hair in the Embassy Ball scenes– obviously not Edwardian in style, but hey, filmmakers in the in the sixties loved the gargantuan updos, so who am I to quibble when it comes to making the ensemble recognizable? Let’s take a closer look at it, shall we?
As you can see, the very top appears to be a tall bun, bracketed by stiffened loops of hair to add width– you can clearly see light through the sides in the photo above. Below that, there are three short, diagonal rolls of hair down the back of the head, with two mini-rolls at the very bottom. It appears that there are additional vertical rolls on either side, and they’re decorated with large curlicue-shaped curls at the sides and top, disguising the join between the hairpiece and natural hair.
Of course, Audrey also wore a more reasonable (yet not nearly as pretty in my opinion– the bangs spoil the whole look) hairstyle for some of her publicity photos in this gown, but I just plain don’t like it so we won’t discuss it further.
Anyway, how best to recreate this updo? Clearly, there would be fake hair involved. Lots and lots of fake hair. But not too much, or it would be too heavy to be comfortable. I decided to start with a stiff sinamay base– because all of the fascinator bases I was able to find were too small, I stitched two together to make a single piece to work with.
The black ones were out of stock, so I used brown fabric paint to darken the ivory-colored sinamay. The coat of paint is patchy (due to the paint not soaking through multiple layers of sinamay) but it’s enough to keep the ivory from glaring through any empty spots.
I decided that I would use my real hair to make the small curls on each side of the updo as a way to incorporate the hairpiece into my natural hairstyle, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to recreate the large cinnamon-roll-like curls with just my own hair. So I would need to do the top bun, the large curls, and all of the rolls at the back and sides, out of the fake hair.
I bought a bunch of cheap mesh donut bun shapers in dark brown ($1.50 each for the large, 2/$1.50 for the small) and cut some of the large ones open to get long sausage-y rolls and strips of mesh.
Then I got out my fake hair– six wefts of 23″ long dark brown hair extensions from eBay at the low, low price of $1.99 each. I wanted to get all six in the “curly” variation– loose ringlets– but they were out of stock so I had to get half of them with straight hair.
I started at the top, with the giant bun. I used two stacked donuts as the base to make sure it was nice and tall. I wrapped hair around it the same way I would if it were my real hair– radiating from the center hole and tucking it underneath. This hair wasn’t going to be seen that much, so I didn’t worry about making sure every speck of mesh was covered. It ended up being about the size of a large apple.
Then I took a new weft and measured out enough length to go loosely over the top of the bun. I folded it in thirds to make the hair thicker, and stitched one end to the sinamay base. Then (and here’s the tricky part) I separated out the inside half of the hair and covered it in watered-down Mod-Podge before stitching the other end down loosely to the center front so it formed a loop. I used bobby pins to keep the hair smooth and let the loop dry upside-down until it was stiff, providing structure to the hair. After that I combed the outside half of the hair over the stiffened loop, tucked the ends under, and did a ton of hot glue and stitching to keep both ends in place. And then I sprayed the heck out of it with hairspray to prevent flyaways. It really didn’t turn out that well, honestly– the stiffened hair looked weird and there were so many extra bits of hair that kept falling out of place.
I’d originally intended to just glue the hair-apple-thing onto the base, but decided to give it a little extra structure by impaling it on a spike that was stuck through the base itself. I ended up using the plastic plunger of a small syringe, cutting off the rubber tip and sticking it through a small hole in the base. It was the perfect height for the hair-apple-thing, and once I’d added some hot glue I was confident it wasn’t going anywhere.
Then I took the center of the looped hair and pushed it into the center of the donut, fastening it with thread. The extra length made for the “loop” effect on either side of the bun, though I had to use additional thread to bring the sides up a little to make it taller and narrower.
I took another new weft, folded it in half, and sewed it to the underside of the base right in front. I flipped it over the top of the hair-apple-loop-combination, lining the inside with a folded piece of mesh from a disassembled hair donut to add height and bulk. I used thread to tack it to the center, and then stitched and glued the hair to the base on the back side of the hair-apple. (yes, I know “hair-apple” is a weird term but it’s marginally better than “hairball,” which was my other option)
I shingled the left-over tail of hair to keep it smoother so it would be a good base for the rest of my hair escapades.
I took a fresh weft of hair (the curly kind) and cut two 2″ wide sections. I stitched each of those down to either side of the base, near the front, then wound each one through and then around a small-sized hair donut to make the cinnamon-roll curls. I probably should’ve used hot glue to keep it tacked down but I didn’t think of it at the time, instead relying on thread to keep things in place. I did use some glue to keep them standing upright, though. The curls aren’t particularly neat but they do have the right general shape and will look fine from a distance.
I next cut a section of weft about 4″ wide (again, the curly kind, not the straight kind) and stitched it, upside-down (hair flowing towards the forehead, not the nape of the neck), to the base about 1/2″ in from the back of the hair-apple. Then I hot-glued down a roll of mesh, wound the hair over it, and stitched the hair down over the roll.
I planned to do the same thing with more rolls down the back of the head, but first I wanted to do the sides. I stitched down more sections of weft on the undersides of the base, and made two more mesh rolls to pad them out. Using the same technique as the first roll above, I covered the mesh rolls in hair and stitched down the loose ends. Then I hot-glued them, and shingled the remaining loose parts.
Honestly, at this point I’d expected I would need to be extra-careful about conserving hair so I’d have enough for all of my rolls and curls– which would have meant stitching and gluing the cut-off hair into new wefts so I could use them for other parts of the hairpiece– but I bought enough that I didn’t need to do that. I just rubber-banded the extra hair into a tail and figured I could use it to make ringlets or something later.
Next up were the remaining rolls down the back. I used the same “wrap hair over mesh roll and stitch” technique for the next two rolls, and then had a little tail of hair left over at the bottom that I just coaxed into a round curl and loosely stitched down. I don’t think there’s an actual curl in that spot in the original, but I couldn’t figure out what to do there so I just went with it. This is also where it came in really handy that the hair was already naturally curled, because it was easy to form into the bottom curl.
I sewed and glued a small metal comb into the top of the underside, then stitched a length of elastic loop trim around the perimeter of the sinamay base. Then I took four tiny wig clips (harvested from the extensions) and stitched them to the loops– I couldn’t just stitch them to the base because the clips need to bend to open and close, and the base (unlike a wig) was too rigid to allow that. I also got a medium-sized plastic comb and inserted the outer teeth through two more loops about mid-way down the hairpiece for extra support. I will note, however, that even with all of this, I needed to use some extra hairpins to keep things firmly in place.
I did my hair in a tight french braid to provide lots of grip and a tiny bit of extra volume, leaving a small section at each temple to make the side curls. I used a curling iron, pins, and lots of hairspray to sweep those into place.
The hairpiece ended up blending rather seamlessly into my real hair– particularly as my natural hairline was still visible and matched the fake hair so well in color. This project has definitely made me more confident in my hairpiece-making skills!
- I think that the extensions that come with loose curls already in them are much easier to work with than the straight kind– the ends naturally want to curl in on themselves, making things much neater and reducing flyaways.
- I originally chose not to stitch the combs into the base at the beginning because I was afraid that they would interfere with the stitching-down of the hair. This was a mistake– it was a lot harder to figure out how I was going to put the combs in when I had to deal with a whole mass of hair on the top side of the base. Definitely put the combs in first and work around them.
- Every time I finished a roll or curl and had it the way I wanted it, I gave it a generous spray of hairspray and wiped it gently with a paper towel to remove the tiny droplets on the hair. Then I hit it with gentle heat on the “low” setting on my hair dryer to set it. And I kept periodically spraying the entire hairpiece just to keep things in place. I think it helped to shellac things down.
- I think that I may have made the front of the hairpiece just a bit too tall to exactly match the movie, but it was difficult to judge until it was already done. If I were to do it again I’d do it a little shorter (though I will say that since my tiara ended up just a bit larger than the one in the movie, the taller hair seemed proportional).
- I think I’m going to permanently affix an invisible hairnet to the back of the hairpiece to prevent flyaways from getting out of hand. Not the top portion, since I want the side loops to have clear space between them, but definitely the back.
2 thoughts on “My Fair Lady Ballgown, Part XIV: HAIR!”
Can’t wait to see it all put together!
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