Williams, who is vocal about her love for wigs. “We had to perfect the hairlines and balance it — add denseness, take away fullness.” Like Tokyo Stylez, who has worked with Lil’ Kim and Rihanna, Ms. Barbel became part of a new phenomenon: the celebrity wig stylist. The wigs in her line, Araya, run from $750 to $3,000.Hair from Nicholas Piazza’s collection.Credit…Demetrius Freeman for The New York TimesWhen it is time to wash your wig, brush it to remove all teasing, tangles, and hair spray. We recommend that you use a gentle cleansing, wig, scalp and hair shampoo, and conditioner as it leaves your wig soft, pretty, and easy to manage.They are so popular in international Orthodox Jewish communities that an impostor has been making imitations that he advertises around Israel, trading on Mr. Mollica’s reputation. “He’s a worthless scurve,” said Mr. Mollica, showing me a flyer for the so-called Ralph Wig Collection. The real Mr. Mollica is the one who gets a call when they fall apart.Human hair remains a popular choice for wigs, particularly because it looks and feels natural. It is easily styled; unlike synthetic hair, it can be permed or colored. During periods of scarcity of cut human hair for wigs, manufacturers have used combings (hairs that fall out naturally at the end of their life cycle). However, actively growing hair that is cut for wigmaking is preferred. United States wigmakers import most of their hair. Italy is known as a prime source of hair with desirable characteristics; other colors and textures of hair are purchased in Spain, France, Germany, India, China, and Japan. Women contract with hair merchants to grow and sell their hair. After cutting, the hair is treated to strip the outer cuticle layer, making the hair more manageable. Wigmakers pay $80 or more per ounce for virgin hair, which has never been dyed or penned; a wig requires at least 4 oz (113.4 g) of hair.During the reign of Stephen in the middle third of the twelfth century, wigs were introduced in England; they became increasingly common, and women began to wear them in the late sixteenth century. Italian wigs of that time were made of either human hair or silk thread.
In 1630, embarrassed by his baldness, Louis XIII began wearing a wig made of hair sewn onto a linen foundation. Wigs became fashionable, increasing in popularity during the reign of Louis XIV, who not only wore them to hide his baldness but also to make himself seem taller by means of towering hair. During the Plague of 1665, hair was in such short supply that there were persistent rumors of the hair of disease victims being used to manufacture wigs. This shortage of hair was partially remedied by using wool or the hair of goats or horses to make lower grades of wigs (in fact, horsehair proved useful since it retained curls effectively). For several decades around 1700, men were warned to be watchful as they walked the streets of London, lest their wigs be snatched right off their heads by daring thieves.When hair falls out, the scalp may feel tender or sensitive. Some wigs can be irritating to the scalp. It is often helpful to place a small cotton scarf or cotton skullcap between the scalp and the wig. Not only does the scarf or cap provide a protective barrier, but it also absorbs some of the perspiration that develops on the scalp.Among the usual wigmaking bric-a-brac are items specific to her Orthodox Jewish clientele: black hair tightly coiled around sticks that are baked to make curly, prosthetic payot (the traditional Orthodox side locks); a head form with a fluffy white beard for an Orthodox man with alopecia. “It’s made of yak hair from Tibet,” she said.There are only about 200 trained custom wigmakers in the country today, and a majority work in theater, film and television, said Michael Meyer, the director of the Wig and Makeup Design Program at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, one of the country’s only programs for custom wigmaking. “There are people who take an online class watching YouTube videos,” he said.
“But it’s a far cry from the people who have been trained and whose work can withstand an HD camera.”According to Emma Tarlo, an anthropologist who wrote “Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair,” hair extensions reignited “a frenzied global trade in hair” in the early 1990s. Last year, human hair imports to the United States were valued at $685.3 million, according to the Census Bureau, up from $51.6 million in 1992.Most of the wigs on the market, though, are made in China, where thousands of factory workers do the painstaking work that New York’s wigmakers once did: plucking short and splintered hair from bundles, baking curls, stirring hair in vats of bleach, hand-knotting wigs. “A lot of the people who call their wigs ‘custom,’” Mr. Piazza said, “they just write up the order and send it to the Orient and then when they get it, they’ll do some tweaking.”Marcia Glikas, 65, found Mr. Mollica nearly 40 years ago, after trying injections and braided-in hair and falls to cover her rapidly thinning hair. She now has 20 Ralphs. “I can’t go in a convertible with my hair blowing in the wind, with my scarf blowing in the wind; I would love that,” she said. “But I have hair, I have hair thanks to Raffa.”Mr. Mollica, who goes by Raffa and Ralph, was born 71 years ago in Sicily and grew up in Astoria, Queens. His wigs start at about $5,000 and are known as Ralphs.He made falls, slides, clip-ons, topknots and toupees, a mustache for an open-coffin funeral. In 1976, he said, he was called in to make an emergency merkin for a Penthouse model who didn’t have enough coverage. He made a line of hair ornaments that appeared in Vogue and looked suspiciously like fishing lures.His wigs are as soft and light as he is brash. “In real life,” Mr. Mollica told me, meaning if I were his client, “you would only want a wig to look like you do now. Naturally, sloppily correct as opposed to plasticized at the beauty parlor by some insane hairdresser.”Based on an ivory carving of a woman’s head found in southwestern France, anthropologists speculate that wigs may have been used as long as 100,000 years ago. Wigs were quite popular among ancient Egyptians, who cut their hair short or shaved their heads in the interests of cleanliness and comfort (i.e., relief from the desert heat). While the poor wore felt caps to protect their heads from the sun, those who could afford them wore wigs of human hair, sheep’s wool, or palm-leaf fiber mounted on a porous fabric. An Egyptian clay figure that dates to about 2500 B.C.