Paper Wigs for the Fashion Timeline

Hairstyles are an important part of the ever changing fashion silhouette, so we added wigs to all the mannequins in the Fashion Timeline exhibit.

18th century man’s wig

White paper was used to construct the wigs so they would complete the period look while not distracting from the garment on display.  Each wig began as a coil of twisted white paper. Once untwisted it was flexible yet maintained its manipulated form and the linear texture mimicked flowing tresses.

The white paper as it came off the spool, and untwisted on the left.

The paper was cut into strips and curled around pencils, wooden dowels, knitting needles, anything that provided the correct width. It was then fixed to a wig cap with hot glue.

Fosshape wig cap.

The caps were made with Fosshape, a synthetic felt that can be cut, sewn, and shaped into a fairly rigid form with heat. Building wigs on caps requires a bit more work than simply taping the paper curls directly to the mannequin, but it allows the wigs to easily be removed and reused without damaging the mannequin or the wig. Before making the wigs we gathered research. This included images from period fashion plates, portraits, and advertisements.

Hairstyle reference images.

Each style presented it’s own set of challenges. Some were built up by gluing curl upon curl, others were layered then styled and trimmed the same way an actual haircut would be.

1810 wig
1920s bob

The wigs had to capture the essence of each era and also add visual impact.

1940s wig
18th century woman’s wig

The paper hairdos have been generating lots of comments. Do you have a favorite?

Joanne Arnett                                                                                                                     Curatorial Assistant


9 thoughts on “Paper Wigs for the Fashion Timeline

  1. I never thought those beautiful period wigs were made of paper, used to think the wigs were the integral part of the mannequin. What a smart idea !

  2. These wigs are especially well done. Enjoyed hearing about the process, which naturally is more complex than at first glance: it’s sculpture. My favorite? The 1940s wig, which I imagine might be especially hard to create.

    • Hello Inrgid,
      We used a steamer to shape the caps. The moisture, in addition to the heat, helps the fibers shrink and fuse together. We covered the mannequin head with plastic wrap to protect it, then put sewn, but loose, cap on and steamed. The unheated generic can fits on different sized mannequin heads, but once steamed molds to fit the head and hardens.

    • I checked the label on the roll of paper twist and it says That is the website we ordered it from. It comes on a big spool.

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