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Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Keira Knightley all do it. Dolly Parton has been doing it since 1973. And the esteemed hairstylist of everyone from Princess Diana to Lady Gaga told Allure in 2017, “The attitude towards extensions and wigs has completely and utterly changed. It’s as acceptable now as it was in the ‘60s…A wig or hair piece is now an accessory.”
Apparently wigs are trending, and the over 50 crowd is paying attention.
According to ReportLinker, the global wig market is expected to reach revenues of more than $10 billion by 2023, growing at an annual rate of about nine percent. The professional search engine reports that the growth is being driven not only by celebrity fashion trends, but also rising interest for hair care products among men, the rapid urbanization and higher expendable livelihoods in rising economies and increasing efforts to improve physical appearances.
In fact, Wigs.com—who tauts itself as the “Wig Experts”—say “the days of going shorter and more matronly just because you’re maturing are gone…One good rule of thumb is to pick out your favorite facial feature and find a style to highlight it. You don’t have to get an ‘old lady’ cut or length just because you are over 60. You won’t find wigs for seniors because you can choose any wig you like. I mean have you seen how amazing Raquel Welch looks in all her wigs?”
In America, the wig industry has skyrocketed thanks to high-power celebrities the likes of Cardi B, Katy Perry and the Kardashians, who are making it cool to wear wigs. These high-profile women regularly parade just about every length and color of wig available, and social media influencers and millennials across the nation then imitate their looks.
Dolly Parton was among the first to admit that her iconic do isn’t really hers at all. “I used to try to keep my own hair teased as big as I like it, and having the bleach and all of that, it just broke off,” she confessed to Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family hosts, Mark Steines and Cristina Ferrare . “I thought, ‘Why am I going through all that? Why don’t I just wear wigs? That way, I never have a bad hair day! I have a big hair day, but not a bad hair day.”
According to industry experts such as Shevy Emanuel of Shevy Wigs in New York—a worldwide supplier of high-end European human hair wigs—A-list trendsetters are not the only reason for the market boom. “At the other end of the ‘notice me’ wig spectrum, is a rapidly-growing silent population of those who don’t want it known that they’re wearing one,” Emanuel said. “Not only does this include rising numbers of people with cancer and alopecia-related hair loss, but also a new breed of wig wearers: middle-age women who want to look younger.” An Orthodox Jew, Emmannel said she’s been wearing wigs her whole adult life as part of her religious beliefs concerning covering her real hair.
Lisa Feierstein, senior trend strategist at TrendWatching's New York office said herein this wig trend lies a huge message for older women in America and across the globe. “Today, there's a lot less shame and stigma surrounding wigs, plastic surgery and other means of altering one's appearance,” she said. “As rising numbers celebrate diversity, people are feeling they can be more open with how they're changing their looks and even sharing their beauty secrets with others. This is a fundamental shift. And as a society, we're more cognizant of how different groups—including seniors—have been marginalized in the past. This is empowering those groups to speak out and express themselves freely. Lots of brands are recognizing this, when it comes to older consumers and even making them the star of their campaigns.”
Feierstein notes senior style icon Baddie Winkle, who CNN Money said in 2015 could get some “60,000 likes and thousands of dollars from one post” on social media. Born Helen Van Winkle in 1928 in Kentucky, “ the former factory-worker-turned-Instagram-star made a monumental splash on social media five years ago with the tag line "stealing your man since 1928" and ended up rivaling Gwen Stefani for her number of followers at the time.
“She completely subverts age norms; fashion and beauty brands are clamoring to collaborate with her,” Feierstein said. “So basically, there's even less reason today to not do what you want to do.”
Emanuel wants older women to embrace that kind of freedom. “Don’t be afraid of the concept of wearing wigs,” she said. “Once people try one on and feel it, it’s life-changing. People want the ease of wanting to look fantastic quickly. Women know the quality of our hair deteriorates over time. It gets rougher, dryer and broken. And with many older women whose hair is thinning and no longer looking good or damaged from color, wigs are the answer.”
And Emanuel said the wigs of today are not your mother’s wigs. She said within her own company she has developed revolutionary techniques that make her custom wigs virtually undetectable. “Hairlines are traced and replicated, textures are matched, and any shade of color is perfectly reproduced. All Shevy colors are precisely blended from their slightly darker-rooted bases to the subtle streaks and shimmering highlights that create natural dimension.”
“While the obvious benefit of a wig for older women is appearing younger, a wig can also give wearers a bold, signature style that many of their younger colleagues may also be rocking,” Feierstein said. “Wigs are a convenient means of helping women express themselves, augment their brand and distinguish themselves both personally and professionally,”
Wig makers and sellers are seeing a shift in the demographic of wig-wearers, Emanuel. With a 25-year history in the business, Shevy Wigs has recently seen an influx of female clients aged 45-plus, ranging from career women to celebrities and those in political circles.
“In the fashion and beauty industries especially, there have been a number of movements and campaigns featuring plus size models, disabled models and others existing outside of traditional, societal standards,” Feierstein said. “These campaigns have championed diversity, self-acceptance, representation in the media, as well as equal treatment for those who are often marginalized. In turn, many people are becoming more respectful and less judgmental of the diverse ways people simply are or choose to express themselves visually or otherwise. And increasingly, it doesn't matter how old you are. If you choose to wear a wig that is obviously a wig, that's ok. If you want to dye your hair pink, that's ok. If you want to cover your arms in tattoos, that's ok. Really, the vibe right now is increasingly: you do you.”
But not everyone wants the world to know they’re sporting a do that wasn’t endowed by their creator. For Emanuel’s more modest clients, their hair-covering secrets stay within the walls of her Brooklyn-based salon, she said. In fact, she explained that some of her clients’ desire for confidentiality is so strong that the salon has installed a separate room with a private entrance for them as well as for its additional growing client base requesting privacy—cancer patients, those with alopecia, transgender women and women of color looking for custom-made, natural looks.
A hairdresser and licensed cosmetologist by trade, Emanuel said her wigs are designed to be so natural and seamless, that it’s impossible to tell someone is wearing one. “So it’s understandable that many of our clients wouldn’t admit that they do – and why should they? It’s a beauty accessory like any other,” she said.
Shevy wigs start at $2,500 and can go as high as $8,000 for a made-to-measure wig—all designed in New York, hand-produced in the company’s proprietary factory in China with hair sourced exclusively from Eastern Europe, and hand-finished to specification in the Brooklyn salon. Emanuel’s 4,500 square-foot salon is equipped with hair stylists, colorists and production, finishing and maintenance specialists. It also includes a distribution center that ships its wigs to distributors and stylists globally.
Emanuel said she has watched as wig sales have increased with rising cancer rates.
“In addition to middle-age women, the biggest growth market for Shevy Wigs is made up of women suffering from cancer,” she said, pointing to the rise in cancer rates globally as a likely reason. “No matter what a woman or young girl is going through, she wants to look beautiful.”
Emanuel has worked with charities such as Lolly’s Locks (now defunct) to provide wigs for women who have lost their hair due to cancer treatments. She also now works with insurance companies to reimburse her clients for the cost of the wigs.
“We are on a mission to emphasize to insurance companies that a wig is not a luxury when a person has cancer—it’s a necessity,” she said, explaining that lightweight wigs with soft, pliable caps are key for sensitive, bald heads. “Our success rate with insurance companies to date is one hundred percent, and our clients going through cancer are able to benefit from the most natural-looking, comfortable wigs on the market, which in turn helps improve their quality of life.”
Emanuel shared the latest trends that are combing the wig industry:
· Minimalist look. A stark difference to the demand the market has seen the last couple of years for fullness, height and body, today’s trending wigs are flat and lightweight. Think Kardashian-style straight, unstyled strands, resting close to the head with a defined middle part. This includes wigs made from nets that are ultra-flat, thin, lightweight and flexible.
· Tousled elegance: For those looking for slightly more style but kept to a minimum, tousled, naturally-wavy hair is also in vogue. With a look that appears “undone,” it screams the message that you didn’t try too hard while still appearing chic.
· Soft highlights: No matter what the color, style or length of wig, highlights in pastel and gold tones or the gently-melting look of balayage, hand-painted on a slightly darker shade of hair, are super fashionable. It’s all about creating soft, subtle and natural-looking sun-kissed strands.
· Curtain bangs: Worn on the forehead or swept away from the face, stylish curtain bangs are making a comeback. Versatile and sassy, center-parted, long, wispy bangs conveniently allow for different looks depending on one’s mood, while delivering an air of sophistication.
· Handmade wigs: Custom-made options with built-in lace fronts — providing the appearance of a natural hair line — all-directional parts that mimic an actual head of hair, and ultra-comfortable, malleable, lightweight caps with single-knotted, handtied strands that give the illusion of hair growing out of the scalp, are must-haves among those who can afford it.
“All of these trends are reflective of the natural look and feel today’s consumers are after,” Emanuel said. “People have become more comfortable treating their wigs like real hair and aren’t afraid to part them any which way, braid them, put them in a ponytail or dress them up with hair accessories. Thankfully, wig construction has come such a long way that there are now many options out there that enable them to do so.”
Feierstein said she believes that even wigs for men—or any typically female-focused beauty offerings—will eventually become more accepted as well. “In fact, there are an increasing number of makeup lines designed specifically for men that are entering the market,” she said. “In China, L'Oreal partnered with Tmall to release male beauty products specifically for the Chinese market. Plus, the men's skincare market has grown by 7% in the past year. Again, this ties back to the emphasis on diversity, subverting societal norms and how society is now giving people permission to accept themselves to be and to look like whatever they want.”