Conservation Friendly Updos: The Art of Making Wigs

One of the real success stories from the Wedding Dresses exhibition has been the development of a series of conservation and travel friendly wigs. While the sheer volume of the dresses provided our greatest challenge, a secondary problem was that of how to mount and travel the accompanying veils, hats and head pieces which were integral to the bridal ensembles.

We felt it was vital that we should display the veils in context, and as a result, we began to explore methods of making conservation friendly wigs which would assist in the interpretation of the objects, while not being so showy as to detract from the objects.

The method devised, involved using milliners crinoline, or crin, a nylon mesh traditionally used for making hats and trims, which can be heat set into curls using a hot air gun, or stitched to create hair-like waves.

Making wigs

Making wigs

Making wigs

The above three images show the process of wig making, from skullcap base to heat set curls.

The crin was stitched onto a skullcap base which was reinforced with Rigiline strips. This strong internal support was then used to hook the wigs onto brass clips attached to the mannequin heads.

Wig for a Jaques Heim bridal gown from 1963 (T.404:1-2-2001). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Wig for a Christian Lacroix Haut Couture piece from 1993-4 (T.241:1-16-1993). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

As you can see from the images, the wigs became a vital addition to the mannequins, and the understanding of how these veils would have been worn originally.

Aside from their use for helping interpret the veils and headdresses, we soon discovered that the wigs could serve a secondary function, as the crin can so easily be stitched into.

With this in mind, we decided to stitch the majority of the veils to the wigs, and were therefore able to reduce the handling of the veils by using the wigs as both handling and the packing mounts.

Senior Exhibitions Co-ordinator Sarah Scott installing the Stephen Jones hat that accompanies Dita Von Teese’s bridal gown. © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Senior Exhibitions Co-ordinator Sarah Scott installing the Stephen Jones hat that accompanies Dita Von Teese’s bridal gown. © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

We have plenty more wigs to make before May, and we’ll make sure we update later on in the project with some other examples!

In the meantime, check out this article in the V&A Conservation journal for a bit more on wigs!

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