It was the hairpiece that did it: a beautiful, swishy, extra-long ponytail, colour-matched and wrapped around my own long hair, and woven into a just-messy-enough Viking-style plait by hairstylist and Vogue favourite (with an eponymous line of hair pieces himself) Luke Hersheson. Worn casually on one side, it knocked 10 – no, 20 – years off me. Everyone told me I looked fabulous, but no one could spot what was different.
Though the hair wasn’t my idea – I was writing a story for Vogue about temporary fake hair – it was as though any prior scepticism about appearing under false pretences rather than remaining virtuously natural, disappeared under an appreciation of said hair’s admittedly illusory power.
I’m not the first to fall for the allure of fake tresses – Joan Collins, Barbara Windsor and, more recently, Cheryl Cole have all attempted, often less than successfully, to pass off big bouffy styles as their own. What’s changed, really only in the past year or so thanks to new technology that makes the hairpieces lighter-than-air and deceptively natural, is the public’s attitude: instead of hiding the fake locks away like some dirty secret, they are touted with as much pride as a Céline Phantom handbag, a not-so-guilty pleasure whether in the boardroom or on the catwalks, where it would be easier to list the shows sans hairpieces than the shows with. Put simply: fake hair has become the big leveller between Planet Fashion and real life.
While Rihanna’s and Lady Gaga’s hairpieces are the most newsworthy, it’s the fake hair you don’t see that matters. “In 90 per cent of photoshoots and ad campaigns, the celebs will wear fake hair because it’s speedier and the look we’re going for can’t be done naturally on their own hair,” says Luke Hersheson. See? Celebs! They’re just like you and me!
In the workplace a hair piece (not a toupee) is a power tool, a full healthy head of hair being synonymous with youth, which in these tempestuous times equates to career longevity. Vicki Ullah has her own Wig Boudoir at Harrods’ Urban Retreat and has several clients who stock up on different wig styles for business trips abroad – it’s easier in some foreign climes to pop on a different head of hair than to find a good local blow-dry. Windle & Moodie wefts – a length of hair attached to a wire – are great to slip inbetween your own hair, and provide instant Pantene-girl volume.
Hersheson sees fake hair as a business woman’s time-saver. “A ponytail is the ultimate, contemporary hairstyle for the serious working woman,” he says.
I’m sure many serious working women would contest this, but he has a point: twist that ponytail back around on itself and by day it’s a bun, reeking of streamlined efficiency and blue sky thinking; by night, pull the pin out and swish it around and hey presto, you’ve a fashion diva ponytail.
The last time we were this upfront about it all was in wig heyday of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when wigs and hair pieces used to be creatures with minds of their own – and in some cases, even rooms of their own. Leonard of Mayfair, the 1960s hairstylist who mentored John Frieda and is famous for creating Twiggy’s career-defining bob, worked with wigs so often (the ones he created for Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon are said to have each had their own first class seats on the flight to the film set) that his four-storey salon had its very own Wig Room.
But how far can you go with a hairpiece without looking like you’ve made too much effort, and the comments become about the fake instead of your fantastic new look?
1) Be upfront by all means, but don’t shout about it.
2) When trying a new fake fringe avoid using the word “Winge,” which shows you’ve spent far too much time in the company of hairdressers. (Wig + fringe = Winge; not to be confused with “whinge” which is what you do when you forget that artificial hair can’t cope with straightening irons above 170 degrees and your treasured piece ends up a hardened wodge of plastic).
3) Unless you’re Zandra Rhodes, stick to shades close to your natural hair colour.
4) Take your falsie off at night. Caring for it properly will make it last longer and prevent it from turning into a matted bird’s nest. Bad things can happen if you forget, as the aforementioned Leonard Lewis discovered when he was called in the middle of the night by the late Tony Curtis. Apparently too much rapacious lovemaking on the part of the actor and his paramour had resulted in his toupee being rather brutally torn off. Ouch.