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How to Style and Wear Your River Crossing Victorian Wig

Victorian, Spiral Cascade, Gibson, Saloon styles

By Miss Tabitha, SASS Regulator #26972
With special thanks to Peaches O’Day, SASS #68389
As published in The Cowboy Chronicle
Many ladies have realized no matter how diligently they work to make their Victorian outfits look authentic, they will fail to achieve the “stepped from a history book” look as long as they sport a modern hairstyle.  To help solve this problem, many of you have followed the historic practice of supplementing with hairpieces or full wigs.  This article will focus on a few simple suggestions on styling a wig.   While my instructions and illustrations will feature the wigs I sell, many of these tips can be applied to other brands. 
A Few Opening Guidelines
#1 – Don’t fear the wig!  My wigs are easy to work with, very forgiving, and will surprise you with how lovely they can look with a few pins and your own creativity.   If all your attempts fail, remember you can always bring it to a professional hairstylist for redemption.
#2 – Don’t use heat!  No matter how much they look like it, my wigs (and many others sold at SASS events) are NOT made of human hair.   If you want spiral curls, you can use a wig styling gel or mousse, sponge or stick rollers, or even just the practiced use of a wig hairbrush in the right direction with some finger teasing to get beautiful results.
#3 – Use plenty of pins, and style on a Styrofoam or wig styling head form.  If you place your wig on a substitute head, you can pin the dickens out of it without fear of penetrating your own skull. 
#4 – After styling, pin securely to your head!  There’s no graceful way for a gentleman to pick up your wig from the ballroom floor or wooden sidewalk if your hair unexpectedly leaves your head.  I will share tips on my personal pinning techniques later in this article.
Items I use: the wig (obviously), a narrow wig styling comb/pick, plenty of small bobby pins, corsage or “T” pins to secure wig to styling head, a small seamstress pin magnet to hold the bobby pins while I work, a wig styling or Styrofoam head, a clamp or stand to hold the wig head, and wig hairspray.
Styling tools for working on a Victorian wig
Styling Tools, clockwise from top left:  Styrofoam head, wig hairspray, head stand, wig styling head, magnet with bobby pins, large anchor bobby pins, corsage pins, wig pick/comb, wig brush.

Styling Tips for a “Gibson” Updo

  1. Remove packaging net from wig and shake gently.  Using styling pick, lightly and briefly fluff the wig.  Place the wig on your own head and adjust the Velcro strips on the inside to ensure a comfortable fit.  When satisfied, remove wig.
  2. Using corsage pins, secure the wig to the styling head in several places.  If using a Styrofoam head, I suggest stretching the cap slightly when pinning it to the head, since these forms are usually smaller than the average human head.  Make sure it is on straight and no curls are tucked up underneath.  Clamp the head to the table or otherwise secure.
  3. Beginning at center back on the crown, separate out a 1-2” segment of hair.  Using the pick, lightly fluff the ends, and with the comb, gently smooth the underside of the segment.
Combing a lock of hair from the underside.
Step 3.  Combing a lock of hair from the underside.
  1. Pushing the curls on top of the head out of the way with one hand, lightly and loosely fold the segment forward.  Secure with two of the small bobby pins, sliding one from the right and one from the left, so they lay parallel to each other horizontally and “lock” the hair into place (NOT criss-crossed).  Be sure to dig the pins deeply through the hair and through the cap of the wig itself.
Pinning a segment of hair forward, using two horizontally placed bobby pins.
Step 4.  Pinning a segment of hair forward, using two horizontally placed bobby pins from opposite directions.
  1. Continue this process, moving around the head, one segment at a time, pulling the loose curls up toward the crown of the head, taking special care at the temples, and being sure not to pull the segments up too tightly.  Leave several delicate strands hanging by the face if desired.  Use plenty of bobby pins.
Victorian wig styling halfway completed.
Step 5.  Wig styling halfway completed
  1. After all the segments are pinned up, fluff the curls on top of the head, and smooth the sides and back with the comb by combing upward.  Use extra pins to secure long locks if they dangle too much.  Use a light mist of wig hairspray to hold everything in place (regular hairspray can be used, but I prefer wig care products, since they are specially formulated for wig fibers).
Finished Gibson style Victorian wig.
Finished “Gibson” style.
Suggestions for Additional Styles and Tips
For a cascade style, pull up a couple of segments from the sides only and leave the back long and wavy.  For spiral cascades, pull all the segments up from the sides only, creating a “Mohawk” of the curls on top of the head and running down toward the back.  Then, using the wig brush, you can “spiral” the long curls hanging down the back by twirling the brush around the locks, after determining which direction the curls naturally want to go. 
Victorian wig spiral cascade style, front view.    Spiral cascade style, back view.
Spiral cascade style.  Pull up sides only, and then twirl wig brush around long back locks to create spiral curls.
Kitty Darling in Saloon style wig.
A high ponytail with long dangles of curls creates a Saloon style wig for Kitty Darling.
Pulling the hair up into a high ponytail and fluffing the curls will give you an easy updo, too.  I’ve seen ladies create a chignon (a bun), French twists, and many other intricate styles.  Use your imagination and get gutsy.  If you don’t like the results, you can always unpin it and start over.
Trim bangs if desired, but remember to take it easy since they won’t grow back.  Pull some of your own bangs into the blend if they match.  If your own hair is long enough and matches the color of the wig, a clever trick is to bring some of your own hair up into the wig, especially at the temples, after placing it on your head.  If you curl the long ends and pin to blend, people can be completely fooled it’s not all your own hair.
When I have little loose long bits come free (wispies), I pull them all the way down at the back and trim them with scissors to about one inch long.  With time, this creates a charming little “fringe” at the nape of the neck which helps hide the wig cap anyway.
After the styling process is completed, store the styled wig on a Styrofoam head, and use it and remove it time and time again without having to completely redo the “do.”

Pinning the Wig to your Head

  1. I highly recommend wearing a fishnet wig cap under your wig.  It keeps your own hair out of the way, keeps the wig itself cleaner, and gives you a base for pinning the wig securely to your own head.
Fishnet wig cap.
Fishnet wig cap
  1. Remove the wig from the styling or storage head.  Grasping the wig with one hand at the front and one at the back (thumbs to the inside), place the front of the wig at the natural hairline on your forehead, and gently stretch and lift the wig onto your head.
  2. Straighten the wig into proper position. Pull out any curls trapped underneath.  Don’t worry about how messy it might look at this point.
  3. Using bobby pins, slide in several around your head close to your scalp, being sure to catch both the cap of the wig itself and the fishnet wig cap.  I recommend one bobby pin at each upper “corner” of your forehead, one at each temple, and one on each side of the nape of your neck.
  4. The clincher – take two large bobby pins, the kind your mother used to use to hold in her hair rollers.  On each side of your head, up high and under the mass of curls, sink one deeply all the way to your scalp, and then fluff the hair to hide them.  These are your anchor pins, and will keep your wig on your head in spite of wind, rain, and vigorous waltzes. 
Photo showing placement of perimeter pins and anchor pins to hold your Victorian wig in place.
Steps 4 and 5.  To secure the wig to your head, the arrows show suggested placement of small bobby pins around perimeter of head and large anchor bobby pins on top of style under curls.
  1. Take the pick and lightly fluff and smooth your style.  Without much effort, it will quickly behave itself.
  2. At the end of day, remove the perimeter pins, and have hubby or a friend, if available, search for and remove the anchor pins.  Gently peel the wig off of your head and lay upside down to air overnight.

Storing and Traveling with your Wig

After airing overnight, I prefer to store my wig pinned to a Styrofoam head.  To keep the dust off and for easy transport, you can purchase one of those clear plastic containers designed for file storage.  I place a few plastic bags in the bottom and lay the head face down.  When I remove the head, it may have a rectangular shape, but this is quickly resolved with use of the pick.  Some Styrofoam heads may need 1-2” trimmed off the bottom of the neck to make everything fit more comfortably in the plastic container.
When packing for air travel, I have often packed my wigs in those plastic bags you get from shopping.  I place one puffed bag into the wig, carefully place the wig upside down into another, gently squeeze out the air and tie off the top, and tuck the whole unit in a safe corner of my suitcase.  After arrival, I place the wig on my head as usual, pin, smooth, and fluff until happy. 

Maintaining and Caring for your Wig

I suggest instead of re-styling one wig over and over, consider investing in several wigs.  I have one done up Gibson-style, one in an 1870’s cascade, and two more in different colors I wear long for cowgirl and saloon outfits.  I just grab the one I want and pop it on.
If you styled the wig on a styling head and really dug the pins deeply and securely into the cap of the wig itself, you shouldn’t have to re-do the “do” very often (barring an especially windy day or excessive twirl on the dance floor). 
If you have brushed your wig often, and the curls have relaxed, you can get back a lot of the natural permanent curl by spritzing with water and lightly “scrunching” (don’t rub) with your hands while it dries. 
Fake hair does not absorb sweat and body oils like human hair, so if you consistently wear your wig with a wig cap, go easy on the hairspray, and let it air well between wearings, you should not often have to wash the wig.  Frankly, I occasionally lightly sniff the inside of mine and wash it only when I know it needs it.  Of course, how often you wear your wigs in windy or sweaty situations will determine how often you wish to wash or re-style your wig.
If you do want to clean your wig, remove all the pins, gently brush out the snarls, and swish in cool or lukewarm water in your sink with a wig or gentle shampoo.  Again, I recommend using wig care products as they are formulated for synthetic hair over human hair.  Rinse thoroughly, and squeeze the wig gently in a towel to remove the excess water.  Do not wring, rub, or twist when wet, or you may frizz the fibers.  Let dry flat or loosely set on a Styrofoam head.  Spritzing with a little wig conditioner when damp can add shine and manageability.  Occasional “scrunching” with your hands while drying will encourage the natural curl to spring back.
There you go.  Have fun, be brave, get creative, and give it a whirl.  It’s always delightful to see a lady go from modern to Victorian in front of my eyes, and surprise her husband in the process!
© 2011 Sharon Guli of River Crossing, Inc. and The Cowboy Chronicle™
For further advice, call 970-221-4854, send an email to or visit her website at  Miss Tabitha, a.k.a. Sharon Guli, is an active shooter, clothing historian, entertainer, and vendor at major SASS events with her husband, Mad Mountain Mike, SASS Life/Regulator #4385.
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