What you need to know before you purchase hair extensions, pieces, and wigs... adapted from Essence Magazine's special Hair Edition
For way too long you've been a spectator at the hair game. From afar you've secretly admired the instantaneous transformation of that Fly Girl who can fiercely and shamelessly rock a Cleopatra wig to club-hop, sport a Rapunzel ponytail to brunch with her girls or lengthen her hair with a few tracks for that big job interview. So maybe it's time to switch it up - but not without a little guidance. Fortunately, the art of buying hair doesn't have to be daunting. Once you're educated about the quality, textures and cost, your shopping spree can begin. Here the industry's master weavers, wig makers and hair suppliers provide smart tips on investing in hair additions.
What is hair's origin?
In a nutshell, the women of India, Russia, China and Malaysia are the source for the human hair used in America to create wigs, extensions and hairpieces. After a woman agrees to grow her hair for public consumption, it's cut and sold by a vendor or a middleman to various manufacturers to have it properly cleaned. Virgin hair is the best raw material to begin with, as it has not been enhanced by any treatments such as chemical straightening, heat styling or hair coloring. Still all human hair is not created equal. Remi hair is considered the best quality virgin hair. Although some companies make claims that they are supplying Remi quality, it's easy to tell when they aren't. According to stylist Charles Gregory Salon, who handles the coifs of Tasha Smith and Stacey Dash, virgin Remi is only available in a natural dark-brown tone. "Another dead giveaway," he says, "is that the hair will have a bit of a wave that won't be perfectly symmetrical."
How to buy packaged hair
New York city über-stylist Chuck Amos says packaged hair has come a long way. "You really don't need the hair [brokers] because the blends in packaged hair have improved tremendously," says the stylist who works with top models and is often sought after for hair ads.
1. Read labels carefully. Anything that says Remi or human hair is good. Figure out your hair texture, and begin your selection. Brazilian works great for more tightly coiled hair, while Italian is great for the girl with fine texture. To achieve curly styles try Yaki curly. To get an idea, one package of eight-inch hair will do a Rihanna-type hairstyle.
2. Join forces. There's no law that demands sticking with one hair texture. Amos suggests mixing them to achieve subtle dimensions in color and texture that were once only achievable through custom-blending.
3. Manage expectations. Prepare to change your weave every three weeks to avoid shedding, tangling and frizzing. A great economical line that is still very high in quality is Hair Factory's 'Hairfactory Collection'.
Achieving a natural look
Hadiiya Barbel, Emmy-nominated celebrity stylist and owner of Visionary Hair in New York, explains what to look for when selecting a texture:
1. Choose your style. "You may want a long, sleek look that calls for relaxed hair, or a wild 'fro that calls for kinky hair," says Barbel.
2. Match hair texture. If you're not wearing a full weave, you need to be able to blend extensions with your own hair. Opt for strands that mimic relaxed hair and are labeled "relaxed texture" because it blends naturally with your crown. If your hair isn't relaxed and you don't want to blow or flat-iron it straight, why not go for a Diana Ross circa Mahogany moment with a PURE Natural Remi curly texture from Hair Factory.
3. Shape it up. "Bottom line is that you want a hairstyle that looks good with your faceand is infused with movement," says Barbel. "For a natural look and feel, have it professionally cut and styled."
If you are looking for change without commitment, hairpieces like chignons and ponytails, as well as clip-in extensions, are a great way to pull a glamorous switch. Celebrity stylist A.J. Johnson, owner of AJE'S The Salon Inc., in Chicago, who has styled Sherri Shepherd, explains how to achieve the perfect ponytail:
1. Make the grade. With so many textures to choose from, it's easier said than done. "If you have a coarser texture of hair, whether natural or chemically treated, go for a Yaki-textured piece, as opposed to a silky fall, to look more natural," Johnson says. Our surprise find: Human Hair Clip-In Extensions (hairfactory.com), which work well for volume, a saucy fall or a ponytail for relaxed textures.
2. Connect the color. Find a shade close to your natural hair color. If it's tough time to match it, choose a slightly darker hue because hair darkens toward the ends.
3. Polished makes perfect. Johnson recommends applying a pomade like Aveda Brilliant Anti-Humectant Pomade ($19, aveda.com), and brushing it through the hair with a paddle brush to smooth and eliminate flyaways. For natural hair, Johnson "loves to see a natural wave," so the hair should be at least 20 percent wet, either with a light leave-in conditioner or water; then add a control product like Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Smooth-n-Hold Pudding ($6, local drugstores). Pull back hair into a small bun and apply piece.
There's nothing worse than a wig that looks like one - extra shiny and sitting too high on top of your head. Noted wig specialist Kym Williams, owner of Katour Line Designer Wig Collection, who hooked up coifs for Angela Bassett, shares nine tips on how to make your hair accessory look au naturel. Look at HairFactory.com for especially natural human hair wigs.
1. SELECT A STYLE that is similar to one you've worn before so that you're comfortable.
2. GO WITH A HAIR COLOR that is one shade lighter or darker than your natural hair color.
3. SELECT A HUMAN-HAIR WIG, because it looks more natural and lasts as long as 24 months with proper care.
4. THIN IT OUT. Visit a stylist familiar with wigs to shape the wig if necessary.
5. MINIMIZE THE SHINE. For a wig that looks too shiny, sprinkle a bit of talcum powder on it and then brush off excess before wearing.
6. SHIELD HAIR. Always wear a fishnet cap underneath to protect hair from the wig cap. Otherwise this could cause breakage and hair loss at the edges.
-adapted from Essence Magazine by Jenyne M. Raines