Author Topic: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.  (Read 12213 times)

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Offline Sandra M. Lopes

  • Confused Aspiring Transgender Philosopher
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  • Confused aspiring transgender philosopher
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Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« on: August 25, 2013, 07:41:56 pm »
Hiya girls!

I know, this topic comes up every now and then. Since the last threads about wigs have not been active for over a month, and they are mostly on the transgender forums, as a crossdresser, I thought it was worth opening it up again here.

I'm looking on advice and recommendations on buying a new front lace wig. It has to be online, since local shops don't carry the kind I like (more on that later).

First of all, a bit of background, before you get bored :) or simply direct me to a few reviews elsewhere. I'm not a "newbie" in terms of buying wigs. I have gone through almost all the types sold out there: my first wig was from SuddenlyFem and looked horrible; the second one was a middle-to-low quality human hair wig (which, after 15 years, is still usable, even though I almost never wear it); yes, I've bought "China bargains" for US$1 + shipping on eBay; and I have bought several good synthetic fibre wigs at a local shop which specialises in wigs for women that lost her hair due to chemo, so I'm also fine in going to a shop, try a few out, and buy the one I like most (in fact, that particular shop is my regular hairdresser who does the maintenance of all my wigs, even the ones I have not bought them; I consider myself a "regular" there). And, yes, I also ordered last year a custom front lace wig from PinkLaceWigs which lasted me almost a year, although I'm slightly disappointed that it didn't last longer (mostly because it's a 20" long wig, which means the ends will split much quicklier).

And of course I tend to spend weeks if not months looking for reviews and recommendations everywhere. Just here on Susan's, I have looked at least at the following threads and carefully examined all suggestions on online shops mentioned in the articles there (some of the threads include links to even more threads).

https://www.susans.org/forums/index.php/topic,133734.msg1070998.html

https://www.susans.org/forums/index.php/topic,129147.msg1022517.html

https://www.susans.org/forums/index.php/topic,123805.20.html

No, I cannot claim I have read every bit of advice here, but I did make an effort! You might have noticed that most of those threads are usually on the transgender forums, where people in transition will definitely want the best wig money can buy. Well, I'm not in transition (I wish I could), but I still want the "perfect" hair — the kind that is impossible to distinguish from real hair growing from your scalp.

Before I get any replies of the type, "you should go to the site XYZ, they have lovely wigs there, I'm very happy with them" (which I naturally appreciate, of course), I would like to go a bit deeper and also provide you with some background research, so you can understand a bit better what my requirements are.

After visiting dozens and dozens of online wig shops, I can roughly divide the types in the following way:

- fantasy wigs. These are cheap, mostly made in China, and are good for either the  look or going out to a party where you want everybody to know you're wearing a wig. The fibre is of awful quality, looks all wrong and shiny, the colours are totally fake, the styles are scary, and after a few times wearing the wig, it will break apart (tangle hopelessly, shed strands, and so forth). Usually they last as long as they start needing a wash, i.e., you can wear them only a few times. The good news, of course, they're cheap and easily available everywhere, and many of us start buying those kinds, simply because we figure out that we can get away with a $10 wig which we throw away if we dislike it
- "old generation" synthetic wigs with a regular cap. Although I cannot possibly understand why, these wigs are still popularly sold. Most (not all!) crossdresser-specific sites carry those types. These days, the quality of the fibre is relatively good, they will last some 6-12 months when worn once or twice a week. The colours are a bit more natural, but usually the styles are completely out of fashion. One characteristic of these styles is that they have little volume (I have read that the "old" style of wig construction limited the amount of volume — i.e. hair density — one could put on them) and the caps, even if correctly sized, might not be very good. Sometimes, the manufacturer compensates the lack of volume by creating a style with more curl to visually look "fuller", but, of course, there are limits to this approach. You get these kinds of wigs for $30-140, and sometimes even with cheap human hair (with the same problems). Interestingly enough, there are still a lot of top brand names using this kind of wig construction, which will obviously be more expensive, but you don't get much better quality than with a "no-name" brand. An universal characteristic of this kind of wigs is that they will always look fake — it's not the fault of the wig manufacturer, it's simply the way the old caps were designed. You can sometimes "pass" if you get a style that hides the hairline (like having bangs, for instance).
- "new generation" wigs with "standard" caps. I have noticed that there has been a lot of improvement in the way caps have been designed in the past 15 years. The newer generation of synthetic wigs has better fibres, some of which already allowing a bit of heat to be applied to them; and, of course, you can also get them in the many types of human hair. Monofilament wigs become more standard these days, and the styles are more natural and modern, and they also hide the "wigness" much better. These are the kinds of wigs you expect to buy with a moderate quality; they might still be cheap in some cases (like, say, $50) but brand names can price them around $200 or more — the quality might be the same, but you might get more options in cap sizes and/or more modern-looking styles
- Lace wigs. Once you've bought one, you'll never turn back to "standard" wigs again. Describing the experience of a lace wig (and I've only used front lace wigs; I have no experience with full lace wigs) to someone who never wore one is like describing the experience of driving a sports car with manual gears to someone who only drove family cars in their lives. It's so different that they shouldn't even be called "wigs". First of all, a good front lace wig will be completely undetectable as a "wig" — specially if the bit covering the hairline is taped (easier to apply and remove) or glued (for long-time wear). The "lace", for the benefit of someone who never heard about them, is a very fine material (way less than a millimetre), perfurated with tiny holes, where the hair strands are individually tied. When applied to the scalp, it looks exactly like hair is growing out of there (the lace can be transparent or have the colour of your scalp — from white to brown — to make the illusion perfect). This means that in most cases you can have people looking at your hairline from a hand breath away and never notice that it's a wig. Front lace wigs just have lace in the front and a cap on the rest, but there are tons of different cap designs (one manufacturer listed nine different types!). Full lace wigs have lace all the way. Lace is a very thin and fragile material, so full lace wigs are often applied by professionals; the lace has to be trimmed for your head shaped when applied the first time, and needs to be taped/glued all around. The major advantage is that it's not so hot as a wig with a full/partial cap and that you can style it in many different ways (just like natural hair), even updos and realistic-looking ponytails. Front lace wigs might work with a ponytail, but, remember, most of the front lace wig uses a cap which limits some of the more complex hairstyles. Lace wigs can be usually parted anywhere and still look great, since nobody will see the cap (just the lace... which will be invisible), and, as such, they have far more potential of styling while still looking great. And, last but not least, with lace wigs you get different hair densities — furthering the illusion; they also have far more volume "in the right places" which allows them to look much more natural — and almost all come with "baby hair" either all around the cap or at the front. Just like normal hair. In the past few years, lace wigs also have different ways of having the hair strands knotted to the lace to look more realistic, and the knots are often bleached so that they blend even better and become completely unnoticeable. Technology is wonderful! Front lace wigs usually start at $150, full lace wigs can cost twice that, and double the price again for human hair.
- Latest-generation wigs. Some manufacturers call them U-part or something similar. These are modified versions of the lace wig, where part of your natural hair is allowed to "blend" with the wig's hair, which means that it will be very hard to know which is which! Think hair extensions without the complexity of the techniques needed to correctly apply them (which is usually done at the salon). They're even more flexible than "regular" lace wigs because you can go completely wild on the styles, by using your own hair to "mix" with the wig's hair. Of course, the drawback for a crossdresser is that you have either to pick a colour very close to your own hair, or be bold and dye your natural hair to match the wig's; also, if you're a male with alopecia, at some point you simply will not have enough hair to "mix" with. Nevertheless, there is enough variety on these latest-generation wigs (namely, on the spots where the natural hair "comes through" — each manufacturer offers different places for that) that certain styles might still be feasible even if you're balding, but if you're (mostly) bald or have your scalp shaven clean, these wigs might not be for you. The price range is similar to "traditional" lace wigs.

Ok, so this is a rough classification on the types which are available. Now for how to get them!

Based on my careful evaluation of many, many online shops, I think I have spotted at least the following kinds of shops:

- First, you have "general-purpose" shops for crossdressers (and sometimes not only for CDs) which carry wigs. In most cases they carry "old" wigs with the old cap construction; sometimes with human hair, often with relatively good synthetic fibre. Since they have built a reputation on being discreet when shipping to CDs, they still get a lot of customers, even if the quality and/or technological generation of the wig is not so good. I've also found that the styles are often outdated; why, I have no idea, unless that's something that these shops expect: there are a lot of CDs who prefer outdated styles, or, well, being new at CDing, are happy with pretty much everything they get. Most of those shops simply pick a Chinese manufacturer, select among them the ones with a certain degree of quality, and tend to overprice the wigs, while giving little choice in colours (and none in cap style and other technicalities which I will address below); sometimes, the wigs are rebranded with the name of the CD shop; other shops simply offer "no-name" brands. The quality might not be awful, but for the same price one can get much better wigs elsewhere.
- You might also have real brick-and-mortar shops with an online presence. This is the kind of shop I've alluded before and where I'm a regular customer. What these people do is to select three or four brands for their offerings (yes, I spent some time with my hairdresser asking those questions!). One might be low-end and cheap, but still look good. One might be a brand with front/full lace, which will be more expensive. And there might be a high-end solution with high-quality hair, synthetic or natural. The brick-and-mortar shops will be always replenishing their inventory, which means that you might have, say, a hundred styles available, but each with a single colour and/or cap size, and it's more a matter of trying out what you like. It's very likely — unless it's a HUGE shop! — that you cannot point a finger to a style you like and ask, "I want that in blonde — and with front lace instead of full lace". Of course they might be able to backorder it for you. But, in general, these kinds of shops are good for "opportunities" or general sales — if they cannot sell a style for some months, you might get a wig of reasonable quality for a much lower price. Also, it's frequent that these shops will only carry brand names (Revlon, Look of Love, Rachel Welch, etc.) and you'll be limited to the brand's choices
- Brands. These sometimes sell directly, sometimes they sell through retailers (a bit more about retailers below). The major advantage I see in buying a brand is not the quality, but the style: the wigs have been designed by professionals and will usually be very modern, contemporary styles. Since they have a reputation to build, the quality is reasonably good overall (well, I'm reporting a brand I've bought several times from, Look of Love). However, they might not be at the latest generation in wig manufacturing technology; while nowadays all brands also carry lace wigs, this is a recent development, for example. Cap construction ranges from traditional, old-style caps, to advanced designs which might even be patented (so you have both ends of the spectrum here!). The main disadvantage for me is not necessarily the price (in some cases, they might not be that much expensive than no-name brands, and there are always bargains/sales), but the amount of choices — most brands deal with smaller cap sizes and long hair (which I adore) is usually rarely offered. Also, most styles are not available in all colours, but just on a selection of colours which the original designer thinks it's "best" for a particular style (e.g. if you're after an Afro look, you won't get it in auburn or platinum blonde!). Short styles are far more popular with brands than long ones.
- Retailers, super-shops, wig megastores. These are the ones offering the widest possible range of styles, options, and prices. Websites like http://Wigs.com, http://WigsBuy.com, http://LaceWigsBuy.com (notice the trend in picking names?), http://www.wilshirewigs.com, etc. work like this: they get in touch with a huge amount of brands and independent manufacturers and carry lots and lots of inventory, with all possible styles and colours... and price ranges. As they have to move some space out of their warehouses, they might announce a lot of sales/bargains. Then they order lots more. Lots! Did I mention lots? Ok, so what's the major disadvantage with those megastores? You might have some limitations on a specific style, because the retail shop will only carry what the brand/manufacturer sends them — i.e. if style X only has 3 colours and 2 cap sizes, that's all you get; if you wish a different colour, you might have to pick style Y instead — for a different price. Also, if you love a specific style, then wish to buy the same style again a year later, you might be out of luck and pick something close, but not quite like the one you bought. These super-shops will usually ship faster and have good technical support, as their business is mostly "box moving" — they add little or no value besides aggregating a lot of different wigs and ship them to you efficiently. So if someone says, "I've bought a wig from Wigs.com and loved it", this is not saying much. What brand? What style? What type? Someone encouraged by a successful story might have a totally different experience, because they've ordered a different brand and style from the same retailer — and, obviously, the retailer is not to blame. It's like buying things at the supermarket: you can only rate the shopping experience but not the product based on the supermarket (because the products are not manufactured by the supermarket itself). So, if all you worry about is the shopping experience, but care little about the quality of the product, then going for a wig megastore is probably your best choice (and, believe me, after going through the horrors of small online shops, the megastores are a blessing!)
- Manufacturers. Now these are the most interesting online shops, but also the ones where I'd certainly ask for more advice. Basically, these are a combination of factory/manufacturing plant, (physical) shop, and online shop. Somewhere — usually in the USA, but it's not always easy to find the exact location — wigs are manufactured industrially. The physical shop or shops act as a brick & mortar storefront, where popular models are shown and can be tried on or even restyled on location. The interesting aspect of these manufacturers is that almost all take online custom orders: you can change pretty much whatever you wish — from hair length and colour, to basic style, to cap construction and size — and personalise everything to your taste. The order is sent to the manufacturing plant and after some 6-8 weeks it gets delivered to you. If you prefer to look for bargains/sales/special discounts, these are always available on the website (probably because the company is refurbishing their physical shop, changing the displays, and, as such, have lots of wigs to quickly sell very cheaply — but, of course, you don't get many choices, just the ones that have on display). Manufacturers rarely, if ever, sell to megastores; this means that they just sell through their physical and online shops. But — and this is the interesting bit! — often they supply the brands (because brands usually don't have their own manufacturing plants). What this means is that brands select a manufacturer for the quality they wish to achieve, send them the styles created by their designers, order their own selection, and let the manufacturer add the proper label and packaging and send them to the brands (or possibly directly to the megastores). So if you particularly like a certain wig brand (i.e. you like the style, the fibre, the cap construction, the lace quality), and know which manufacturer they use, then you can order a similar style directly from the manufacturer, but add some customisation that way. Note that manufacturers will usually allow that you send them some pictures of the style you wish, but they will never exactly duplicate a style (for copyright reasons); but you can get something similar and let your hairdresser trim and style it according to your wishes. I have, so far, found a few of those manufacturers: http://PinkLaceWigs.com, http://RPGshow.com, http://SassySecret.com; then you have manufacturers without pricing information, as they deal with retailers exclusively: http://www.highdefinitionhair.com (no online sales, no pricing information), http://www.westbayinc.com (no sales to the general public, no pricing information), http://www.wigamerica.com (they have pointers to some online retailers, but their wigs look rather old technology). There must be more available! A possible list of all wig manufacturers in the USA: http://www.manta.com/mb_35_E73E705R_000/wigs_including_doll_wigs_toupees_or_wiglets
- And finally, there are the wig manufacturers at the top of the pyramid — the best of the best, the cream of the cream, the haute couture of wig making. They stand alone by creating unique masterpieces, tailored to a single customer, using only the best kind of hair fibre there is (this usually means European hair, which is incredibly expensive). They're the equivalent of fashion designers in the wig industry, and each wig costs as much to produce as a large car or a small house; you can get an idea of the prices looking at one of them: http://www.mandeville-wigs.co.uk/ Needless to say, these wigs are perfect; but their prices are outside of all reasonable ranges, and, of course, it means going to their physical location to do all the fittings (sometimes this even requires taking a cast of your head, and lots of adjustments). These are the kinds of wigs worn by superstars, which will last perhaps 6 months to a year with constant wear (24/7).

And of course I haven't mentioned the different types of synthetic fibre and of human hair. I'm afraid I haven't got enough wigs made from different fibres to be able to tell the difference; also, in the not-so-recent-past, wig manufacturers would not even tell what kind of fibre they used — all I can say is that my newest synthetic fibre wigs are much more realistic, more silky, less "shiny" (some shine is good, so long as it's not a "plastic" shine but an "organic" one), weigh much less, and imitate human hair to perfection, while old wigs and very-low-quality fibres look way too artificial. I have no idea what is the latest trend in fibres; all I know that heat-resistent fibres (like Japanese Kanekalon) are considered the latest generation (because, well, you can use irons on them to a degree), but I have no idea if they look even more realistic than previous-generation fibres (which look and feel amazing, to be honest).

As for human hair... the variety is overwhelming. Long gone are the days when the only option was "Indian" (cheap and easily available) and "European" (too expensive for casual users like crossdressers). Nowadays, there is human hair from India, China, Mongolia, Malaysia, Brazil, Russia... and European. Indian hair is still the most popular; Chinese hair is a more heavy and might last longer. Then the hair can be processed in several different ways: you can get 100% virgin hair from a single donor, which means the hair comes in the original colour, is unprocessed, and you can dye it as you wish (and it will also last longer). Then you have "cuticle hair" (also sometimes called Remy or Remi hair) where the cuticle is kept on the hair fibres. The cuticle is a natural layer which gives the hair some protection, but it also has infinitesimal "hooks" which run just in one direction (if you run your fingers through your hair from the scalp towards the ends, it will be silky to the touch; if you do the reverse movement, it will not feel so silky. Why? Because you're brushing your fingers against those tiny hooks). This will lead to more tangling, so some hair is processed to remove the cuticle for extra silkiness — at the cost of making the wig last less time. You can also get different hair density and hair texture: silky, kinky, light yaki and fine yaki. And finally the hair can also be straight, curly or wavy. Synthetic hair has a few less options, and it has "memory": this means that synthetic wavy hair will always remain wavy and keep the overall style, even after washing, drying and brushing; while human hair, if if hasn't got a "natural" wave/curl, will lose the style (just like your real hair), but the advantage is that, unlike synthetic fibre (with the exception of Kanekalon), you can use irons to curl or straighten it again.

Confused? No wonder. I'm confused too!

Two decades ago, human hair was easier to buy — you just told the overall length you wished and the choice of hair (Indian, Chinese, European if you could afford it...). The hair would have little or no processing; it would be up to you do dye and style it as you wished. Next came pre-dyed hair, which made sense, since you can use industrial processes to make sure that the base colour will not wash away, ever. You still had to get it to a hairdresser to cut and style it, and add curls/waves as you preferred. Nowadays, you have far, far more options, and it can become hopelessly complicated!

I won't even go into the details of cap construction. Very early wig caps were just something you placed on top of your head and hoped it would fit. Adjustable straps were a novelty which made things somewhat easier. Then came different cap sizes — one website I found said that 94% of all wigs sold in the world use a "medium" cap size (basically, one-size-fits-none...). Then you started to get combs or clips into the caps, to make the wig more secure, a technique borrowed from clip-on hair extensions. Nowadays, wigs come with at least two combs/clips over the temples, but sometimes more; five or six are not unusual! (Two at the temples, two at the back, one in front — that's standard for a front lace wig, where the "front" comb/clip is just behind the lace line) If you get a cap without clips, that's ok, they're easy to sew in, and believe me, they are really useful. However, this is not the end of cap construction — as mentioned before, some caps are even patented, as they become more and more complex in design, although, surprisingly, the more complex the design, the better they will fit, and usually the easier they are to use. A recent novelty is the "glueless" cap for full lace wigs, which basically uses combs and adjustable straps to fit a full lace wig without the need of taping/gluing, and provides the same security as a "normal" (i.e. non-lace) wig and is as easy to wear as a regular wig (while front/full lace wigs take a little longer to wear as you need to at least tape/glue them in the front).

So, whew. If you managed to read up this far, you can see how confusing this can get! And you might not wonder any more why I nowadays take several weeks to figure out what to buy. But more important than the "what" is the "where" — because, sadly, when buying online it's almost impossible to have an idea on how the final result will look like, and there is a huge amount of trial-and-error involved. The problem here is that you're buying an expensive item: a custom-built wig, which will look just like what you want — at least on the website! — can cost from $160 (synthetic) to $500 (human hair, full lace), depending on the website, and that's a lot of money to spend for something that might not look as good as you think it does. Or, well, it might look good for a few months and then the wig will be ruined, no matter how much maintenance you do to it.

That's why I'm trying to get some more feedback!

Now, from my review, you might have noticed that I'm biased :) I have already decided that I want another lace wig, and, very likely, I will wish to do a custom order, because it's unlikely that I'll find exactly the style and colour I like. I'm still undecided between front or full lace. So far, I've got two front lace wigs, and they're both amazing (one is sadly too short for my tastes, and the other is ending its lifetime). Some front lace wig manufacturers make good, ventilated caps on the non-lacey part, but others don't — which might be too hot for wearing. Also, I have not made a final decision on synthetic hair versus human hair: the best synthetic fibres are almost as expensive as the lower end of Remy human hair. This might be surprising, but it shouldn't be: good synthetic fibre lasts at least as long as most human hair, they won't lose the style (a bonus!), and have less maintenance (another bonus!), so there is a good market for good quality synthetic wigs. In my case, I like my hair either straight or a slight wave (because my natural hair is like that!), having passed through nightmares with very curly blonde hair, so I will give those a miss — which also means that naturally wavy human hair is well within my abilities to maintain (no, I don't know how to use curling irons!).

You might also see my bias towards buying from a manufacturer. That doesn't always mean "the best price"; brands, for instance, buy wholesale in large quantities, and that often means a lower price-per-unit, which, even though the brand will add to the cost (they have to pay their designers and for the marketing!), the price is not overwhelmingly higher — which is even more true for custom orders, as basically one is demanding that the whole manufacturing process is limited to a single wig, which comes at a quite higher price tag! What I'm saying is that I'm fine in buying from a brand, so long as they have the exact style, texture, and hair colour that I wish, because even if it's more expensive than a "no-brand" wig bought from a megastore or a retailer, it will be almost the same price as a custom order from a manufacturer. The advantage of the manufacturer is having a much wider range of choices, although, if you go through the links I gave earlier, you will see that the choices are not always the same.

Taking all that into account, I'm looking for experiences, feedback, and commentaries on who has bought a front/full lace wig recently, and what pitfalls you have encountered. I'm particularly interested in people who have bought many different wigs from different suppliers and can give a reasonable comparison between them.

To get the ball rolling, let me give you my own experience with PinkLaceWigs. I'm Caucasian (no, in spite of my name, I don't classify as a "Latina" as so often people think, based on my name; half my genes are German and the rest is a huge mix :) which gives me a relatively fair complexion; my scalp is white) and you'll see that almost all these sites are targeted towards Afro-Americans and sometimes darker-skinned Latinas. What this means is mostly that the best bargains are for colours best matching a darker skin tone, and, most important, the lace is usually in medium to dark brown — while I require transparent lace and a slightly different colour/texture scheme to make the hair look a bit more realistic. That was the major reason for going with a custom order — usually, those manufacturers will stock wigs for Afro-Americans and the best bargains have them in mind.

So, after browsing for the available choices back in June 2012, I went for a custom order. Back then, I opted for a relatively long, straight, silky style, using synthetic fibre for a front lace wig. PinkLaceWigs allow you to upload pictures and descriptions of what you have in mind, and I actually provided a 6-page PDF with a 3D model of the hair style I wanted (hooray for Second Life® and its myriad hair styles to personalise your avatar :) ), as well as many pictures with examples. I even added a texture with the exact colour I wished and what I thought would be the required colour combination (manufacturers often allow highlights, colour blending, and so forth). However, PinkLaceWigs have a plethora of choices, and it meant asking questions...

Now, at my place, I cannot do phone calls, so that meant using their online chat service. Unfortunately, PLW does not have that service working every day. I would have to try dozens of times per day until I got someone to answer my requests — and that meant, at best, getting hold of someone once or twice per week at best. Figuring out all the options took a long, long time. I think I only managed to place my order in August (!) because it took so long to get them to answer my endless questions.

Things didn't get better with the ordering process. I applied for a rush job, because I had a planned event in October which I wanted to attend with my new wig. However, somehow, the order was "lost". Well, not quite: they could track it down to the manufacturing plant, but didn't manage to get any feedback from them. This took weeks and weeks, and, as I was restricted to online chat, this meant waiting day after day to get hold of someone to answer me. At the end, by Halloween, someone apologised for having "lost" the order, and since they had so many rush orders for Halloween, they couldn't manufacture my custom order before that. Bummer! I asked them for a refund on the "rush order" after some 8 weeks had elapsed, which they immediately agreed to — but never actually refunded it. After a couple of more weeks, I agreed to exchange the refund for some extra tapes and some jewelry, and, although they were fine with it, they never shipped them — I just got a "free gift" (which everybody got who ordered at that time), some extra-strong tape (which is really great!).

The wig was only shipped in November, I think. They only offer USPS, which means going through the mess at customs and paying all taxes — when having the option, I usually go for DHL or UPS, because they have special clearance through customs, and everything goes smoothly that way. Yes, it's more expensive, and it gets delivered merely a few days earlier than USPS, but the biggest advantage is not having to worry about customs. With all that, my $169 wig ended up costing $200 or so, and was only delivered by the beginning of December (my first CD session was on December 6th) — so, half a year after I had visited PinkLaceWigs for the first time!

As for the wig, I can say that the hair colour was an almost exact match of what I had in mind, which was a plus. The synthetic fibre is ultra-realistic, and remained in pristine condition for about 6 months, then quickly degraded at the ends — because this is a relatively long wig, it's to be expected that the ends split much sooner. It almost doesn't shed any hair, compared to my other wigs, although when it does, it's usually from the top (where it's more visible). Interestingly enough, although this is a synthetic fibre which should hold the style well, I tend to part it the same way over and over again, and, like real hair, it tends to remain parted that way — which, for me, was another plus! Washing it and using conditioner works very, very well, and it's probably the wig I own that responds best to conditioner — it becomes silky like real hair (another plus), and stays that way for 2-3 sessions. Heavy brushing also doesn't shed much — a video from PLW shows how the wig is "pre-brushed" with extreme violence using a metal brush to make sure that the resulting wig will not be easily shedding hair, and this is certainly the case. It also has all the volume and density I wished for, and no other wig I own comes close, except perhaps for my ancient human hair wig (which weights a ton!). It's not too hot — I feared I wouldn't be able to wear it during the summer, but, fortunately, it's more ventilated than I thought it would be. The baby hair is fantastically realistic, and although I was a bit afraid to get it all stuck to the tape due to the lack of experience with front lace wigs, the truth is that it was far easier to apply than I thought, even on the first day I tried it on. The cap construction, however, leaves something to be desired: one of the strap guides was torn out after a few months, and the wig features 5 combs, one of which is almost loose now — I personally prefer clips to combs, because they give you a much higher sense of security. However, the cap doesn't fit as well as it should, since I gave them precise measurements: I guess they just sent me a standard cap. The lace is French (stronger but coarser than Swiss lace) and is still in pristine condition — no wear or tear. One disappointment is that I had specified the style in some detail, requiring a few layers, and gave a lot of pictures and examples of what I had in mind, but the wig was actually shipped unstyled — just long hair, and that's it (I subsequently brought it to my hairdresser to do some styling, she did a reasonable work within minutes). So, overall, I'm happy with my purchase, but the wig lasted for much less time than I expected: after just half a year, it definitely needs to be cut several inches to get rid of the split ends. All my previous wigs have lasted well over a year, two years being the norm (depending on usage), which means that either I have to go for shorter styles, or perhaps the synthetic fibre is not so good as I thought it would be.

So will I shop with them again? Depends. I might have been extremely unlucky with my order, but I expected that when they claim to ship a custom order after 6-8 weeks, that's what happens. Instead, they took twice that time, and I'm not counting the two months wasted in discussing details and asking for help with the many options. Of course now I know what to order — if I go for the same style, texture, construction details, etc. — but I still think they might take a lot of time to deliver. A non-custom order from competitors can take as little as just one day to get shipped, and that means having the wig at home after two weeks, even taking customs into consideration. Also, I suspect that their synthetic fibre is not that high quality as it looked — or perhaps I did something wrong with the wig — so I might also have some suspicions about their human hair solutions.

In conclusion, I'm willing to try another supplier, but if I only get horror stories from anyone having tried the other websites, I might consider to contact PLW again, and hope for the best. I'll also get a discount: almost all these manufacturer websites give you discounts on subsequent purchases.

Now it's your turn — what have been your experiences when ordering online, and what would you recommend, taking my requirements into account?

Thanks so much for your feedback :) (and the patience to read this until the end!!)
« Last Edit: August 25, 2013, 07:50:00 pm by Devlyn Marie »
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Offline Sandra M. Lopes

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Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2013, 06:11:01 pm »
I guess this post was too long!

The TL;DR version:

I'm looking for a manufacturer (not reseller/retailer/wholesale supplier) of lace wigs (front or full, synthetic or human hair) which has an online presence. Who would you recommend, based on past shopping experience?

You really have to read the whole post to understand what I mean with "manufacturer" as opposed to "reseller/retailer" etc. Sorry!
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Ms. OBrien

Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2013, 11:10:08 pm »
Try Hair Direct.  I did use them before I grew mine out.

Offline Sandra M. Lopes

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Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2013, 03:26:54 am »
Thanks so much, Ms. OBrien! Hair Direct looks pretty much the kind of manufacturer that I was looking for. Prices are a little above average, but they seem to use the latest technologies, and their flexibility in picking styles is unbeatable! I have now many hours ahead of me trying to figure out how to choose the style I wish, lol. Your tip was really useful.

Since I wrote my original post, I found out that RPGshow, which has some good reviews from the community, bills their clients as a company out of Hong Kong. Now, as I said before, I'm generally not "against" buying things from China, but it now looks as if "RPGshow" is just a convenient façade for the English-speaking world in the West (a popular approach used by hundreds of thousands of Chinese companies eager to sell to us Westerners), and not a US-based manufacturer at all. While their prices are average, and the choices quite good, this would also explain why they do not advertise their "manufacturing facilities" (unlike, say, PinkLaceWigs) and why their shipping time takes so long.
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Offline Lyric

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Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2013, 03:04:33 pm »
I guess this post was too long!

I think that may be the longest post I've ever seen on Susan's. You must have had too much coffee and stayed up all night. I've found the best advice on wig buying comes from women who wear them because of hair loss. I've found some great tips on wigs and pieces at a forum for alpecia sufferers, for instance (http://www.heralopecia.com/interact/forumdisplay.php/56-Wigs-Extensions-Toppers-amp-Hair-Systems). While I tend to believe the best looking wigs tend to be lace front European remy hair, I've seen very good results with some of the most economical brand name wigs. Choosing and preparing the right wig for the wearer seems to be very important. That's why you can't make blanket statements about one type being a lot better than another, I think.

The ladies at the alpecia forum tend to prefer the smaller wig makers that don't have much "web presence". Indeed, if wearing a wig is something you intend to do all day everyday for the rest of your life I suppose you seek out the best.
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Offline Sandra M. Lopes

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Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2013, 06:23:39 pm »
That was great advice, Lyric, thank you so much! I've browsed through that forum, and, through them, found another one: http://thelacewigconnection.ning.com/

You're right, there is a wealth of information there — I believe I have now plenty to read and learn before I commit myself to a vendor!
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Offline Lyric

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Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2013, 08:50:02 am »
Youtube has tons of worthwhile info on wigs that can be found with a little searching. Here's a couple of excellent video posters I've learned some things from. Stacey used to have a whole lot more videos, but took most down for some reason.

http://www.youtube.com/user/my0little0secret/videos

http://vimeo.com/reallifewigscom
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Offline Sandra M. Lopes

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Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2013, 07:23:55 am »
Ms. OBrien, I've been looking at Hair Direct over and over again, and it really looks that, for an online wig manufacturing shop (they call their units "hair systems" because they're supposed to be hair replacement units, not really "wigs for going out and have some fun"), they have the most professional-looking system, at least from what I can see online.

Unfortunately they're also relatively expensive. For the kind of style I like to wear, a wig from Hair Direct would cost around $1000, and that's without the duty fees at customs (usually another 30% on top of that). They also require you to buy a "wig fitting kit" first before ordering.

Now, for a high-quality human hair wig, this is very likely the "right" price. My own hairdresser sells both factory-made wigs (ranging from $160-250 or so) and, of course, tailor-made human hair systems, which are custom-fit (may I even say "custom-built"?) at the location. These cost about the same as Hair Direct. The difference, obviously, is in the details — the source of human hair used, the cap construction, and so forth. The advantage of doing it at a salon is that the custom fit is naturally done by a professional, and you get it styled exactly as you wish; the disadvantage is that you're limited to the salon's choice of hair & cap brands, which might not be the "best", but merely the ones they have from their suppliers.

Although Hair Direct seems to be extremely friendly and helpful with refunds, replacements, and so forth, there is always the issue that the hair might never look "just right", and for $1000, I obviously expect "perfection". With a $250 wig, I'm fine if the style is not exactly right, because for $15 or so, I can get my hairdresser to restyle it according to my wishes. Obviously I can also buy a $1000 wig and restyle it locally. But in that case it seems to be better to order the hair separately and let the hairdresser do her magic; for that price, you can get unstyled human hair wigs from, say, JC Hair (cheaper for me, since I'm in Europe and I would pay no duty fees at customs). At similar online shops you get few options: usually just the hair type and length, sometimes the colour, and then you let your stylist do the rest of the work (colour it, style it, trim it, and so forth).

So, I'm as yet undecided!
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Offline Sandra M. Lopes

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My final option: orderwigsonline.com
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2013, 07:39:16 pm »
Well, after pestering the community for so long with my questions, I ought to write about my final decision and why.

Please don't read this as "advertising". I understand that linking to sites providing products and services is frowned upon in this forum, and I certainly don't wish to look like I'm somehow endorsing a product — but just merely giving a personal opinion of a choice I've made.

As you can perhaps see from my earlier posts, my goal was to find a direct manufacturer of wigs — going to the source, so to speak — not only because of the pricing issues, but mostly because many manufacturers accept custom orders with just a small surcharge. And in my case, I'm fine with that surcharge, assuming I get exactly what I want (if not, it was a waste of time and money).

Also, in my case, I can rely on a local hairdresser to style the wig. So it doesn't need to be "perfect", because my hairdresser can trim it or change it to better fit my face, desired look, and so on. Many crossdressers might not be so willing to do all that, so, in that case, I'd suggest them to opt for a synthetic wig from a well-known brand (because they will have professional stylists doing the design, and the overall look will be modern and mainstream — and not look like a certain horror movie of the 1980s!).

Tracking down manufacturers is not easy! Many of the ones posing as manufacturers have actually overseas facilities in China, where the wigs actually get produced. So, after searching and searching and searching, it looked like there was no option but to order from a Chinese manufacturer. Note that I have nothing against them; my previous wig was also bought from China.

I could have opted for the same supplier (PinkLaceWigs), of course, but I didn't. Instead, I went for OrderWigsOnline. Why? Well, OrderWigsOnline claim to have 100% Remy human hair in full lace for about the same price that other manufacturers sell synthetic fibre with front lace. That was what caught my attention.

One ought to be wary of such prices, right? Right!

So I checked them out. First of all, they have a friendly attitude, and even if their website doesn't have the best-spelt English I've read, it looks like whoever is in charge of it is trying to do the best they can. One thing that comes up immediately are the reviews — they encourage their happy customers to send pictures of them wearing the wigs they just bought. Why is this important? Even though it's obvious that they will only pick the best reviews, at least you can see how the wigs look like on the head of a real person in subpar lighting conditions — not on how they look on a model in a studio. That makes a whole lot of a difference!

Secondly, I've noticed that OrderWigsOnline actually feature a glueless cap — which they call it "RPG glueless cap" and warn you that they have a link to RPGshow, a popular supplier of human hair wigs with excellent reviews. This made me raise an eyebrow. Even though the Chinese are often not so strict with licensing, copyrights, and patents, it sounds a bit strange that you'd be calling your own product by the name of a competitor and link to them instead!

Unless... you're the manufacturer for the other brand.

And this seems to be the case. You can check the colour numbers and cap constructions. They not only are the same, and similarly named as RPGshow, but they also look suspiciously like the codes from my former supplier, PinkLaceWigs!

Digging deeper, this should not be a real surprise. They have an area where they clearly invite other companies to act as online storefronts for them. This is something quite logical: OrderWigsOnline, or the company behind them, are good at one thing: manufacturing wigs. Others are good at establishing online presences, doing SEO, doing the social bits, creating promotions and so forth, engaging the community, presenting a business in their own country, and so forth. OrderWigsOnline just handles the manufacturing and shipping on their behalf. That's quite clever of them!...

So, you know. If you wish to have your own wig shop online, and make some money, and establish a reputation in your own country, the answer is simple — create your online presence and become a partner of OrderWigsOnline (in fact, I'm tempted to convince my own hairdresser to do just that... she runs a salon for children with alopecia or women who underwent cancer treatments and lost their hair. Selling wigs to the TG/CD community is just a side-business for them, and they know they need to deal with lowering prices and Internet competition).

All the above persuaded to give them a try. Even though I frowned upon a warning somewhere on their site where they said that they would ship to the US with a label saying "synthetic fibre hair" because of increased customs on human hair. This is highly suspect! But still, their prices for alleged full lace human hair wigs are lower than what most sites charge for synthetic front lace wigs, so I was still willing to give them a try.

My first impression with the online communication was terrific. I had suffered a lot when ordering from PinkLaceWigs, because they took eternities to answer. OrderWigsOnline answers quite quickly, and they ask you to confirm your order... which was actually crucial in my case, because my measurements for the cap were quite wrong, and I wanted a lot of volume on the wig, so they suggested — after the order was placed! — to increase the hair density from 100% to 130%. And boy, was I glad that I accepted their suggestion!

Delivery wasn't fast... it was blindingly fast. Remember, this was a custom order. The whole manufacturing process took merely three weeks (they have a slight bug on their website which lists the order as "pending" instead of saying "in production" or something similar; but they are quite open to admit that). And shipping was amazing — it took merely four days, from a remote city in China to Portugal, going through almost a dozen airport hubs (!!!), and arriving a few hours before the estimated delivery time. All that for very reasonable shipping rates and without going through customs. Wow!

I was expecting the wig to arrive by Christmas or later, but no!

Ok, when I got the wig, I frowned again. It's true it says "human hair wig" all over the place, but when seeing the instructions, it says to be careful about applying heat. Now this is, again, very suspect, because human hair handles heat well.

When getting the wig out of the package, I felt a pang of disappointment — it was too short! And even in spite of the order for more hair density and volume, this seemed to be one of those very thin wigs that will look like you are suffering from terminal hair loss! Agggh I could have killed myself... until I tried the wig on.

What happens is that the vacuum packaging sort of made the wig look much smaller and less dense than it actually was! And the hair fibres are incredibly thin and light — in fact, my natural hair is also thin and light, and I could almost swear that this wig was even thinner and lighter. Amazing! The hair stretches also a bit when pulled, and I was a bit confused about what kind of fibre this is. No other wig I've owned — and I still have a very old low-quality human hair wig, bought 15 years ago — has this kind of hair. It seemed amazingly realistic, and definitely much less shiny than most wigs I have, even though there is definitely a bit of shine there. The wig came pretty much unstyled (my choice) and with gorgeous baby hair. Besides that, I could say that the French lace is at the same level of quality than my previous wigs, and that the knotting is not overwhelmingly invisible, but definitely above average. It doesn't shred, either, even when combing vigorously.

Wearing it was a delight. It has about the same volume than my synthetic wig from PinkLaceWigs but weights half as much, and it flows incredibly naturally. So, I said, I have no idea what this magic fibre of theirs is — it cannot be Kanekalon®, since that would be too expensive — but I was reasonably content.

New wigs always look good! Even one insanely cheap one I had bought in 2006 (just 1 dollar plus shipping!) from China looked good enough when I first tried it on. So I waited until I used this wig quite a lot of times just to get a feeling of it.

At some point, it was time to wash it. Now I have tried several techniques for that, and my best results are using tepid water and washing it just like I do with my own natural hair. In fact, I sometimes put the wig on and go under the shower :) (it's so much easier that way). Wig shampoo and conditioner can also be used on one's own hair, of course, even though I don't need the kind of "extra brittle and dry hair" type that is appropriate for wigs — my hair is fairly "normal" these days, and this is overkill. But, well, it's the easiest way to wash it :)

(The alternative of taking a shower wearing your wig is to wash it using the shower head.)

Very, very old and poor quality wigs will usually not tolerate even tepid water, but all the wigs I have bought in the last decade worked well that way. Except for one... the ancient human hair wig from (literally!) the last century.

After washing and setting it to dry, this wig, if possible, became even more silkier and lighter! BUT... and this is a HUGE but... it became completely frizzied!

Yuck!

What went wrong? Well, I thought that I had ruined it somehow. Perhaps I should have avoided even tepid water, and use room-temperature water instead. Perhaps I should have combed it even more thoroughly after washing it. Perhaps I used the wrong kind of wig conditioner? Whatever the reason, my wig now looked a mess, and I was stumped at what to do with it.

Would heat make it worse? Or better? If it's a human hair wig, it should be able to get straightened with a flat iron? But if it's not, the heat will completely ruin it! I was wary of trying anything!

Luckily for me, when anything goes wrong, I have my faithful hairdresser to help. She had already seen the wig, and sewed a pair of extra combs at the nape side (it comes with three combs at the front, but on the glueless cap I bought, it just has the elastic band at the nape side), and was curious about its fibre as well. She thought it might be a blend of human hair and synthetic hair, but wasn't sure; I was quite happy to hear that, because, well, getting 30% of human hair for the insanely low prices is even better than nothing.

So, when I showed her the ruined wig, she was thoughtful, and said that perhaps the blend of human vs. synthetic is different than what she thought. But she promised to look into it. I had authorised her to use irons if needed, testing it out on some unnoticeable area.

I came back next day... to a big surprise. Not only did the wig look like new (again), but now it had the most sexy waving imaginable. She saw my surprise and laughed. "What did you do?" I asked, being completely astonished. I mean, I'm used to see her work her magic on my old wigs, but this time she had clearly excelled in her work.

She admitted that she didn't do anything special. She just washed the wig in cold water (cold, not tepid!), put some curling rollers, let it dry overnight, and there they were, instant waves!

And she charged me twice the usual amount "because it's a human hair wig".

Ha! So, well, it might be the lowest end of human hair — and that's perhaps a reason why it doesn't stand heat, even from washing in tepid water — but it seems that my Chinese friends are actually not lying, and really putting some real human hair into their wigs.

BTW, the waves/curls stay for a while; I've worn the wig a few times, combed it (since it's new, it doesn't tangle yet), and the waves haven't disappeared yet. Eventually, they will, but now I know how to get them back! This is to be expected with human hair: unlike synthetic hair, which has "memory" and will not easily submit to a different style (even though some curling at the ends will disguise splits and make the wig look nicer), human hair should be easy to style differently, even though, of course, like natural hair, the style will fade and disappear — meaning a higher maintenance in exchange for a larger variety of style options.

Now I'm curious to see what will happen with the next hair washing — this time, I'll do it the old-fashioned way, with cold water inside a basin, and letting it dry without heat. I might get some rollers too, or simply use old socks. My hairdresser encouraged to do so on my own, because her salon wants that wig owners gain some confidence in maintaining their own wigs (it's a good self-esteem booster), and, of course, she'll always be available if anything goes wrong.

And then it's the test of time. My wigs usually last 12 months looking reasonably well, and perhaps another extra 6 months while they're still looking tolerably fine. The one from PinkLaceWigs, even though I liked it a lot, lasted a bit less than usual — I stretched its use for a bit longer, but it was seriously damaged for the last 4-5 months of use (I would be embarrassed to be seen in public with it!). On the other hand, I still have my 15-year-old human hair wig, even though I dislike it — it's too heavy and has a very old cap which never looks natural enough, even though it has been "improved" with some restyling and extra combs.

If I can get a year out of this wig from OrderWigsOnline, I'll be quite happy. If I get more "surprises" that constantly require returning to my hairdresser, well, then it might have been very cheap to buy, but too costly to maintain. We'll see.

(BTW I'm reusing parts of this article on my own blog :) — nothing like plagiarizing myself!)
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Offline Cecily

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Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2014, 01:54:34 pm »
Wow, this is awesome. ;o) So, I know I have read other threads addressing this, seeing as you seem to really know your stuff, I was curious: what would be a good first wig? I really can't spend more than 50$ and I want something obviously feminine so I assume longer would better. (Right?) Thanks. :o)

Offline Sandra M. Lopes

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Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2014, 02:56:29 pm »
Ouch, sorry for only replying today!

Well, if you really wish a $50 wig, you'll get what you pay for — don't expect it to be either long, or good-looking, or having a feminine style. And it won't last long, either. However, if you don't use it too often, you might get something out of it...

Getting the right style is also a problem. In my own case, due to the way my face looks like, the shorter styles just make me look uglier and more masculine — precisely the reverse I wish. I have a lot of face to hide, and I need a way to downplay my shoulders and some of the angular bits on the jawline, so, for me, a longer style is better. But the longer the wig, the more expensive it will be; also, longer wigs will require more maintenance (the ends split more often, it gets more entangled), and that's one reason why so many people (genetic women and otherwise) don't go much beyond shoulder length: it's easier to maintain. But at the end of the day, it will be your choice that matters.

If you can find a local place selling wigs, that's truly the best choice: there you will be able to find just the right wig for your face, your frame, and, more importantly, your tastes! I always remember my shock for seeing how blonde wigs almost never look good on me. When my hairdresser receives a few new long-hair wigs (their salon caters mostly to elderly women who last her hair due to chemotherapy, so they tend to carry shorter styles), I try them out, and every time I hit a blonde style, it looks really strange on me (which is odd, since I used to be a blonde when I was a kid, and until my late 20s, my hair would be golden after spending a month at the beach...). This is the kind of thing that you can only figure out beforehand if you are able to try wigs on, and see what styles, length, and colour suit you best.

But I understand that many might not be able to buy a wig at a brick-and-mortar shop, and online shopping is the only solution. If you're looking to buy your first ever wig that way, be prepared to accept some surprises and disappointments. You can try out on of those popular makeover sites where you upload a picture of yourself and try out — virtually — many different hair styles and colours: this can give you a rough idea of what it will look like. TaaZ.com is one of those popular sites, and it gives excellent results, provided you have a really good picture of yourself. It helped me a lot (even though I didn't have a good picture handy).

You'll definitely find wigs online under $50 everywhere — on eBay, Amazon.com, tons of Chinese manufacturers, crossdresser online shops (who unfortunately tend to carry low-quality wigs most of the time). The problem, as always, is figuring out how good they are. In most cases you will disappointed. I certainly was. But then I thought, "oh I paid so little for this wig, so, who cares if it falls apart after a few times of wearing it?"

The best suggestion I have is to go to some big online wig reseller, like wigs.com, and look for sales and opportunities. Sometimes you get some end-of-life wigs for a bargain price there, and at least you'll know it's a high-quality wig. But it requires some patience until you find something with adequate quality for such a cheap price!
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Offline Michelleisadude

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Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #11 on: January 23, 2014, 02:39:57 pm »
I found this online and I love it! I mean, I haven't ordered it yet or anything. Just like the hairstyle, the price and the color options. I think I'll get two. One in gray/silver/white and the other my natural hair color (ash brown)

Offline Sandra M. Lopes

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Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2014, 11:30:06 am »
It looks awesome, Michelle :) And with that unbeatable clearance price, you should grab it before it's gone!!
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Re: Wigs. Reviewing options and looking for advice.
« Reply #13 on: February 15, 2014, 07:52:33 pm »
Well I bought my first wig just a couple of days a go and waiting for it. We will see how this goes. Thanks for the info!

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