A First-Timer's Guide To All Things Weaves, Wigs, & Hair Extensions

Photographed by Megan Madden.
If you search for hair inspiration on social media, or follow hairstylists, celebrities, or influencers on Instagram, then chances are your feed is often full of wigs, weaves, and extensions — whether you know it or not. How? Some of the most-followed pros in the game should really be called magicians, because their artistry seems borderline magical at times.
But wigs and weaves aren't just a fantastic way to give yourself a quick makeover or pull an IG fake out — when installed properly, they also create great protective styles, too. Plus, there are a ton of options available at every price point for those that want to try a new style without overly committing. Of course, therein lies the problem: It can be very overwhelming to navigate this world, but luckily, we're here to help.
Everything you need to know about wigs, weaves, extensions, and more, ahead.
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Photo: Via @facethair.

People tend to use the terms weave and extensions interchangeably, but alas, they are not the same. A weave is when the hair is sewn directly onto flat cornrows...
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Extensions, on the other hand, are typically attached to someone’s natural hair with the help of an adhesive or clamp — like keratin bonds or wig clips (more on clip-ins later). So, to be clear: All weaves are a form of extensions, but not all extensions are weaves.
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Virgin Hair

Virgin hair is human hair that hasn't been altered by chemicals, dye, bleach, or harsh washes. It's available in a variety of textures, from wavy to curly (typically usually 3A - 3B curls), and can be dyed and heat styled like your own.

"Most hair comes from China,” Javonté Anyabwelé, former CEO of Madali hair extensions, once explained to us. “Almost all the hair on the market is made in China, even if the label calls it Brazilian, Peruvian, or Malaysian.” Some manufactures source their hair from women who live in rural villages around the world and are willing to sell it for small amounts of money. And in India, you'll find "temple hair" — slang for hair gathered, and auctioned off by the ton, by temple officials. The hair comes from Hindu individuals practice tonsuring, a ritual sacrifice where the hair is shaved in the temple.
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Synthetic Hair

This type of hair isn't human hair — it's a synthetic material that looks like hair. It comes in various lengths and styles and is made from plastic fibers that look like real hair, but differ in quality.

“Synthetic extensions are made from polymers that mimic the look and feel of human hair,” says Anyabwelé. “Also called ‘pack hair’ or ‘beauty-supply hair,’ these extensions are usually mass-produced and have become more popular based on access at beauty-supply stores.” Because synthetic hair shouldn't be manipulated with high heat temperatures, many people it for protective styles like box braids and Marley twists. It's also far more affordable, compared to human hair.
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Bundles are a collection of high-quality hair extension wefts that have been tied up together (usually with a ribbon) and sold to be used for weaves. Commonly sold by hair vendors specializing in virgin hair, this type of hair normally originates from Asia, where most virgin hair is procured. Depending on the size of your head and the length of hair, you need about three bundles for hair that’s 18 inches and shorter, or three to four bundles for hair that’s longer than 18 inches, for a complete sew-in.
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Bulk Hair

This means a bundle of hair that hasn’t been wefted by a machine, so the strands are completely loose. It’s normally used for braiding, so styles can last longer, or for certain applications of applying hair, like Brazilian knots, where faux hair is attached strand-by-strand to the wearer’s natural hair.
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These are the pieces of hair that are either glued onto someone’s natural hair or sewn onto flat cornrows during a weave installation. A good weave is one where none of your tracks are showing — and they are completely covered by your leave-out or the other hair extensions.
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A weft is loose or bulk hair that's been sewn together by a machine, then cut up into sections to fit someone’s head.
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This installation process begins with braids. Your natural hair is braided into a series of eight to 10 cornrows, which serve as a base for sewing on hair wefts. The kind of braid pattern you select depends on the style of weave you want. For full sew-ins, circular braid patterns are often preferred by stylists since they don’t have to worry about sewing down the ends of hair.

Once the braids are done, they’re reinforced with a thick hair weaving thread to keep them secure. Afterwards, several wefts are sewn directly onto the braids row by row, from ear to ear. If you’re getting a closure, this is when the stylist lines up the hairpiece to your natural part and sews it directly on top.
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The portion of the hair at the front, sides, and occasionally the back of someone’s head, that’s left out from a partial sew-in, and later blended with a weave for a flawless finish.
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This is a hair piece, normally made of lace or silk, with hair extensions attached to them. Closures are affixed at the crown of your head and mimic your natural scalp, so a full weave looks as natural as possible. Consider trying one out if you’re transitioning from relaxed to natural hair, or if you want to avoid heat damage on your real hair.

Closures created out of lace are thinner and expose the scalp underneath, whereas those made out of silk are made of thicker material that completely covers the skin.
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Full Sew-In & Partial Sew-In

When all of your natural hair is braided down completely, wefts are sewn on from ear to ear, and a closure is sewn along the hairline. Since full weaves completely cover a wearer’s natural hair, a full sew-in is often used as a protective style.

Similarly to a full weave, a partial sew-in is when wefts are sewn directly onto flat braids, but some of a small piece of hair is left out in the front, side or back of the wearer’s head, which allows someone the ability to wear their hair in updos. Once the installation is done, the hair that is left out is blended with the extensions by flat ironing or twisting the natural hair so they look the same.
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Clip-ins are temporary extensions you attach to your own hair using wig clips — just part your hair, clip one one, and then style.
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Brazilian Knots

This is a technique where hair is added by tightly wrapping an elastic thread around your own hair to lock the extra hair in place.
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Wigs are hairpieces made out of human or synthetic hair that allow you to change your look often and with relative ease.
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Frontals are wigs that contain a hair piece that covers the front of the hairline, so it looks like your own head of hair. With frontals, you can wear your hair up in ponytails and part your hair in different ways — down the middle, side, or wherever else you like.
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Lace-Front Wigs

These long-lasting wigs have a sheer lace panel with hair that has been hand-knotted through the mesh. The piece is attached along the front of the wig for a natural look. Lauded for being more versatile than normal wigs, when they are worn properly, it looks like the hair is growing directly from your scalp.
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U-Part Wig

This means a wig with a U-shaped opening at the front. This unique design allows the wearer to blend the front of the hair with the rest of the wig for a natural-looking hairline. This is a great option for people who are afraid of their wigs looking too, well, wiggy.

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