Mannequin Wigs, Eyelashes and Makeup

Poly Star Lady mannequin with molded eyes and lips

Live models are best for fashion photography if you can afford them and if you are willing to risk the models' pictures being used around the web in ways you cannot control, including alterations of the images. For those of us who value modesty, using ourselves, friends or family members as models presents great risk. For that reason, I have selected a mannequin for the fashion photography of Fashion Belle modest sewing patterns, pictured here. It is the Poly Star Lady from Euro Display in Germany, sister company and sales outlet for the Poly Form manufacturer. This mannequin is flexible for a huge range of poses, and the foam is more durable than fiberglass that sustains damage easily. Most other high-end mannequins are inflexible and made of fiberglass, so the Poly Star Lady was a special find. Rather than ordering the Poly Form mannequin with makeup painted on, I decided to create the face myself using false eyelashes, false eyebrows, and eyes and lips molded from polymer clay. Wigs and eyelashes are the most common accessories for all mannequins, whether foam or fiberglass, so those are addressed first in this tutorial on accessorizing mannequins.

Mannequin Wigs

Handmade wig stand for long wig
Two qualities are a challenge to find in wigs: first, a truly long wig that is of better quality than a costume wig, and second, a photogenic hair color that avoids shades of red. The Louis Ferre Tribeca Spring synthetic fiber wig shown here in color 10/6/8 meets both criteria beautifully. Though a little darker than I had anticipated, it contains zero hint of red and photographs well. A medium brown might color skew in certain lighting, and since I am only investing in one wig at present, I preferred dark brown rather than blonde. With the importance of marketing to a multi-cultural audience in our blended Western populations, the dark hair lends a cross-cultural feel.

Louis Ferre wigs are expensive because of their quality, but Wigs.com has a 50% off sale on Louis Ferre yearly, and my purchase fell during the month of November in 2012 when that sale was offered, so the wig was a great value. The top is hand-tied monofilament, which means the wig can be parted and styled in any way preferred. The hair is neatly tucked into the edges all around, making upswept hairstyles possible. Wigs.com and many other suppliers offer color ring loan programs, which is recommended in order to determine your preferred color before ordering. Keep in mind that tints of red occur way more often in wig colors than they do in hair in real life. Totally red hair is gorgeous, but it is also rare, so I am not sure why most wig manufacturers favor red highlights. A red wig would be something to purchase for special effect in addition to a supply of other more basic colors. Thanks to Cynthia from Real Life Wigs who posts video reviews of dozens of wigs that helped with my selection process. Cynthia says in her Tribeca Spring review that she had hers trimmed, but the photos above show the wig as I received it from the manufacturer, and it looks about the same length to me as the one she demonstrates.

To help style the wig with minimal pulling, I ordered a wig comb, also from Wigs.com, shown below. The prongs are spaced 3/8" apart, wider than they appear in this size-reduced photo.
Wide-tooth wig comb

The wig stand and cover is handmade from a foam head purchased at a craft store and from spare items around the house. The base is a metal tin weighted with powdered concrete mixed with water. The rod is a plastic PVC pipe that was set in the concrete and then glued with industrial-strength contact cement to hold it in place. The foam head is covered with stretch velvet and a white ribbon to cover the seaming around the sides. Silk dupioni covers the base and rod and is used for the lightweight dust cover for the mounted wig. The hairnet that came with the wig is used during storage to help preserve the curls.

How to Apply Eyelashes to Mannequins

Cirque Du Soleil Mystical eyelashes
At the time of this writing, no online tutorials in English exist on applying mannequin eyelashes. So, prepared for trial and error, I selected the Cirque Du Soleil "Mystical" style of eyelashes because of the solid band at the base that looked ideal for applying adhesive. In retrospect, I would have preferred a style that did not have glitter along the base, as these do, because that area must be covered with glue to fit properly into the eye opening of the mannequin. The glitter was tightly applied, and only a little shed in the process. These eyelashes were not quite wide enough to fit across the entire upper eye, so if possible, find a style in an extended width that can be cut to fit. False eyelashes made for humans are better for use with mannequins than the thick plastic eyelashes made for dolls.

My guess is that eyelashes are glued to fiberglass mannequins with permanent superglue. Because my mannequin is foam, I wanted to avoid glue that would soak in and harden the area. Furthermore, many types of liquid glue dissolve foam, which would be disastrous. Adhesive dots are popular among paper artists, and I found the 3/16" mini ExtremeTac squares from the Adhesive Squares brand to offer the strongest hold. Other glue dot products I tried were not as strong as this brand which can be purchased online at Glue Arts. If glue dots are used on fiberglass, then try the more gentle brands first to avoid damaging the paint in case a re-application is needed. The fuzzy foam surface of the Poly Star Lady mannequin requires stronger adhesive, and even the ExtremeTac squares can be pulled away, though not easily. Use caution with other surfaces, since ExtremeTac squares permanently bond metal, wood and paper.

The eyelashes look most natural when pressed upward against the lip of the eyelid at the top of the eyeball opening, which means the opposite side of the eyelash base will be adhered to the mannequin compared to the side of the base a human would use.

Adhesive Squares ExtremeTac

Eyebrows for Mannequins

False Eyebrows for Mannequins from Nubrow
Most fiberglass mannequins do well with eyebrows painted on using tiny, hair-like strokes. Stencils are available at beauty supply stores that are useful when painting eyebrows. My foam mannequin was different in that the surface absorbs paint easily, so I chose to apply Nubrow false eyebrows that stand out more dramatically. Nubrow offers four colors. The color I chose was light brown. The blonde is a nice color, too, for lighter hair. As you can see from the picture at the top of this article, the light brown is already quite dark. The dark brown would match hair verging on black, and the black would be only for true black hair. Use your own face or the face of a friend that closely matches the shape of your mannequin for reference as to the best placement. Pre-mark the area before applying. Straight pins inserted into the eyebrow area of my foam mannequin provided placement guidelines, since for the best hold the Adhesive Squares ExtremeTac should be applied once with no re-adjustments.

From this point forward, the treatments are intended for foam mannequins only.

Mannequin Fingernails

Acrylic fingernails applied to mannequin hands
Fiberglass mannequins do not need false fingernails, but foam mannequins look much better with them. The Adhesive Squares ExtremeTac described above provided the best hold, even better than the adhesive tabs that came with the nails. The brand I selected was Elegant Touch in the style Classic French and color American Bare. The French manicure look is the most popular for acrylic nails, but nail polish can be used if desired. Do any painting before adhering the nails. Nails are sold in different lengths, so pay attention to length when purchasing nails to make sure they roughly match that of your mannequin's fingernail imprints.

For those interested in luxury fingernails for foam mannequins, investigate Custom Nail Solutions based in Dallas, Texas. This company has custom molds for nails that match the shape of mannequin hands they use for display, and you can request a set of nails to be made to those molds, saving the danger of damaging a foam mannequin during the molding process. From photos, it appears that their mannequin hands are very similar to those of the Poly Star Lady pictured here. This option would be about five times as expensive as purchasing a set of acrylic nails at the drugstore, but relative to the cost of the mannequin, it would not be significant if you want a nice alternative to cheaper brands.

Sculpting Mannequin Eyes and Lips from Polymer Clay

Side view of the Poly Star Lady face with clay eyes and lips
A tutorial on making doll eyes by Aimee Jeffries sparked my ideas for molding clay eyes and lips for my foam mannequin.

Mannequin Eye and Lip Supply List:

  • Polymer clay of your choice in a Translucent White color. Pure white is too bright for naturalistic eyes. I used Premo by Sculpey, mixing about 1 part white to 5 parts translucent. A Translucent White, available from several brands, would work without the need to mix colors.
  • Rolling pin
  • Cutting board
  • Thin cutting implement such as a razor blade or craft knife
  • Small pieces of waxed paper and aluminum foil
  • Baking dish
  • Medicine bottle to use for baking the curve of the eyes, 1 1/8" in diameter. I used an Airborne bottle.
  • Eye color paint of your choice. Paint with shimmer is best to imitate the natural variations in the eye. Acrylic is best, though I used a fast-drying oil-based paint, Viva Decor, Precious Metal Color in Blue Azure. Most oil paints dry too slowly to be used for the multiple paint layers required for this project.
  • Black paint for the pupil of the eye
  • Lip color paint of your choice. A non-shimmer may be preferred to avoid light reflections, as seen with my mannequin that has a shimmery lip color. I used Viva Decor, Precious Metal Color in Rose Pink.
  • Clear coating. Most polymer clay brands make their own clear coat. I used Fimo Gloss Varnish, which is especially noted for its clarity after drying. Jo-Ann in the United States stocked this product when I used it, though it seems to be discontinued now by many stores. Other brands of varnish designed for clay should work fine.
  • Adhesive Squares ExtremeTac for applying finished molds to mannequin. Warning: many types of liquid glue dissolve foam. Avoid using liquid glue.

Optional Supplies for Mannequin Lips:

  • Optional but extremely helpful are supplies to create a mold of the mouth area to help with baking the correct curve of clay lips. Plastic wrap will be needed to protect the foam on the mouth when making a mold. I used silicone earplugs to make an impression, then I used scraps of plaster bandages to create a mold from the impression. Any solid casting compound and mold filler would work; just make sure that it does not damage the foam. If using silicone earplugs, roll out several thin layers and place them on top of plastic wrap over the mouth. Then stick several solid earplugs on top of that for stability. Before lifting the silicone, press a flat piece of wood, metal or cardboard to create a solid surface for the bottom so the silicone will retain the proper curve when removed.
  • A quick mouth mold alternative is heavy duty aluminum foil pressed over the mouth area, but it does not retain the shape well enough to result in a perfect curve after baking.
  • The Poly Star Lady mannequin lips are an odd shape, and molding clay lips to fit is difficult. Unless you have plenty of time and patience, it may be better to paint the lips. The factory uses an airbrush, but a regular paintbrush can be used as long as a minimal amount of paint is applied so that it does not soak the foam. Never use oil paint directly on foam, as the solvents in oil paint will disintegrate the foam. I found a creamy fabric paint that remains stretchy after it is dried to offer the best results on foam painting tests. The brand I used was Jones Tones All Surface Fabric Paint, but any flexible fabric paint should suffice. Test it on scrap foam before applying. Always paint the lips small and then enlarge little by little until the correct shape is achieved.

Steps for Molding Mannequin Eyes and Lips:

Mannequin clay eyes in a baking dish
Pictured are mannequin eyes draped over a medicine bottle wrapped in foil to create a curve. Tiny eye pupils are also shown, but it is recommended to paint these rather than molding them.

  1. Make a paper pattern for the eyes and lips using aluminum foil pressed down to make an imprint. The foil will help approximate the shape which you can then transfer onto paper. You may need to adjust the paper pattern several times until it fits perfectly.
  2. Use a rolling pin to roll clay very thin. The eyes should be no more than 2mm thick. The lips should be as thin as you can roll them without tearing the clay, less than 1mm thick. To keep clay from sticking to the rolling surface, flip the clay after each roll.
  3. On the cutting board, lay waxed paper, then clay, then the paper pattern. The clay will stick to the board and tear apart after cutting unless waxed paper is placed underneath.
  4. Using a razor blade or craft knife, cut out the clay by the paper pattern. Cut eyes one at a time, flipping the paper pattern to get a matching set.
  5. Remove the waxed paper to prepare the clay cutouts for baking in a baking dish.
  6. Wrap the 1 1/8" diameter medicine bottle in foil and lay the eye pieces across it for baking. Press down on the eyes to tack them against the bottle so that lifting during baking is minimized.
  7. As mentioned above, molding eye pupils is very difficult, and painting is recommended for the pupils, even though the mannequin in the photo does have pupils made from black clay that help create a look of depth. The clay pupils were glued on with superglue after the first iris layer had been painted.
  8. Lay lip cutout on its own mold for baking.
  9. Bake clay at 275 degrees (or according to package instructions) for about 20 minutes. I experimented with baking times from 15 to 25 minutes and did not see much difference in the final results.
  10. Create a paper pattern of a 12mm diameter circle for the iris of the eye. Position it over the eyes and trace around it with a pencil.
  11. Layer paint several times to create dimension on the eye. Fill in the iris first, then the pupil. Coat with clear varnish and then repeat. The eyes pictured have about three coats. Allow coats to dry thoroughly. Note that human pupils are pointed slightly inward toward the nose. Copying this will help eyes to look more natural, but do not exaggerate this placement. It is better to paint the pupils centered than too far inward.
  12. Paint lips with several light coats. Paint in the same vertical direction as texture of natural lips.
  13. Using Adhesive Squares ExtremeTac or similar extremely permanent glue squares, cover the eye area of the foam mannequin and press clay eye molds into place. Eyelashes should be tacked to the top of the clay eye molds before pressing the eyes into place.
  14. Lips benefit from two layers of adhesive squares, one layer on the mannequin and one layer on the back of the lips. Mark placement with straight pins stuck into the foam before applying adhesive squares.

Mannequin Blush and Eyeshadow Makeup

The final touch to my foam mannequin is digitally added in the form of blush after photographs are taken. While it would be possible to use fabric paint that remains flexible after drying, I prefer the smooth look of digital altering. Paint would be used for a display mannequin that is not primarily intended for photography. If using paint, test paint in advance on scrap foam. Use a nearly dry brush with only the slightest hint of paint to avoid over-saturation. Never use oil paint on foam, since solvents in the paint could dissolve the foam.

For digital alterations in Photoshop or another digital editor, use an eyedropper tool to sample the color on the lips. The blush shown here was created with a brush tool using about 5% saturation and two wide passes. Eyeshadow could be applied the same way. Adding makeup digitally allows the look to be changed to match each outfit.

Accessorizing Mannequins

Please share with us any ideas you have for improving the appearance of mannequins. Hearing from someone who has experience with applying eyelashes to fiberglass mannequins would be enlightening, since I suspect the method I used on foam is different than what is recommended for fiberglass. See the articles on Realistic Mannequins for Fashion Photography and Import Basics if you are in the market for a mannequin purchase.