Pubic hair wigs are a category of makeup in the movie industry rarely heard of, but they play a big role in movies. It literally has an interesting place in Hollywood makeup.
As Refinery29 reports, merkins may not be something you’re aware of, but these wigs have been seen on Kate Winslet in The Reader, Evan Rachel Wood in Mildred Pierce, Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades of Grey, Heidi Klum in Blow Dry, and Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal’s in Love & Other Drugs.
Wigmaker Amanda Miller talks about pieces used as pubic hair and why Hollywood needs them. She fashioned a merkin for the pilot of Boardwalk Empire.
Miller crafts wigs of all sorts for projects from the Metropolitan Opera to Saturday Night Live. At one point, Martin Scorsese asked her to trim back the bush on a cadaver’s merkin.
“I’ve only ever made one merkin. It was always a big joke… all racy… people like to laugh at it. It was for the pilot of Boardwalk Empire, directed by Martin Scorsese.”
These pubic hair wigs — known as “merkins” — is a “toupee for the pubic region,” Miller explains. She adds that it’s “all tied into syphilis and prostitutes.” It helped conceal the fact they had the disease, which made their pubic hair fall out. In order to appear healthy, they’d wear merkins.
Miller said that this is intriguing “because now the trend is to strip it all off.”
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Why was Amanda Miller brought into the makeup department to make a merkin for Boardwalk Empire?
“Nicki Ledermann, who was head of the makeup department, brought me in with a team of SFX men who were recreating a woman’s entire torso to represent a cadaver of the era,” Miller shares. “The type of autopsy that was done then was much different than how they cut into a body now, so they did a whole mold of her torso, which was then going to have the appropriate autopsy markings. When viewers would see her naked body, she needed to have an appropriate era bush, and they simply couldn’t find an actress with a full bush. It’s just gone out of fashion. They didn’t use a dummy. They used an actual actress, and they re-created the torso. They just put the special effects piece [for the autopsy] over her own torso, and then the merkin over that area.”
Miller reveals that there are actors and actresses who opt for merkins do it mainly for discretion “not wanting to actually put themselves out there or have their own body seen.” Think of it as being similar to body suits.
When asked if making pubic hair wigs is similar to creating wigs for a person’s actual head, Miller says it’s similar to making a beard. The shape of the head is totally different, which makes creating a merkin more closely related to making “chest hair, armpit hair, beard, or facial hair — very fine lace and lots of knots.”
The process of applying merkins is gluing it to the person’s own body that is shaved. Miller explains that the adhesives are the worst parts. There are different types of glue used, but they have removers and soothing balms for the skin. If the person having this kind of hair applied has sensitive skin, there are pre-treatments available.
Don’t expect to go to you local wigmaker and find one that makes merkins, however. Miller said she doesn’t know of anyone who does this for the general public.
According to Grantlant, 1450 was the year of the “malkin” — as it was first called. It’s thought to have been linked with shame-related reasons, but it’s unceratin when the first merkin prototype was created and worn.
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Journeyman film and theater wig stylist, Randy Sayer, gives his perspective on this after “coiffing” legendary theater actress, Zoe Caldwell; she played Cleopatra in the 1967 stage production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.
“Cleopatra was known for her beautiful, long, luxurious pubic hair, which she proudly wore brushed and oiled, and she was known to admire — and display — her pubic hair in the shiny marble floors and the light, diaphanous gowns of the time,” said Sayer. “Otherwise, in ancient Egypt, most citizens — noble or otherwise — were required to shave their pubic and body hair to rid themselves of lice. Noble and wealthy people were known to wear wigs … and it is thought that a type of merkin was fashionable; it could be worn to show that they were rich enough to maintain their pubic hair.”
Pubic hair wigs have a place in the movie industry since so many actresses have very little covering their private area. With the production of period films, it’s easy to see how merkins could be in demand for the makeup department.
[Photo Credit: Piotr Marcinski via Shutterstock]