While Donald Trump’s US presidential election victory was a hair-raising shock for many people, owners of fancy dress shops had been predicting it for weeks.
When most pollsters and political pundits said Hillary Clinton would win last week, they were in fact ignoring an unusual but perhaps key statistic in the 2016 race for the White House – sales of wigs modelled on the hairstyles of the two candidates.
And in the battle of the wigs Donald Trump won, not by a hair’s breadth but by a country mile.
“We sold roughly 150 Trump-style wigs… versus about 50 or so Hillary-style wigs,” says Coutland Hickey, owner of the Chicago Costume Company.
Timothy Connor, owner of British wig website The Hairdrobe – which was selling 400 Trump wigs around the world per day – says the disparity in sales at his business was even more pronounced: “Trump wiped the floor against Hillary.”
Meanwhile, London-based Angels Fancy Dress sold 500 Trump wigs to 300 Hillary ones. “This is a convincing victory,” says manager Emma Angel.
But why were Trump wigs so much more popular over the past few months? And did his rather unique bouffant and back-combed hairstyle have any effect on the election result?
‘Unique visual attribute’
Ms Angel, who also runs the Fancydress.com website, says she had long recognised that selling £9.99 Trump wigs would be a good business opportunity, but that “demand exceeded even our expectations”.
“Politics has increasingly become a spectator sport, and over the past decade politicians have become a theme for costume parties,” she says.
“And love him or loathe him, Trump has a truly unique visual attribute in terms of his hair.”
She adds that the fact the US presidential election took place just after Halloween also boosted sales of Trump wigs, and people – both US expats living in London and British customers – bought them as part of their costume. However, she cautions that not every purchaser was a fan of the president-elect.
“Some consumers were buying Trump items as they associated him with villainy, others as he was perceived as a hero,” she says. “But it certainly reflected Trump’s position as a pop cultural phenomenon who was very much front-of-mind.”
In contrast to Ms Angel, The Hairdrobe’s Timothy Connor admits that he initially thought “it was a bit of a gamble” to create a Trump wig, saying “we weren’t sure how well they would do”. Then sales skyrocketed.
Mr Hickey’s opinion is that Trump wigs were always going to outsell those of Clinton for fancy dress purposes because his hairstyle is “much more costumey” and recognisable than Clinton’s.
“People yearn for others to ‘get’ their costume,” he says. “And to dress as Trump, with the crazy hair and orange skin is more recognisable for everyone. Which is why I think it was more popular.
“Additionally, being such a polarising figure he is more popular to dress as in order to poke fun at.”
Look like a celebrity
With wig and hairpiece revenues in the US alone worth an estimated $224m (£180m) in 2015, sales of Trump and Clinton wigs are obviously just two strands in a forest of real and artificial hair.
Yet the fact people have bought them needs to be seen in the wider context of how social media has given overall wig sales a boost.
“Social media – especially platforms like Instagram – have really introduced a new dimension to the business and boosted sales,” says Mr Connor.
“Everything is much more visual now, people want to look good or quirky on their social media profiles. If they go to a fancy dress party they want nice photos of themselves.
“And they see celebrities on Instagram or reality TV, and wigs allow them to look like celebrities.”
But if Donald Trump did win the battle of the wig sales, did his famous hairstyle actually contribute to his election victory or was it a handicap he had to overcome?
London-based hairdresser Joshua Coombes says that as perverse as it sounds, the haircut probably did help.
“It is an appalling haircut, but together with the orange skin, it is a huge part of Trump’s identity,” says Mr Coombes, who made headlines earlier this year for his work cutting homeless people’s hair for free.
“And the hair is a part of Trump’s marketing, his branding. Like it or not, it is part of his identity and success.
“He must spend a long time blow-drying it though.”
This article was originally published by the BBC Business News and was authored in collaboration with William Smale. Image Credit: Chicago Costume Company.