Silver Screen Style: Reese Witherspoon in Water For Elephants

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Photo courtesy of IMDB

Reese Witherspoon went Hollywood circus glamour in her newest flick, Water for Elephants. Lona Vigi, the film's celebrity hairstylist, tells us the inspiration for Reese's hair and how it held up in crazy conditions.

B: What was your inspiration for Reese's hair?

"The plot contrasts the illusion of carnival splendor with the harsh reality of the post-depression era, so I kept that in the back of my mind as I was researching. Since the film is set in 1931, we wanted to stay true to the decade and stick with the signature '30s brushed out look. We took footage from old movies and studied legendary screen stars of the time—Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow, and Greta Garbo—from there we had an idea of Marlena's look. We fused the director's vision with my initial concepts to a create a finished design. It's such a beautiful story and I'm so excited we brought it to the silver screen."

B: How do you conduct your research for period films?

"A simple google image search is a great start, but I have a huge personal library of fashion books I turn to first—a lot of books from the '30s. It's so important to have visual references you can pull from instantly, start building your collections! I'm also lucky to live near the Motion Picture library, where there are a ton of media resources.

For a film like this, I imagined Reese in character and created a look-book of inspiration. On set, I put up reference photos all over the trailer. When you're constantly staring at the visuals, it really brings you back to the '30s and reinforces the end result. Reese and I felt really inspired everyday—the costumes and imagery were absolutely gorgeous."

B: How did you take your inspiration and turn it into reality?

"We collaborated with the director and costume designer to get just the right look. Reese tried on so many wigs before we decided on a final style, I think Reese and I did 14 wig fittings in one day! Minor variations in color, style, texture, and length all make such a difference for a period piece like this. In the end, we decided to keep Reese's hair blonde for the film. In the book, her character Marlena has dark hair, but it just didn't feel right for the screen. Reese's bleached-out locks popped under those bright circus lights."

B: What on-set conditions did you have to deal with and how did Reese's hair handle daily styling?

"We were dealing with some interesting climate conditions. We filmed an hour outside of Los Angeles in the middle of this field with nothing around us. The air was incredibly humid and we were right by the ocean, so her hair was always a bit frizzy and textured. No matter what you do, you can't help the weather and night shoots. That said, her hair looked great on screen. 

Reese has color-processed hair and we didn't use a wig in the film, so I made sure to deep condition weekly. I covered her whole head and scalp with oils and wrapped it in plastic to hydrate. That strengthened her hair and kept it resilient for long shoots."

Photo courtesy of IMDB

B: How many different looks were there in the film?

"Marlena had two main looks: On stage and off stage. In her circus acts, we went big and over the top and adorned her hair with accessories—headpieces, crowns, and jewels. In Marlena's downtime, however, you can see her curls are looser, she wears long scarves as headbands, or she's in the process of setting her curls. Even if she's not performing, she's always styling it so it's never completely natural. That's just how it was for performers in the '30s."

B: What kind of technique and products did you use on Reese?

"For this particular style, I focused on finger shaping the curls rather than relying on product—and to be honest, I don't use a lot of product on my clients in general. To prep her hair and give her extra body, I used a tiny bit of Kérastase Volumactive Mousse. I used a little Bumble & Bumble Styling Creme on frizzy ends if necessary. Otherwise, I put the pin curls in and let them set for a minute. Then, I brushed out the curl out and molded the wave. I then re-pinned the curls again and sprayed them with my trusty L'Oréal Extra Hold Elnett Spray. I brushed out all the curls after she sat in makeup. It's a lengthy process to get the right look."

B: What advice do you have for girls looking to replicate this look with longer hair?

"I love this look updated and modernized. My advice? Don't take the finger wave so literally. Since longer waves will inevitably fall out easier, work with your curl and style it down for a sexier and softer effect. Use a medium barrel curling iron, roll to the side, and brush it out a few times. Repeat this process for easy voluminous curls at any length."


Lona Vigi is a Celebrity Hair Stylist working in editorial and feature films. She works regularly with Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, Claire Danes and many more. Her work has graced the covers of "Allure", "Marie Claire", and "InStyle."

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