5 wigs ... 5 looks ... 1 girl
Show your fun or serious side with the head’s newest accessory
Ilooked at Eduardo, a handsome Argentine man bopping to the beat at Manhattan’s Iguana Club. “ What’s your name?” he asked. “What?!” I shouted back. “ Your name!” he yelled. “What’s your name?!”
My girlfriend Mauri Brown, who was busy shaking her own bootie, sniggered into her drink. I turned back to Eduardo and smiled sweetly.
“Pippa!” I said. “My name is Pippa!”
Not really. Actually, not at all. Look at the byline; the name is Julie. But two months ago in New York City, wearing a stunning melon-coloured Kania Couture dress and a foxy russet and black shoulder-length wig, I was 100 per cent Pippa. That’s short for Penelope, you know, as I pointed out to Eduardo before I danced off into the night.
Eduardo, who later followed me to the street beseeching me for a phone number with a Latino’s considerable passion, turned to Mauri in momentary despair.
“Your friend,” he bellowed, wistfully. “ I just LOVE her hair!”
I grinned into my fabulous synthetic ’do. Dude! I giggled to myself. It’s all yours for just $60 at Mama Cee’s shop on St Laurent Boulevard in Ottawa.
Yes, “Pippa” was a hit that night. And the next day, I took “Chrissie” for my regular midtown Manhattan shoe shopping expedition. She didn’t turn as many heads, but then again, Chrissie is a leatherloving rock chick who flies under the radar. Then there’s the vixenish “Scarlett,” the raven-headed “Veronica” and the latest to join my collection, the dark bob dubbed “Mistress Kitty” by my partner Joe.
Multiple personality disorder? Not a bit of it, says my wigcollecting friend Bonnie Lynch, 35, a program manager and fundraiser with the Canadian Cancer Society. Since living in Korea a few years ago, she has amassed 20 perruques of all shapes, styles and colours.
Like other women who increasingly don sexy, stylish or just different hair in the interests of fashion, Lynch switches her hair — along with her shoes and jewelry — to suit her ensemble and mood.
“Wigs are great for showing different aspects of your inner personality,” she says. “We all have our official persona, often something a bit more conservative. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other aspects to you. Wearing wigs is an extension of my personality and how I portray myself.”
And she’s not alone. Led by chameleon pop icon Lady Gaga and supported by the advent of ultrafine synthetic hair, new weaving techniques and advanced colouring, “people are definitely wearing more wigs for fashion,” says Caralyn Tierney, owner of Caralyn’s Hair and Wig Design in Ottawa. “People who don’t want to cut their long hair love the shorter, jazzier styles, while people with short hair can enjoy longer hair without the hassle of growing it. The designs are much more lifelike than in the ‘60s, when the synthetic hair was really thick and plastic-looking. People are really blown away by how fabulous they look.”
Spurred on by the relatively inexpensive cost of synthetic wigs, which range from $60 and $120, Lynch started sporting them six years ago. From her first hairpiece – a short orange-red bob with a sleek sheen that she wore to go clubbing in the By Ward Market and “totally fool my friends” – she got “kind of addicted.”
“I love the feeling of reinventing myself,” she observes. “Back then, it boosted my self-confidence and from that point, I’ve been really growing my collection and loving the creative energy that goes into it.”
Yet wig-wearing can be more a question of necessity than fashion. For women, hair loss through chemotherapy, stress, alopecia (which affects half of men and women to some degree by age 40) or follicle damage can be embarrassing, distressing and even lead to depression. Wigs, weaves and bonded hair literally glued into place can help women with medical issues manage them with style, says Tierney.
Hair-loss is also a significant issue for black women who either use harsh straightening chemicals or wear tightly-braided corn rows that can take hours to do. Over the years, the hairstyle’s tight braiding can do permanent follicle damage, leading to hair loss, particularly along the forehead. For them, Tierney says there is an entire wig industry geared toward frontal hair pieces and “transitional” wigs for when they are either changing their look or renewing their braids.
While synthetic-hair wigs are by far the most popular given their price, blends and human-hair wigs are often chosen by women wearing them for years. Human hair, predominantly obtained in Europe and Asia, is more expensive – wigs can cost as much as $2,500 – but they are also more lifelike, can be styled and are generally better quality. Hair is graded by thickness, fineness and health. More expensive wigs are made entirely from virgin hair that has never been processed and is then hand-picked by specially trained hair graders.
From there, the cuticles are removed to reduce the risk of tangling and the wigs are assembled in two or three countries before being shipped.