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Breast cancer is a year round trauma that affects women WELL beyond the diagnosis and the bouts of chemo. The loss of our hair, while trivial compared to the illness, is a deep upset. The idea of wig shopping gives most of us a stomach ache. The worry, of course, is will we look normal like we did before the illness.

Robert-Charles Vallance of Angels of New York patiently explains to us the intricacies of purchasing a wig.
Four years ago when I faced the unpleasant reality of Chemo, I befriended Jeff Hirsch’s mom, Rochelle, who had gone through the same ordeal three months earlier. Rochelle provided a great deal of support and she acted as my advisor and companion during my first visit to one of the popular wig destinations on the ‘Dr. Anne Moore wig list’. (Anne Moore is THE doctor to go to if you are a breast cancer patient.)

Now with my hair back on my head, I convinced Rochelle to revisit the subject of wigs. Maybe this time we could be of service to others who were on the verge of confronting the same decisions we faced. 

We chose to make a day of our research visiting three different wig salons: Angels of New York, Bits-N-Pieces, and Raffaele Mollica. At each destination we received a warm welcome from the owners who graciously set aside a chunk of their time to educate us about all aspects of purchasing a wig.
Our first stop of the day: The inviting townhouse salon of Angels of New York.
Clockwise from top left: Rochelle showing the natural looklng ‘roots’ of a lace top wig; Each hair is had sewn into the custom lace caps; Robert trying a layered look on Rochelle; Rochelle as a redhead, great with her coloring; Rochelle as a brunette. Doesn’t she look fabulous?
Here’s what we learned:

There are three types of wigs: Custom, stock machine-made, and customized stock wigs. Custom are the most expensive but the fit is far superior to pre-made wigs, especially if your head size is smaller or larger than average.

Wigs are made of either synthetic, natural (human) hair or a blend of both synthetic and natural hair. There are pros and cons to each type of material.
L. to r.: Barry Hendrickson of Bits-N-Pieces trying a custom wig on Rochelle; And another ...; The top of a Bits-N-Pieces wig made out of a transparent mesh to simulate a real scalp.
Synthetic Wigs:

Pros: They are the least expensive ($400-$600) and easy to care for (simply wash and wear).

Cons: They wear out after 6 to 8 months and they can look artificial.
Clockwise from top left: Au natural; With bangs; Notice the natural hairline; Great roots with highlights; Rochelle with a long blond lace wig.
Natural Wigs:

Hair from natural wigs comes from Asia or Europe. European hair is softer than Asian hair which can be coarse, and therefore, it is easier to weave. The best type of natural hair (and the most expensive) is European virgin hair which still retains its cuticles and therefore, its natural sheen.

Pros: Natural hair is real so it looks real. It can be washed and styled like your own hair. And it lasts considerably longer (up to eight years) than synthetic hair.

Cons: Natural hair wigs are expensive, (they average $3000) and they need more maintenance than synthetic wigs.
Something for everyone at Bits-N-Pieces.
Blends:

A combination of both natural and synthetic hair.

Pros: Sheen is better and the wig can be more natural looking than synthetic. It is also less expensive that a 100% natural hair wig.

Cons: Difficult to care for, the wig is partially synthetic and can’t be blown dried with a hot air.
Our third stop off the day: Raffaele Mollica’s cozy wig studio on the Upper East Side. All wigs are custom made out of natural virgin hair by Rafael in his downstairs workshop where the artist and owner has a literal hand in every wig that leaves his shop.
Fit and Construction

Much to my surprise there are a number of different choices in this category.

Weft: This type of construction is used primarily inside machine made wigs where wefts of hair are stitched into an elastic open cap. The weft construction is durable but heavy. Both synthetic and natural hair wigs using wefts need to be designed with bangs to cover the hard front hair line.

Mono filament Tops: Typically nylon, hairs are sewn into a mesh that simulates a scalp. Wigs with mono filament tops can also be combined with machine made weft backs. Since mono filament tops are hand sewn, they are more expensive. The advantage of this type of construction is they are more natural looking and much lighter than the less expensive weft construction.

Lace: Probably the lightest and most natural looking of all the wig categories, lace wigs are extremely delicate and not typically advised for daily use for long term wig wearers. (Lace is woven only with natural hair into a fine mesh that is cut back to create a hairline). On the other hand, if money is not a concern and you plan to only wear the wig until your real hair grows back then you may want to consider this option.

OTHER TIPS FOR BUYING A WIG:

Go wig shopping as so as you find out that you will need chemotherapy. Don’t wait until your hair falls out.

Jonathan Bailet of Angels of New York.
Prioritize. If you’re someone who is willing to buy Manolo Blahnik shoes than under spend on your wig. Buy the best looking wig that you can afford, it will make you feel better.

Buy a back up wig. No matter what type of wig you buy, you are going to need to rotate when one is dirty or being styled.

Bring a friend or family member with you when shopping. It helps to get moral support and another opinion.

Unless you’re a drama queen, select a wig that is close to your current cut and color. You’ll have enough changes to deal with during chemotherapy.

Once you purchase your wig, bring it to your own stylist for cutting and color. You’ll feel more at ease working with someone with whom you are comfortable and whose taste you trust.

Remember, no one is staring at you and obsessing about whether you are wearing a wig.
 

At the end of our wig shopping expedition, Rochelle and I were exhausted but encouraged. We tried on dozens of wigs, some were awful but many were terrific.  Rochelle discovered she looks fabulous as a redhead and I found out that I look ten years OLDER as a blond. Most importantly, we both realized that buying, finding and wearing an attractive wig can be a positive experience. Pull it out, put it on, and then get on with your life!

(Raffaele Mollica Wigs, 511 east 75th street, 212-535-6735; Angels of New York, 161 east 61st Street, 212-838-7888; Barry Hendrickson’s Bits-N-Pieces, 1841 Broadway, ste. 201, 212-397-0711).




© 2013 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com