Wig City Blues – Customizing Your Fake Hair

This is a re-post of an old article I’d shared on a previous blog. Some of the wigs I mention here aren’t even available anymore, like Rianna by ROP, but I’m pretty sure the wig salon is still in operation. I’m not mentioning the store by name, but if you really want to know I’ll tell you. 🙂 

I’ve always had a hard time finding a stylist who was willing to cut my wigs. I’ve said this before, but most stylists in my area act as if asking them to trim a wig is akin to asking them to groom a poodle – they’re either completely baffled by the request (What is this ‘wig’ of which you speak?) or disdainful of the fact you might need some bangs cut into an alternative hairpiece (You want me to cut your whaaat?). And yet, getting a wig trimmed and shaped to suit the wearer’s face can make a huge difference in how realistic and attractive it appears – so come on, stylists. We know you’ve all heard of wigs, and we know you can comprehend the possibility that on occasion, such a product might need customization. We even know you’re trained to cut hair by practicing on wigheads, so what’s with the clueless act?

A friend pointed out to me that perhaps stylists react this way because they’re afraid to cut on anything they know won’t grow back. While that’s understandable, especially if someone’s just spent a small fortune on a fully customized human hair wig, it’s not like hairdressers aren’t constantly at risk of screwing up and making someone unhappy. It goes with the territory. And she made another salient point – a lot of women would be more ticked off to have their real hair ruined than a supplemental piece. Now, that’s definitely not the case if you have no real hair, but still – the wrath of a woman whose wig has been ruined could be nothing compared to the woman whose bio hair has just been butchered. It’s all relative, is what I’m saying, and not cutting on wigs is no guarantee a hairstylist won’t get his or her lunch eaten by a customer on any given day of the week.

So, I decided to take two of my recent purchases to a wig salon in Houston to see if I could finally find a stylist who wouldn’t be a snob about trimming them, since I am useless at doing such things myself. Plus, I wanted to check the place out as it’s one of the oldest “real” wig salons in the city. I called ahead of time to make an appointment, and Cookie, the daughter of the original owner, was very friendly, and told me to come on in.

I made the trek into the city with two wigs – a short one by Rene of Paris called Rianna, and a very long double mono-top called Amanda by Jon Renau. Cookie sat me down in a chair in the back of the store, took both my wigs out of the box and plopped them on my head, and proceeded to tell me what could be done with them both. It was clear to me that Cookie was in charge, and that what Cookie said should be how it goes. I listened to her detailed suggestions about styling options, and nodded my head in obedience like I always do when confronted by a stylist using words beyond my comprehension like layers or razored. Color me surprised when Cookie walked away and sent my stylist into the room, who proceeded to ask me what she was supposed to do to my hair.

“Um, what she just said,” I stammered, pointing to the doorway through which Cookie had disappeared seconds earlier. The stylist looked confused and concerned.

“Well…but I wasn’t in here…I didn’t hear what she said,” she offered.

Now, Cookie was so matter-of-fact about what could be done to my hair I’d sort of assumed it was standard wig procedure that anyone knowledgeable at all about wigs would know, but my stylist (who I shall refrain from naming because she was a very nice lady) didn’t appear to have a clue. I tried my best to repeat what Cookie had said about wispy bangs on the short one, and length and layering on the long one, and we slowly got to work.

I say slowly because the wig stylist was very timid, a little bit scatterbrained, and perpetually confused. At one point she ran the thinning razor down the length of my long wig when she mistook it for her comb. “Oops, look at that!” she laughed, as long strands of fairly expensive wig hair fiber fluttered around me to the floor.

As I hinted previously, I go completely stupid when in a stylist’s chair, be it to cut the hair on a wig or hair of my own. I don’t know why this is – I guess since I am so useless with styling I feel as helpless in the stylist’s chair as I am at the doctor’s office once I put on a backless gown and sit on the examination table. I tend to just nod stupidly at anything they say or do, pay my money, then go home, look at myself in a mirror later, and, usually, get mad. But in the stylist’s chair – nothing. No thoughts of any kind.

That was pretty much the case here, and it was clear the stylist was having a similar experience. She did not appear skilled at cutting wigs, or any sort of hair for that matter. The big clue should have been when I asked her where she’d worked before coming to work at the wig shop and she told me JC Penney. Now, I have nothing against the JCP. I’ve bought many an awesome turtleneck there, as well as some killer pajamas. But they don’t pop into my head when I think of cutting-edge hair fashion.

Truth be told, there was a JC Penney vibe to the entire salon. It had clearly not been redecorated since 1985 (which is the last time I can personally remember JC Penney being fashionable, sorryboutit), and there was actual Muzak being pumped through the store via one of those TV music stations that have a perpetually blue screen with song titles and other details in the bottom corner. It was all wood paneled walls and linoleum and air-conditioning window units, and wigs on mannequins sort of scattered on shelves everywhere, and cheap rhinestone jewelry in sets for half off by the archaic, completely non-computerized cash register. In short, it was exactly what one might picture when hearing the phrase “wig salon.”

But. While I was there a woman came in without an appointment, one who was experiencing hair loss. Cookie took charge immediately, commandeering her into a chair in the same little room where my stylist was meticulously blunt-cutting my long wig into a totally straight line across the bottom, apparently to chop any sense of shape or style right out of it. The woman explained what it was she was wanting, and Cookie set to work, scuttling about the salon and bringing her several options to try (two hairpieces and a full wig). Cookie put each of them on her quickly and efficiently, explaining the benefits and drawbacks of each. At some point during their work together I heard the woman say that she was given far better treatment here than at “the other salon” she’d tried, and that “over there” she was not given the sort of information and options with which Cookie provided her.

And in short, that’s what this place is about. Sure, in theory, anyone can drop in there and try on wigs to buy; but it was clear, after my wigs had been “trimmed” (i.e., jacked up) and I began wandering around the store looking at various wigs, that Cookie was not comfortable with this method of customer shopping. I was touching things. I was picking them up and deciding on my own what to try. And I don’t think that’s what the saleswomen there are trained to deal with. They know how to sit people down, hear them out, and then go get them what they want. They are excellent at helping the customer who needs help, but dealing with people who want to browse and try on wigs to wear for fun over their perfectly normal bio hair, they’re not so sure about. In fact, I got the distinct feeling that I made them nervous.

Which is ultimately fine by me. I’ve heard so many horror stories about people with hair loss being treated insensitively in wig stores that if there’s one in town that caters to them at the expense of catering to me, then so be it. The woman who needed help covering up her hair loss was relieved and happy, and I got out of their way soon enough so they could get on with what they were there to do. And yes, I’ve heard all about how annoying it is to own a wig store and have people come in, try on loads of wigs, and buy nothing,  but I in fact bought three. Well, I bought two and got the third one free, which is their standing deal. I fully intended to buy something when I started trying things on, because they are one of the few places in town providing a highly needed service for people, and I wanted to support them. Why they can’t hire a wig stylist who knows what they’re doing and get rid of the Muzak I don’t have a clue, but honestly, if you’re having a hair emergency, do you care about wood paneling and bad music? Probably not. Although they probably do care about who trims their wigs, but there was another chair in the store that appeared to house a second stylist, and I have a suspicion I’d been assigned to the ‘new lady’ so she could use me as wig practice.

In the end, one wig (the short one) was ruined, and the long one is on its way to a different stylist to (hopefully) be fixed. The salespeople’s lack of comfort with my approach to shopping in their store, plus the really high prices (Felicity by Rene of Paris, for example, was $225 there, when I can find it online for $87 EASY) pretty much guarantee I won’t go back. But overall, if you’re having a hair emergency and need someone to calm you down and help you out, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the place. Just don’t touch anything while you’re there unless Cookie touches it first, and consider getting the wig trimmed somewhere else if that’s needed. Oh, and as expected of a brick and mortar store, be prepared to pay more for your hair.

By the way – I was able to salvage the long Amanda wig by sending it off for customization; I’ll share the final results in an upcoming post, along with a quick video of how she looks now (yes, Amanda is actually one of the only wigs I bought back in the day that I still own. We went through way too much together for me to abandon her).

13 thoughts on “Wig City Blues – Customizing Your Fake Hair

  1. So sorry to hear this story. It is sad that people that work in salons are not trained to take care of those asking for professional help on their wig. It’s like bringing your car to a dealership asking for help because the red light in on and everybody just looks at you like you’re crazy.
    Wig salons that have ties to local hospitals and/or the American Cancer Society, as a rule have better trained people. But not always.

    • Yeah, the stylists around here are so rude about it., as if it’s shameful to own or wear a wig.

      By the way, I took that Gabor Limited Edition wig to my mom yesterday, and she loved it. It actually looked great on her!

      • I’m also having trouble finding a local stylist to get some wigs customized, so this was a useful post to read. (It’s not just me!) I’ll try Rebecca’s idea and search for salons affiliated with hospitals or the ACS. Also, I’m washing and boxing up some unused wigs to donate to a local cancer support center; I’ll bet you that THEY could suggest salons that know how to groom poodles–I mean, properly fix the wigs that I’m keeping. I will ask.

        In the interim, I got a relatively-inexpensive canvas head, table clamp, t-pins and mini garment steamer online, watched some YT videos on steaming techniques and was pleasantly surprised at the customization that I could do all by myself. It worked well for bang-wrangling and part-shifting, as well as adding some “bump-it” to the crowns and gently curving some wigs that came with built-in stick-straight cowlicks. So I’m adding this comment, in case anyone else has considered the DIY approach but not taken the leap. It worked out very well (and offered hours of entertainment for the cats, too).

        (By the way, I don’t just read your blog for the hair-y posts. I like the airplane ones a lot, too. Heh!)

  2. (I wanted to post this as a reply to MM’s response to one of my posts, but I’m not sure if it’s going to shake out that way–well, regardless.) Oh, yes! I follow Lauren on Corner of Hope and Mane, too–she’s another champion at offering practical advice to the be-wigged.

    I’m really happy to have so many good places to turn, to think/talk/read about wigs, online.

  3. Pingback: Video Wig Review: Amanda by Jon Renau in Color 33RH29 | mareymercy.

  4. Pingback: Wig Salon Review: Headcovers Unlimited | mareymercy.

  5. Let me try it again…giggled at your going mute and mindless in the stylist chair. Though my mom was a stylist and I have *a knack* styling hair myself, when I’ve gotten a bad stylist, I do the same AND I TIP THEM! I was raised to be “nice,” and to be polite. Ugh!

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