Been there, done that…got the badge

Out and about on my travels this month I met a lovely group of women at Maggie’s Centre Oxford. I’d gone along for a chat about headwear, however before I got going a lady leaned across and said looking at the pile of hats next to me ‘That’s ‘the badge’ isn’t it?’ I knew exactly what she meant and so this article is all about ‘badge’ wearing. Headwear doesn’t have to be ‘a badge’ but how do you get it straight in your own mind that is the case?

Let’s define the ‘badge’ first, most women experiencing chemo hair loss think of turbans as the most widely recognised style to wear. This means anything with ruching up the centre front will resemble a turban. If this shouts ‘medical’ or ‘patient wear’ to you - avoid it. There are many other hat styles out there that convey chic, stylish, quirky, 60’s, funky - infact just about anything you want to convey! Secondly, decide whether you are worried about consistency – ‘I must look as I always have’. Or decide to allow yourself some freedom and greater choice to try things new. This will determine your wig purchase and how much wig wearing you intend to do.

Female hair loss is traumatic whatever the condition and many women tell us that they find this symptom to be extremely hard to cope with, because it is the most visible display of their condition. Female hair loss is rarely discussed in the media, even in the medical sense and there are certainly few fashion articles to inform women how they might look without hair or how to manage their new ‘hair less’ appearance. So what to do when it is happening to you?

My comments are formed from talking to hundreds of women over 5 years and by no means will be suitable for all. All of us as women have a unique relationship with our hair – love it or bear a long standing apathy towards it we’d all prefer it not to go. All women find rapidly shedding hair the most traumatic of times and although we can’t control the loss, we can take steps to control the trauma. This might be having our hair styled shorter – shorter hair is less noticeable than longer hair when it falls. Wear a sleep cap at night to catch hair, rather than seeing it all over the pillow in the morning. Or have a chat with a trusted hairdresser to get tips on how to dress/blow dry hair to conceal patchy Alopecia. Gaining trusted advice when headbands or scarves no longer cover this stage and you’re considering getting your head shaved and wearing a wig. (Ask for an appointment when the salon is normally quiet, you don’t need to sit in a packed salon looking at women who are hair rich.)

Most women are proactive and seem to know when enough is enough and they are ready to move onto the next stage. (It is worth noting here that most hospitals have some form of wig supplier on site, many have stylists who come in and will shave bio hair and advise on personalising your wig. This is invaluable and suddenly makes any wig your own - don’t under estimate the real value of this service. Most wigs are manufactured with too much hair and need to be thinned, or at the very least shaped to your face.) If the Dermatology dept. you’re attending doesn’t have much provision, wander over to the Oncology dept. and ask what goes on there. Fresh Hair is a fabulous modern salon based within the cancer centre at University Hospital North Staffordshire, but doing just that, opening up their services to all women experiencing hair loss.

At the Maggie’s event there was a wonderful wig stylist on call to help ladies with their wigs that afternoon. She styled a wig in front of us and all of us were surprised at the quantity of fibre that was removed but also the transformation to the wearer – I’d say about 10 years!

It is important to note that there is nothing embarrassing about approaching your hairdresser at this time. Ordinarily their advice is hair led but they can often be one of the first people to spot patchy Alopecia (depending where it is on your head). I’ve heard some wonderful stories of salons staying open late for quieter appointments, private areas for head shaving, and a flow of positive information about what can be done. Equally I hear the not so good stories, don’t put yourself in a difficult situation, either go where you know, or ring and ask about their hair loss/wig expertise and describe fully what you are looking for. Here are two wonderful outlets – Julia Lampard and Looking Good and Feeling Better, this salon is a member of Trevor Sorbie’s My New Hair network and more are listed here - My New Hair.

Once your hair loss is established remember you are still you. Your personality and sense of style are all there still intact. Any headwear you wear should fall in with that – your wardrobe, the colours you love to wear. Take it gently at first very few of us wear enough hats these days to know exactly what suits us. Try some easy, ‘pull on and go’ casual styles that are soft and cool to wear. Preferably in colours that you have lots of in your wardrobe and this will minimise anxiety and faffing on a daily basis. It is only natural to feel you don’t want to draw ‘unnecessary attention’ to yourself in the early days, (I have heard this a lot). Actually a few compliments at this time are exactly what you need. Once you’ve mastered a few styles and got an idea for what flatters your face shape, you can try more adventurous styles and really start developing ‘your look’.

Whenever you decide to purchase your wig, shop around don’t rush into it. Look on-line for wig selection advice and tips, check out NHS voucher compatible styles in your local hospital and then maybe tackle your local stores. If you’re at all unsure walk away and leave it for another day. If you have something to put on your head there is no rush, but do leave yourself enough ‘well’ time to look. If you’re looking at long term hair loss there are many systems and price bands to choose from and it is well worth spending a little time on the internet before you book an appointment to check out all your options.

We know there is no substitute for a full head of your own hair but there are many stylish options available to women now. Don’t feel you have to put up with ‘badge’ headwear - something that only works in its most practical sense i.e it covers your head. Any headwear wherever you find it – from Suburban Turban to your local charity shop – should lift your day and keep you looking gorgeous!