Wiggin’ out

Two RN&R staffers go in search of a new look and find happiness instead

Kelley tries on the “skunk” wig.

Kelley tries on the “skunk” wig.

Photo By David Robert

Wig World is at 1583 S. Virginia St. For more information, call 329-2711.

Many women have a love-hate relationship with their hair. When it behaves, we’re complete, at one with our inner cover girl. When it’s unruly, we’re distraught. How can something so benign cause such misery?

Recently, news editor Deidre Pike and I were talking about our common hair complaints. Deidre complained that her hairstyle is boring. She’s considering a new color for her blonde, highlighted hair. I, on the other hand, like my hairstyle but wanted an excuse to try on some funky, colorful wigs—perhaps take on a different persona.

Perhaps, Deidre said, our hair dissatisfaction is rooted in a capitalist, patriarchal beauty culture. It’s no coincidence that the letters B, U and Y are right there in the middle of B-E-A-U-T-Y (along with E-A-T). Of course, she’s been studying feminist writers for a class at the University of Nevada, Reno, and she’s starting to say some strange stuff.

During the course of the conversation, Deidre glanced at an ad for Wig World in a local daily paper.

“We could go there and wig out,” she said.

That’s how we found ourselves at Wig World on South Virginia Street on a recent Friday morning. Owner Marsha Lee, a petite, smartly dressed woman, welcomed us as we walked in. She was already eyeing our respective mops as she enthusiastically told us her approach to finding the right coif for her customers.

First, she asks her customers why they came to the shop and what hairstyle they are looking for. Her main concern, she said, is that her customers feel comfortable and leave the shop happy, even if they don’t buy a wig.

“My philosophy is I like to make people happy,” she said. “I don’t like to think of money. I like people to leave happy. I feel touched in my heart.”

Lee, who has a teenage son, explained that patience is important in dealing with customers as well as children. She applies this approach to helping her customers as she does to parenting. She feels you should communicate love to your children, even when they do things that are upsetting. She says that love and happiness begets love and happiness. It’s a handy philosophy, especially with cancer patients who come in to buy wigs or turbans.

“If you’re sick, you can accept it, then deal with it,” she said. “Make happiness … it’s contagious.”

Deidre and I were eager to try on some of Wig World’s synthetic and natural hair wigs. Marsha said she has more than 1,500 wigs in stock. The store has two sections, one with wigs priced under $75 and the other with the pricier hair. Natural hair wigs are usually more expensive.

“Do you think something long and dark will work for me?” Deidre asked. “I want to go black, but I don’t want my face to look all ghostly.”

Marsha picked a reddish-brown, mid-length, shag-styled wig, and Deidre chose a long, straight, dark brown wig.

While Deidre tried on wigs, Marsha talked about how she studied dress design in Hawaii and planned to move to New York City to continue studying fashion. But her life took another turn: She got married and moved to the West Coast. She came to Reno five years ago and opened Wig World one year later.

As Marsha teased the front of Deidre’s first wig, photographer David Robert took photos. All of us agreed that the color and cut were flattering. The next wig—the long, dark wig Deidre picked—gave her a totally different look, like a 1960s go-go dancer. She decided it was a bit extreme. A third wig, which Marsha chose, had a shorter cut and a lighter shade of brown. It was stylish and professional, and it made Deidre’s blue eyes stand out.

Owner Marsha Lee holds up a mirror as Deidre admires her wig from another angle.

Photo By David Robert

“This is what I want,” Deidre said. “I could look like this every day.”

An exotic-looking dancer’s wig, with long, streaming curls, caught her eye. But the fantasy evaporated as the hair hit her shoulders.

“Jeesh, too much hair. You’d need a stylish long neck and pointy face to make this look good.”

The Styrofoam heads lining every wall in the shop had stylishly long necks and pointy faces.

“Why do they all look like Michael Jackson?” David wanted to know.

He also asked how much the heads cost. They’re five bucks. We didn’t ask David why he wanted a Styrofoam wig head that looks like Michael Jackson.

Marsha boasted that she painted some of the heads’ lips and eyelashes herself. David complimented her on her fine work.

When it was my turn, I told Marsha I wanted something fun, so we headed off toward the section stocked with what I call “club” wigs. I picked two bob cuts: one in a red-violet shade and the other, a split-tone in black and white. Then I picked an electric blue “Cleopatra” style wig.

I loved the first wig because it reminded me of the burgundy hair color I used to have in college. I felt cute and flirtatious. The black and white wig was definitely cool—very dramatic. I was drawn to its split personality. One side seemed angelic, the other devilish. I couldn’t tell if the black side or the white side complemented my skin tone the most, and Deidre wasn’t sure either. David called it a skunk wig.

The blue wig appeared enticing on the mannequin head but, unfortunately, didn’t look as good on me (waaaah!). Perhaps if it were dark blue and I had dark eye shadow on, it would have worked. I guess I’m not much of a seductress.

Marsha said these wigs are very popular with her younger customers. The prices were reasonable, too. Most of them were in the $30 to $75 range.

Marsha then got two other bob ‘dos; one was all black and the other was reddish-brown with blonde streaks. I looked better than I expected in the jet-black wig; it made me feel chic and artistic, so avant-garde. I was even flirting with the idea of coloring my hair ebony. But the rust-colored wig complemented me the most. It wasn’t as unconventional as the blue number, but it wasn’t boring. Perhaps that’s the true me: a person who likes to stand out but doesn’t want to be the center of attention.

Whether they’re made of real human hair or some kind of synthetic hair, wigs aren’t hard to care for, Marsha said. Some can last up to two years with proper care. Wigs being made today are lighter and easier to maintain.

Some customers buy wigs when they’re going on vacation, because it saves them the hassle of styling their own hair. Older customers come in for wigs or hairpieces to cover up thinning hair. Turbans and wigs are sold to patients undergoing chemotherapy. Marsha told us how she closes the window blinds to provide these customers privacy when trying on turbans or wigs.

Before we took our leave of the store, she reiterated her desire to please her customers. A customer must only please herself, she said, not worry about what other people will think. She explained that when she talks to customers, she talks not about business, but about love.

“We can share happiness,” she said.

Deidre and I didn’t leave with any wigs, but we left with something better—smiles on our faces. We had fun playing with different looks, and Marsha’s words rang true. Happiness is contagious.