Smooth Operator

Losing my hair to alopecia revealed more than just the head underneath

I borrowed my parents’ car to drive to the West End suburb. It was a long drive, one that went by strip malls and big box stores, pet shops and pawn shops, shawarma joints and Swiss Chalets. I was not in my element.

The dermatologist had recommended Jenni’s Wigs, saying they had a good selection and decent prices. “These wigs are made of real human hair,” the salesperson said, “so you can wash them, style them, even cut them! But they also wear out the way real hair does, so we recommend you replace them every four months, otherwise, it starts to show, you know…” she trailed off. I tried on a few wigs; they were all so big, so fluffy, so voluminous, so styled. Here I was, a 25 year old woman in Chuck Taylors and a Le Tigre t-shirt, who used to style her short shag by washing it and sleeping on it while still wet, who was content not shaving her legs or armpits, listening to the clerk tell her the bouncy blonde bob really suited her complexion. I pulled the last wig off and finally recognized the person in the mirror: she was bald, and that suited her.

I started losing my hair in the early days of Grade 9. It began with one looney-sized spot, followed by many more. The dermatologist explained that I had alopecia areata, an auto-immune condition that made my immune system attack my hair as though it were a disease. With alopecia, the root of the hair remains in the scalp, which means that it is possible for the hair to grow back. Regrowth can be encouraged with cortisone injections to the affected area, or by using products like Rogain. I tried both, but soon grew tired of monthly dermatologist appointments and very irritating creams and lotions that would make my skin burn and flake. So I just bided my time until the hair returned, changing my hair style to best hide the damn spots.

But eventually the bald spots started growing larger. I could no longer hide them by parting my hair differently or swooping my bangs this way or that. I started wearing a lot of hats, soft lightweight berets that weren’t too hot indoors. I became a master of scarves, expertly wrapping my head in a flurry of silk knots and ruffles or crisply tucked cotton, depending on what the rest of my outfit commanded. At the time, I was singing in a retro-sounding rock band, so my headgear became very much a part of my onstage persona. Since my bangs were still kind enough to stick by me, few people knew that once the hat or the scarf came off, I looked like a sphinx cat.

I can’t remember what exactly prompted me to finally shave it all off. But one day I decided to lose the last resilient wispy locks in the mustard yellow sink of my apartment’s bathroom, using my then-boyfriend’s razor to finish the job (not big on shaving my legs, I didn’t have a razor of my own). I couldn’t stop touching my head—it was soft and warm, and just a little clammy. I walked into work the next day with a mixture of trepidation and relief; my co-workers knew of my alopecia and were cool enough not to make a big fuss over what was kind of a big deal to me. But one staff member, a part-timer who didn’t know me that well, hadn’t realized I had lost my hair—he thought I had shaved it off purposely. I was flattered that he thought I was badass enough to do such a thing, and at that moment my attitude toward baldness shifted. Instead of it being inflicted upon me, I was going to own it.

It wasn’t that much of a leap, come to think of it. Thanks to my family, my friends and my extended feminist tribe, I was already the kind of person who saw value in going against the norm and challenging expectations of female attractiveness, of femaleness period. I already cherished looking weird! In pop culture women are expected not to have hair on their legs, their armpits, or their pubic areas, but the head is supposed to be full of lustrous locks flowing in the wind. Being a bald woman and embracing it was just another way of flipping a proud middle finger to the rigid constraints of accepted commercial taste.

Then, one day, as I was applying sunscreen to my noggin, I noticed a bit of fuzz creeping through. Over the ensuing months, the fuzz continued to grow, and soon I was sporting a cute crop like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby. Why did my hair grow back? Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve read that it is rare but not impossible for this to happen, but also that it could very well fall out again. So my attitude toward the regrowth was the same as my attitude toward the loss: I just rolled with it. Today, my head appears to be full. You wouldn’t know I have alopecia unless I flipped my head forward and revealed the accidental undercut that creeps up around my ears. Whipping my whole upper body back and forth like a rag doll is one of my favourite dance moves, which I guess means many people do quite frequently see my bald spots, but at this point I couldn’t care less. This song is too good not to dance.

text // Marie-Camille Lalande
photography // Rémi Thériault

Read more stories about personal relationships with hair in issue 15 of WORN Fashion Journal, out later this month.

Rocky, I Trust You

Crushing on hair stylist Rocky Handspiker and his Modern Lovers Hair Shop

A good hair stylist is hard to find. No one seemed to understand me: my hair, my style, or my interests.

Then I met Rocky.

Our styling chair discussions aren’t your typical salon banter. Among many topics, we’ve talked about how he spent a year working in a salon in Japan that specialized in creating black hair looks on Asian hair. I’ve walked into the salon to find Rocky hand threading a mustache for his costuming class he was taking “on the side” of running his own business and raising a child. Rocky is anything but boring, and that is why I trust him.

How long have you been cutting hair?
I started in 1982, just messing around with friends. People wanted punk, new wave, and hip hop inspired cuts, and I ended up being the guy to see. At the time, British punk style was fusing with NY break-dancing culture, and it seemed like taking scissors into our own hands (well, mine mostly) was the best way to get it.

Where did you learn?
I started with basic training at the Marvel School of Beauty, and then moved on to advanced training with various academies like Vidal Sassoon and Toni & Guy. On top of that, hands on experiences and other creative challenges really helped me to perfect my skills. Things like seminars for hairdressers, fashion shows, pageants, music videos, photo shoots, and hairstyling competitions. However, I’ve technically been working in salons since I was fourteen years old—around the same time I had started cutting my friends’ hair. An older girl with a David Bowie smile had heard about me through the grapevine and I soon became a shampoo boy at the shop she worked at with other funky stylists. Eventually I decided that committing to cutting hair was something I was serious about and took up formal classical foundation training.

Did you have any mentors or other inspiring people who helped you along the way? 
Each salon I’ve worked at has had an incredible impact on my development. I’ve been inspired by many people and experiences, but one that really stands out was Pamela Neal. She took over for renowned stylist John Steinberg at the Rainbow Room in Toronto, which was a punk and new wave styled salon known as not just any place for cutting hair. Fashion, music, art, and media all came together at the Rainbow Room. It opened in 1976 and brought the British fashion scene to Toronto, moving away from the hippie era of Yorkville. Eventually it became where the Queen Street Scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s came to get their hair done. When Jimi Imij and Robert Pieter of Coupe Bizzarre brought their camp from Montreal to set up on Queen Street West in Toronto in the ’90s, I had the pleasure of working with and learning from them.

What has traveling as a stylist been like?
I worked in salons in Tokyo for one year, which was totally fascinating. There were lots of different styles meeting in a Japanese environment because of the many travellers and influences of outside music and culture on looks. I spent time at a black salon owned by a group of people formerly from Brooklyn, who needed me to help with their European clients. I was working alongside Japanese stylists who were having me translate hip hop lyrics for them—it was kind of crazy.

I worked in London, England, which was a really dynamic experience. I had the chance to do hair for photo shoots and videos, and worked in a salon on King’s Road. Living in London and experiencing the art scene there alongside my work was pretty amazing as well.

Tell me about your experiences hairstyling in the ’80s and ’90s.
At one point I worked at a three-chair salon in a fashion market managed by Pamela Neal, but when this closed I opened a small shop in Graffiti Alley in Toronto called Salon DNA. The space was also home to rave promoters X-Static. Because of this connection, during the 11 months that I owned the shop I was setting up hair styling booths at raves. I did a similar gig at the first Lollapalooza when I worked at the Rainbow Room with Pamela. We did the hair of almost 9000 festivalgoers. I moved to England after my time with Salon DNA came to an end. When I got back to Toronto in 1995, I worked at Coupe Bizzarre for 12 years.

How long has Modern Lovers Hair Shop been open?
We opened in 2010. After all those years with Coupe Bizzarre this was naturally the next step. I was originally looking to open up a sake bar with a friend, but when that fell through I decided to start my own shop. I had been working at Coupe Bizzarre and helping to train stylists there and was ready to branch out on my own, but if it wasn’t for finding this place through searching for real estate for the sake bar, I wouldn’t have left when I did. It was too good to be true. This location made sense—people come to Kensington Market for haircuts, among many other things, and the space was perfect for what I needed. This actually used to be a barbershop called Guerrero’s a while before I moved in here, so it’s kind of fitting for me to open another hair shop in this space.

What is it like working alone like you do now as opposed to working in a group setting like you have in the past?
Working one on one with clients is complete paradise—a total experience in hair styling. Early in the move people would ask me if I got lonely—never! I also have a music studio in the back room so this is a total creative space for me. However, working in a salon alongside other stylists, like I did when I worked at Coupe Bizzarre, has its advantages; the social life is interesting—you learn how to work well with others and a lot about people in general. You also draw inspiration and learn things from the other stylists around you. You can come up with ideas together for projects or looks, learn new tricks and invent things together. There’s always someone’s hair to cut. At Coupe, people came for the creative, artistic haircuts that I specialize in today. That, among many other things, has had a lasting impact on how I work.

Visit Rocky at Modern Lovers Hair Shop.

photography // Angela Lewis

The Hair Issue of Worn Fashion Journal is currently available for presale

Homemade Haircut

Change has an interesting way of manifesting in our appearances. A big promotion calls for a new suit, a new school year demands a new look, and a new romantic partner begs new briefs and panties (please tell me I’m not alone in this one?). The possibilities for displaying these shifts through personal aesthetics are endless, but the most obvious and attainable indicator of transition—be it physical or mental—has to be the haircut. In late November, I was ready for said change. With a new job and apartment on the horizon, and months full of trial and error, heartbreak, and harrowing anxiety behind me, I marched into the WORN office, scissors in hand.

I had decided 24 hours before to cut off my hair. And while I wasn’t planning on going Jean Seberg-short like many brave Wornettes before me, the impending change was drastic enough for me. Fund restrictions and a lack of patience led me to a Google chat with my editor here at WORN, and we scheduled my cut for 8 p.m. that same evening; like my dreary memories of the past, I wanted it gone, and I wanted it gone fast.

Looking back, this haircut wasn’t really about vanity. If I wanted a perfectly sculpted coif, I surely could have waited the extra week and booked an appointment at a salon—though I must admit that my confidence in Serah-Marie’s cutting capabilities doubled when I walked in the office and Edward Scissorhands was playing on the projector. For me, the cut was more about marking a transition. And, as corny as it sounds, holding six inches of loose hair in my hands somehow re-affirmed that I had the ability to not only accept change as it came, but to create it for myself; no week-long wait to book, and no hesitations.

text by Casie Brown
photography by Serah-Marie

Submit to WORN


Once again, WORN is putting out a call for submissions. This time, though, we’re looking for something a little different…

Issue 15 (due for release in autumn 2012) will be entirely on the theme of HAIR. And we’re not looking for the same old ‘do. This is your chance to really explore the long and short of it. We want hair-centric themes that touch on fashion, history, art, culture, and interesting people from angles outside the mainstream.

As always, we’re looking at YOU. Don’t hide your genius under your hat!

We are especially interested in research pieces that will explore hair from a smart and unique point of view. (Explore how the return of the herring-bone braid shows a rising political dissatisfaction with the ecological sustainability of corporate fisheries… or something more plausible.)

Feeling less cerebral? We’re also totally willing to consider thoughtful and amusing. WORN wants your personal stories and musings about hair that are original and culturally diverse.

Submit your pitch no later than April 5th, 2012. BUT WAIT! Before you send us your idea, have a look at our How to Submit page. It will give you a good idea of what we’re looking for in a pitch. (It’s not all vintage typewriters and skewering back your artfully unkempt locks with a No.2 pencil, you know.)

photograph by Marc Laroche from the Black and White Hair series