My journey into the colourful world of alopecia and chemo head scarves
I’ve had alopecia since I was 10 – when a bald patch appeared at the nape of my neck, growing upwards as I grew, too.
Over the next few years, that patch had expanded to my temples and behind my ears – and was much harder to hide. By the age of 21, I had a serious case of “receding hairline”. Yikes.
My first headscarf was a dark green, stretchy cotton one and I wore it A LOT. It was a circular band, 4 inches thick – which, at the time, was the perfect concealer for my bald spots.
People in college assumed it was a style choice and I leaned into that personality with gusto: the clunky jewellery-wearing, headscarf-obsessed hippy who so did NOT have bald patches to hide! 😉
By my mid-twenties, that thick headband wouldn’t stretch far enough for a scalp which, by that stage, was more patch than hair.
I needed a complete head cover, something to fit my noggin like a glove (or y’know, a hat). Especially when I was exercising, I didn’t want any headband slips or peekaboo patches.
So for a while, Buff bandanas became my very best friend. They offered that “full head wrap” approach and also soaked up the sweat from my shiny noggin (gross!) And when I did a scuba diving course in Malaysia, I even wore my stretchy blue tube of fabric alongside my scuba tank, 30m below sea level.
After wearing headbands and bandanas for a while, I realised I had another problem: I didn’t feel feminine.
I felt ugly, truth be told, with my bumpy head clearly visible beneath the buff’s thin fabric. I missed having hair. Because I thought long hair = femininity = beauty.
Of course, I was wrong. But it’d take me a few years to learn that. 😉
So I experimented with a human hair wig and clip-in extensions. They gave me lovely long locks – but as someone who’s as coordinated with a curler as an elephant is with an egg (I imagine “not very”) – I grew to hate the maintenance. Not to mention the painful combs that dug into my scalp and gave me headaches.
But most of all, even though I had long hair again, I didn’t feel like myself.
I felt like I was hiding. And I wanted to come clean.
It was right before I went on a solo backpacking trip and over the next few months, I’d be stared at, laughed at and openly criticised. But I’d ALSO start to feel more comfortable in my baldness, and in myself, than ever before!
LA Says: It was a huge turning point in my life and really, when Lady Alopecia was born. Because it was only after that trip I opened up about my alopecia for the first time. Which made me want to help others do the same!
During that trip, I didn’t have my bald head out all the time. It was too hot! And I felt a tad masculine in my sporty Buff bandana.
Luckily, my lovely friends had given me a beautiful gift before I left – a silky patterned headscarf. YouTube taught me how to tie a headscarf and that turban style became the look I love today.
When I moved to Vietnam a few years later, I discovered the head-kissing joy that is bamboo material. I asked my friend Bee – who runs a shop called Sewing Bee (cute, right?) to make me a couple and the bright yellow, red and blue head scarves became my favourite accessories.
Then I got a black one. And a turquoise one. And… Well. I became obsessed with head scarves!
A few years back, I set up Lady Alopecia in the hopes of informing and empowering people with all kinds of hair loss.
And I noticed, aside from messages about causes and treatments for alopecia, a few questions kept popping up:
Q1. Where do you get your funky head scarves?
Q2. How do you tie a hair wrap?
Q3. Where can I buy chemo scarves?
I gave those readers a few tips for tying hair scarves – or I’d link to this post. But I didn’t know where they could get a bamboo, hypoallergenic and comfortable headscarf like the ones I snuggled my own head in, nearly every day.
With Bee’s help, I now sell a collection of chemo head wraps and head scarves for hair loss. Which aren’t just for alopecians or chemo patients – they’re for anyone who wants to rock a funky new style. 😉
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a proud alopecian who’s happy to unveil her bald nut in public. It took the guts of 20 years but here I am: bald and proud.
Still, there are times when I don’t feel like being “the bald girl”. And those times, my various hair wraps come in very handy indeed.
5 things that make me wrap my head up…
Life in a tropical climate is sweaty. And it’s not so smart to expose my baldness to the sun’s scorching heat, no matter how much SPF I slather on first!
On the other hand, when I’m home in Ireland, it’s too cold to expose my bare head. (“This one’s too hot, this one’s too cold…” I’m like Goldilocks, without the locks.)
I used to wear chemo hats – but it was a pain to take them off indoors and rearrange my tufty mohawk. Now I wear headscarves outside and in. As Ms. G would say: “This one’s juuuust right!”
Sometimes a bald head maketh the best ball gown accessory. And when I dress up for a night out, it’s super-fun to style my mohawk, throw on some red lippie and be ready in 5 minutes flat. No wrestling with curlers for me! Phew.
Other times, I wanna make a different statement. And a piled-up leopard-print turban can speak volumes.
After living in Hoi An – a town of blues and yellows – for a while, I started matching my wardrobe to its cheerful walls. And it wasn’t long until my collection of alopecia head scarves followed suit.
Now I have a bamboo hairscarf in every colour. So in the morning, I choose my “hair” like I’d choose a pair of earrings. It’s so much fun to pick a bright new colour every day!
Like I said, there are days when I simply don’t want to draw attention to my head. I want to blend in with the crowd and not have a big discussion about my condition – or to attract a hundred photos from passing tour groups. (That happens a lot!)
So whenever I wanna shun the spotlight of my shiny head, I wrap it in more subtle colours (like my black head scarf, or navy blue). I tie my scarf in a – more reserved – ‘pirate style’ and enjoy the anonymity.
Because it’s just more comfortable: physically, mentally and emotionally. Travelling can be exhausting enough – long bus journeys, busy airports, dodgy stomachs – without getting unwanted attention along the way.
So I wear my simplest headscarf (a light cotton one, which I tie like a washerwoman) when I’m in transit, avoiding curious/pitying looks while I’m at it. (Well, most of them – it’s still pretty obvious I’m bald underneath!)
I source and sell bamboo, silk and jersey cotton head scarves now, for different occasions. To get Lady Alopecia’s stamp of approval, they need to be:
LA Says: I went through too many rounds of itchy, heavy, uncomfortable headwraps before I found the perfect material: bamboo. Then I found 100% pure silk from Hoi An’s Silk Village.
And then a lady asked me to source jersey cotton for her custom-made head scarves – and I fell in love with its stretchy softness, too!
I love them all, but bamboo’s the one I wear most. I’m probably known in Hoi An as some translation of “the girl with the colourful head”. But there’s worse things to be called, right?!
So, that’s the story of my journey into head scarves. I hope you enjoyed it and if you decide to take that journey yourself, I’m happy to be your guide!