Hair Expo Inc. wig specialists Kelli Williams (left) and Sheree Stivender have been helping women select wigs for a combined total of 27 years.

Hair Expo Inc. wig specialists Kelli Williams (left) and Sheree Stivender have been helping women select wigs for a combined total of 27 years.

by Jeremy Jones

She used to go to Hair Expo for “Gouda Gouda Two Shoes,” her favorite OPI Nail Polish. But this time, “Marlene” entered the store and measuredly walked toward the back, bypassing the sumptuous OPI display.

Her pageboy-style, salt and pepper hair was pulled back from her forehead with a headband. She’d worn headbands since high school; this one was faux tortoise shell, a gift from her niece. The daunting prospect ahead blurred all her senses, save one: the sight of a sea of bewigged mannequin heads staring at her through the vapors of her own personal fog. “Where do I begin?”

As sales associate Kelli Williams cheerfully approached with a “Good morning,” Marlene stiffened. Kelli read the signal loud and clear. “I can always feel it,” she said, reflecting on first meeting Marlene. “’Is this for a special occasion?’ I might ask, to help customers feel more at ease.” When Marlene explained she wanted to buy a wig before beginning cancer treatment, Kelli looked at her with the discrete gaze of a gentle confidant: You are safe. If it’s okay with you, let’s walk this journey together.

Although Hair Expo, has a strong customer base of women who are seeking wigs for fashion, style and variety, they assist women in circumstances similar to Marlene’s on a daily basis; those who are about to start radiation or chemotherapy, and those who have lost their hair due to the treatments. The wigs and fitting area are in the rear of the store to ensure privacy.

“Some of the customers who come to us have never worn a wig,” said sales associate Sheree Stivender. “Once I look at their hair, I have an eye for what they might like. And for the older ladies, I never assume they want gray. But for women who have lost or are losing their hair, I can usually tell. Most times they bring a friend, a support buddy. I ask what color they might like, human or synthetic, style, curls or straight. For many women, wearing a wig feels strange at first. I let them know it takes time to get used to.”

Sheree and Kelli have been wig specialists for many years, and both have been styling hair since they were little girls. At the age of 12, Sheree would do her mother’s cornrows so professionally, women in the neighborhood asked her to do theirs. At age 10, Kelli did the same thing for her mother and her mother’s friends in Mt. Airy.

Hair Expo, at 7721 Crittenden St. in Market Square, carries multiple styles of human and synthetic wigs as well as all the products needed for maintenance and grooming. Human hair can be washed, styled, curled and blow-dried.

“But people gravitate to the synthetics because they are less expensive, more fun, have more colors,” Sheree said. “Most of all, they want it to look believable.” To enhance that believable look, Sheree and Kelli can work a wig with weaves and extensions which can be clipped in, sewn in or glued in – for highlights, volume, color and length.

Sheree and Kelli see what they do as providing “a place where women come to feel validated and to know they are not alone,” whether they are enduring the physical and emotional rigors of cancer treatment, or just having a bad day.

When Marlene saw “Benny,” she felt an overwhelming sense of hope and relief. Benny is a synthetic lace-front wig shown with a headband. Lace fronts are the wig of choice for actors, performers and celebrities because the sheer lace base creates the look of natural hair growth along the front hairline. Marlene and Benny would be good friends – good enough that she didn’t want to leave without stopping at the OPI counter first. And not only that, Kelli and Sheree reminded her, “Nobody leaves without a hug.”

Human hair wigs: $49 to $69. Synthetic wigs: $25 to $50. “Benny” lace-front wig: $59. Terry turbans: ($2.99). Caps, hats, cloches and fedoras: $5.99 to $14.99. Scarves $4.99 to $6.99.