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Trying toupees 40 years after going bald
Wig specialist Maria Cardenas of the Wig Shop in Modesto attempts her magic on Bulletin reporter Glenn Kahl showing one element in what might be seen as male vanity. Kahl lost his hair in his mid-30s and was surprised by his own first blush reaction some 40 years later. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

It’s all about hair or the lack of it in a man and having the courage to try a toupee.

Wearing a hairpiece is something I never considered since losing most of my thinning hair in my mid-30s to pattern baldness and, of course, my last name has been no help. Kahl is a German surname defined as man of little hair or more directly, just plain “bald.”

The “vanity feature” choice of topics came out of an editorial staff meeting with all of us doing a story on men’s vanity in today’s world. Hey, I didn’t want to go into a beauty salon and write about a man getting a pedicure or having eyebrows permanently tattooed above his eyes. So, I volunteered to do a piece on men’s hair, quickly coming up with the idea to face the embarrassment of trying on men’s wigs, seeing it as the least of what could be other somewhat embarrassing challenges. And, since I couldn’t find a wig shop in the Manteca area, I called on Maria Cardenas and her Wig Box on Drake Avenue in Modesto. Bulletin reporter/photographer Rose Albano-Risso followed me to the Modesto shop and, chuckling all the while, taking several pictures of me in a salon chair for my feature.

The most memorable moment came when Rose walked through the Wig Box front door and thought she was interrupting an appointment between the shop owner and her client. She started to apologize for walking in unannounced — her mouth dropped looking at me in the chair — saying, “Glenn, is that you? Oh, my gosh! I didn’t know you.”

Together Maria and I tried on several hair pieces using different facial expressions for Rose’s benefit just for the fun of it. Rose quickly dropped to a low angle and shot away in my direction. We spent only half an hour with the pictures and the interview learning the importance of a true professional sizing up her clients and the psychology that she must use — especially with cancer patients who have lost their hair to chemo. She said she doesn’t intrude into people’s personal lives unless they open the conversation and show her they want to talk.

The feature gave me a reason to go online where I learned more than I will probably ever need to know about hairpieces from their cost to the basic parts of a man’s toupee and the amount of ventilation it provides to prevent excessive perspiration. The choice of hair is either synthetic or actually real hair which comes at a greater cost. What I tried on my head was synthetic but it actually felt like the real thing to me. A basic hair style is created when the toupee is attached to the skull cap that acts as its foundation.

Of course the greater threat to a man’s vanity comes when new friends or business associates realize you are wearing a hairpiece, knowing how others have looked the other way or worse yet teased the wearer. Professional stylists note that toupees made with natural fibers can fool most people with the most perceptive and keen vision. 

Maria can be reached at her shop at 109 Drake Avenue in Modesto at 209.524.6649. From what I witnessed her hairpieces are moderately priced.