Rogaine and Propecia? No. Why the 5000-Year-Old Toupee is the Best Contemporary Solution for Baldness
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In 2010, the Sony Corporation sold more than $70 million worth of eight-track cassette players, horse and buggy sales topped $70 million at General Motors, and Hair Club generated more than $70 million by peddling tiny patches of human hair to bald men. Preposterous, you say? Well, sure, especially that last one. But of course only the last one is that true. The Hair Club chain is now owned and operated by the Regis Corporation, and according to the Regis Corporation’s 2010 annual report, Hair Club generated $141 million in revenue in 2010, half of which came from its hair replacement service. Technologies come and go, and yet in the age of Rogaine, Propecia, and increasingly sophisticated hair transplant techniques, the old-fashioned toupee — employing the same basic technology it has for the last 5,000 years — remains a solid seller.
Oh, sure, refinements have been made to what those in the business prefer to call “hair replacement systems.” But the general components involved, and the process by which they’re turned into a simulated head of hair, have evolved little over the millennia. In 1954,
how a toupee maker fashions a base by tracing a client’s bald spot with a heavy black marker then making a pattern based on that outline via a sheet of wet paper. In 2008, Michigan Baldy
After a pattern of the bald spot has been obtained, a few simple steps follow. First, you use the pattern to create a base out of Swiss lace or some other fine, porous material, then you sew strands of real or synthetic hair into the basis. Finally, the base is secured to the client’s scalp. In some cases, adhesives or double-sided tape is used. In others, hair from the toupee is woven together with hair still growing on the client’s head. The ancient Egyptian toupee unearthed from a tomb in Hierakanpolis in 2001 used the latter approach. “Around the edges on the underside [of the toupee] were darker, straighter strands of hair, apparently human, with bits of scalp adhering,” an archaeological newsletter
. “These strands, it would seem, served to secure the animal hair to the head.”
But if the toupee is a relatively simple technology, it’s also an time-consuming one. While toupees are commonly called rugs, they’re more like lawns, requiring vigilant tending to maintain their verdant appearance. A 1926 article in the
New York Times
entitled “Modern Men Also Aspire to Beauty” reports that “a toupee costs $25 and last less than a year.” In the mid-1950s, anyone who bought one of the “career-winning toupees” for sale in the Sears, Roebuck catalog did so with the knowledge that he would have to return it to Sears every month or so for dry-cleaning. Frank Sinatra is said to have employed a man solely to care for his more than 100 hair pieces, and when Burt Reynolds filed for bankruptcy in 1996, he
Edward Katz Hair Design $121,796.62.
It’s easy to understand why a balding pharaoh in ancient Egypt — worrying about his career possibilities, doubting his touch with the ladies, feeling old before his time — might rope his hair to a swatch of sheep hide. Minoxidal didn’t exist yet. Surgeons were already performing brain surgeries, but excising a single hair and replanting it elsewhere on the scalp in a way that looks natural is a far more delicate art than brain surgery. A balding pharaoh had no option but go bald or wear a toupee.