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Male weaves before and after

Lifting the lid on ‘male weaves’ – the growing hair trend for men

TextDaniel Rodgers

These hairpieces are glued, not sewn, on, disguising bald scalps and eliminating the embarrassment of a flyaway toupee

There are many reasons why men lose their hair – alopecia, chemotherapy, injury, or most commonly, male pattern baldness. Even without the turmoil of illness, the emotional journey of hair loss can be an agonising and traumatic process.

“I suffered terribly,” says Liam Rouse, who began losing his hair in his early 20s. Male pattern baldness affects around 6.5 million men in the UK but its psychological impact is rarely acknowledged in conversations surrounding men’s mental health. “It made me extremely depressed,” Rouse confesses – an experience shared by Paul Cochrane, who lost his hair at 21 and consequently “allowed self-doubt and loathing to take over”. For these men, hair loss can exacerbate existing mental health struggles, trigger dysmorphia and in some cases, encourage suicidal thoughts. CALM, a leading charity against suicide, recognises hair loss as a common issue amongst their clients – so much so that they have dedicated a section of their website to it.

But what can be done? Well, a good hair transplant costs around £10k. Failing that, there’s Propecia – a prescription pill which could halt your libido and impact fertility. Or you can smother your scalp in products like Regaine, which contain minoxidil, but even they have a very limited effect on hair growth. It makes up a 4 billion dollar industry in total and it says one thing – no one wants to go bald. Still, the only solution for so many men is to ‘brave the shave’. 

Enter the ‘male weave’, tailor-made wigs glued to the scalp with medical-grade adhesive. Less affectionately referred to as a cranial prosthesis, these hairpieces comprise of real or synthetic hair (around 4,000 individual strands) threaded into a super fine microfibre mesh. Cochrane, who now owns a hair replacement salon Cochrane & Co in central London, has noted “an enormous increase” in the demand for this kind of hair systems. Once bonded to the scalp, they can be shaped up, cut and coloured as if it were an organic head of hair. It isn’t cheap, though, with a bespoke unit and fit often costing upwards of £1k.

Andre Douglas, the business owner at Ace Man Weave Units, credits this growing market to a proliferation of ‘Before and After’ videos on YouTube and Instagram, “where individuals can see amazing specialists transforming clients, first hand.” A far cry from the dodgy back pages of men’s mags where hair loss solutions were once found. In Douglas’s experience, though, there is a “big divide in the perception of hairpieces on men.” After all, hairpieces have long been a source of ridicule – from Seinfeld, to Laurel and Hardy, to whatever it is they’ve codged together on top of Donald Trump’s head. It’s a mainstay of slapstick comedy, the pompous toupee wearer who suffers the indignity of having his hair yanked off his head or blown off by a strong gust of wind. Even the Roman poet Martial (circa 86-103 AD) allegedly penned that “there is nothing more contemptible than a bald man who pretends to have hair.” 

Despite major advancements in the quality of hair systems, a quick search on social media indicates that the same attitudes prevail. A picture circulated on Twitter by Atlanta-based hair loss studio, Cimaje, prompted a slew of emotionally-charged comments from (mostly female) users: “I’ve seen it all now”, “this is disgusting”, ”besides asking men I meet if they’re married, in a relationship, a felon, gay... I gotta ask if they have a weave too?!”. It’s a double standard when, for women, weaves are hardly a new phenomenon. For many, the shame surrounding male hair loss still runs deep and the ‘male weave’ could represent a step too far – exposing a vanity and vulnerability that, under the patriarchy, men have long been denied.

“The phenomenon of the ‘male weave’ goes far beyond any aesthetic value – being nothing short of a lifeline for so many men who struggle with hair loss... hair systems become a helping hand throughout some of life’s most debilitating periods and when illness endangers so much self-identity, the ability to ‘keep’ our hair seems invaluable”

Nevertheless, male grooming continues to be thrust into the mainstream and as a result, more and more men are turning to hair systems. Ace Man Weave Units has reportedly helped over 1000 men in just over a year of operating and Rouse, who now runs @boreoffbaldness, is one such example. Back in December 2018, Rouse found himself looking for a “quick fix” from the daily distress of hiding his hair loss. Yet having already exhausted over the counter solutions, and hesitant to go under the knife, he was still “reluctant to take the leap and get a hair system due to worrying about everyone else’s opinion”. Fast forward a year and he feels “a million times better than before”. “I’m a much happier person now and I’ve been blown away by everyone’s positive comments”. Perhaps then, we are at a turning point with regards to the shame surrounding men’s hair, or lack thereof. 

‘Units’, ‘systems’, ‘prosthesis’ – this clunky and Frankenstein set of descriptors seems to oppose the very discretion that a hairpiece should guarantee. The ‘male weave’, though, is a keyhole into the trend’s normalisation, a step out of the shadows as part of the wider rebrand of male beauty. Stuart Tailor, who owns The Hair Tailor (a ‘male weave’ salon), feels a great sense of pride to be part of this “golden age of hair replacement”.  It’s a major shift from the closeted attitudes of the past, which is due in part to the weave’s appearance into the mainstream – celebrities from LeBron James to The Vivienne have been seen sporting hair systems. “I’m seeing a change towards the stigma that surrounds hair systems, they are quickly becoming a thing of the future,” says Rouse. And why not? “It can’t be embarrassing if the hair looks believable,” says Cochrane.

There are styles of ‘male weave’ which exist solely for aesthetic purposes. Dread units, for example, are becoming increasingly popular for clients who want to achieve a full look in just a few hours. In this way, the versatility and ease of application brings the male ‘weave’ closer to its female counterpart: sewn into plaited hair or attached to braids with microbonds. It’s a “choice over look and style” which Tailor believes will see hair systems come into full fruition as “cool, image-enhancing accessories.” But when wigs have overtaken weave in female beauty, are we actually at the dawn of the male wig era? Well, when even beard units exist, anything is possible – lest we forget Tyra Banks “making over” America’s Next Top Model contestant, Denzel Wells, on cycle 21. 

Crucially though, the phenomenon of the ‘male weave’ goes far beyond any aesthetic value – being nothing short of a lifeline for so many men who struggle with hair loss. Clients at Cochrane & Co, for example, vary from "teenagers with alopecia to chemotherapy-related baldness”. In these cases, hair systems become a helping hand throughout some of life’s most debilitating periods and when illness endangers so much self-identity, the ability to ‘keep’ our hair seems invaluable. For Cochrane at least, the ‘male weave’ is “not a cure but acts as a handrail to help men through hugely difficult transitions in their life.”

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