What Lies Beneath

The art of toupee-making is on the wane, but there are still folks who want that custom thatch.
By Cathy Alter
Sunday, March 8, 2009

David Maciukiewicz sits in a leather swivel chair and regards himself in the mirror. He rotates slightly into profile and pats down some errant hair at his temple. He moves his hand slowly around the perimeter of his head, fluffing up certain sections and smoothing down others, until he's completely satisfied with the condition of his coif. The result: a thick helmet with slightly poofed bangs.

"Ready?" asks a man in a white lab coat who is standing behind Maciukiewicz and holding a long black comb.

"I'll do it myself," he responds.

Leaning into the mirror, Maciukiewicz grabs the hair at the top of his head and in one fluid jerk, like he's plucking the top off a jack-o'-lantern, removes it entirely. Before placing it in the technician's outreached hands, Maciukiewicz brings the hair to his face and, impulsively, sniffs it.

As his hair disappears into another room for a salon shampooing, Maciukiewicz, 53, resumes his seat and addresses his reflection. "A man likes to look like a man," he notes. "Without my hair," he pauses slightly and considers his freshly exposed bald patch, "I just look old."

Maciukiewicz doesn't let many people see his unadorned pate. It's too embarrassing. In his mind, looking his age is directly tied to his head -- an outlook that is hardly unique. To many men, having hair is a symbol of youth and virility. It's a story line that dates to the Old Testament: Who can forget Samson being robbed of his superhuman strength when the conniving Delilah has his hair cut off?

Of course, in the Bible, Samson regains his strength once his hair has grown back. That's not an option for Maciukiewicz, who relies on a toupee to look and feel younger and more vigorous.

Most people don't think of the rejuvenating effects of toupees. But then again, most people don't think much of toupees in general, other than to place them in the same category as polyester and paintings on velvet. They are, even to the people who wear them, bad taste personified.

"You think these things are fashionable?" asks Peter Pappas, owner of Lawrence Revere Ltd., pointing to his own synthetically topped head. "Hair is what's fashionable."

Pappas's salon, on the fourth floor of an office building near Dupont Circle, is dedicated to the measuring, mounting and maintenance of hair replacement systems.

"We don't call them pieces or toupees," admonishes Pappas, 58. "It just makes people think of Howard Cosell."

And that's the problem. It's easy to make jokes. But to Pappas and his seven employees, hair replacement is a true craft, passed down from master to apprentice and honed through decades of practice on hundreds of heads.

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