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Are chemo hats the equivalent of wearing a ‘I have cancer’ badge?

Thursday, 5 July 2018 15:16:54 Europe/London

wedding guest wearing smart turban

This post was first published on the blog in March 2014 – its content is a very real concern for many women and so it make its second appearance on the blog today.

I met a lovely group of women during a visit to The Maggie’s Centre, Oxford. I’d gone along for a chat about headwear, however before we began the session a lady leaned across and said, looking at the pile of hats next to me, ‘That’s the "cancer badge" isn’t it?’. I knew what she meant and her comment inspired this post. Headwear doesn’t have to let everyone know you have a cancer diagnosis. People walking around really don’t think everyone wearing a hat has cancer. Of course you may think ‘So what if they do? This is me right now, and I have bigger priorities’.

However if that isn’t you ‘right now’ and you want to avoid ‘concerned’ looks, endless explanations of what’s going on, or you simply think none of your damn business – fun, stylish headwear can get you through your everyday and present a confident, fashion look – full stop, no further comment.

Firstly let’s define "badge" headwear. There are definite fashion trends yes, even within cancer patient headwear i.e items that are readily associated with hair loss. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a drift from synthetic velour turbans readily available in the mid 2000’s, to many more women wearing scarves. Styles resonate with us each individually, but if your initial reaction is that looks like ‘patient wear’ – go with it and avoid it. As an example to illustrate this - a scarf worn in a certain way with plaited trims takes our number one spot. Secondly headwear seen out of context. Woolly / fleece hats worn in the middle of summer might be readily available in the cupboard and look suitably casual, but they will look out of place indoors or out in the sunshine, and not feel that great in the heat.

smiling woman wearing chemo headwear

There are many other hat styles out there that convey chic, stylish, quirky, 60’s, funky - in fact, just about anything you want to convey! None of them require a vast budget but they do require a little time to try on and figure what shapes suit your face and how you’re currently feeling. Are you worried about consistency, i.e. I must look as I always have and / or look the same every day for family, the office. Or, will you allow yourself some freedom, ditch the constraints and try something new? This will determine your wig purchase (if you choose to wear one) and how much wig wearing you intend to do.

Are you thinking I don’t want to stand out and feel ridiculous – hats are so dressy.  The vast majority of women we hear from tell us they are not hat wearers and don’t particularly like wearing hats.  So anything worn on your head will feel different.  Consider hats ‘make-up’ for a bare head – they can bring colour to a tired and pale complexion, definition to YOU and create an easy ‘pull on and go’ fashion look that gets you ready and out the door in far less time than a full makeover.

Adapting to a bare head

Female hair loss is traumatic whatever the condition. It’s tough. No wig or item of headwear will replace a full head of bio hair in all its Rapunzel glory. It is a most visible display of current health status. Female hair loss is rarely discussed in the fashion mainstream media and here there are few images of women coping with no hair, or early stages of regrowth to inform women how they might look, or how to manage their image. However times and the multi-media channels now open to us are changing.  Women need to look online.  Here this final taboo is being addressed with the appearance of such sites as Cancer Be Glammed. There is a real understanding and appreciation that appearance isn’t superficial (or frivolous) during cancer treatment – sure the main focus is on getting well but the path to recovery can be long, needs sustaining and appearance is a key part of the recovery process.

All of us as women have a unique relationship with our hair. Love it or bear a long standing apathy towards it, we’d all prefer it not to go.  So what follows is a guide to wherever you currently reside on the hair loss spectrum.

Shave or not to shave?

All women find rapidly shedding hair the most traumatic of times and, although we can’t control the loss, we can take steps to control the trauma. This might be having our hair styled shorter – shorter hair is less noticeable than longer hair when it falls.  The advice of a trusted hairdresser can be invaluable at this time, and they’ll often offer a considerate ‘out of hours’ head shaving service.  If you’re unsure where to go look up Trevor Sorbie’s My New Hair network and more are listed at My New Hair.  Sleep caps (a simple beanie) can be handy to catch it, there is no need to see it all over the pillow in the morning or walk around with it on your shoulder.

'Everyone suggests a wig but will I wear it?'

Most women are proactive and seem to know when 'enough is enough' and they are ready to move onto the next stage. Most hospitals have some form of wig supplier on site to show you some options and many have stylists who will advise on personalising a wig. This is invaluable and suddenly makes any wig your own - don’t under estimate the real value of this service. Most wigs are manufactured with 10% too much hair and need to be thinned, or at the very least shaped to your face. If you’re thinking headwear, often hospital departments have limited ranges or offer the purely practical.  Personal recommendation and a look online soon provide a fuller range of options.  Look outside of the treatment cosmos as well. YouTube has multiple ‘how to’ scarf guides to create volume and height to your head taken from the world of fashion. 

'A wig isn’t me.  How can I find and express my hair loss style?'

Once your hair is gone you are very much present. Many women talk of feeling erased along with their eyebrows and eyelashes. Your personality, your sense of style are still intact.  Any headwear you wear should be able to express that – just the same as the clothes you choose to wear, in colours that you know suit you. Keep these as your compass points and your headwear will fit in right alongside.

young woman wearing Ascot hat


Writer – Nicky Zip, milliner and founder of Suburban Turban.  


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Do I have to pay VAT?

If you are experiencing hair loss you may not have to pay the VAT on some of our products. Headwear we have designed and manufactured specifically for hair loss wear is exempted. ‘Standard’ items of headwear such as scarves, brooches, some winter/summer hats by other designers, skincare are not eligible. They have not been ‘adapted’ for special wear. The ‘status’ of items will be displayed in your basket, before ordering, once a short health declaration is completed.

During checkout you will be asked to confirm that you will be using our products for your own personal medical purposes.

It is a legal requirement stipulated by HRMC that Suburban Turban Ltd can justify our customers’ VAT exemption status. Please be aware that these details maybe verified at a later date.