When her 53-year-old husband died of a massive heart attack nearly 10 years ago, Saundra Stampley began to lose big chunks of her hair from stress. She was only 58.
Alopecia runs in her family, and her hair eventually thinned over the course of several years to the point that she took whatever measures she could—like not sitting up front in a public venue—to avoid bringing attention to her dwindling locks.
So a friend took her to see wig stylist Donna Herbert at Godiva’s Secret Wigs on Thousand Oaks Boulevard to explore options.
Stampley said she walked out two hours later with three wigs, “feeling like a whole woman again.”
“As women, our hair is our crown, and to lose that is huge and it’s traumatic,” she said. “Donna is an angel.”
Godiva’s Secret Wigs, headquartered in Woodland Hills, opened its Thousand Oaks location 12 years ago; Herbert came on board two years later. She said women can lose their hair for a variety of reasons, including alopecia, stress, cancer treatments and gastrointestinal surgery.
She fits clients with Godiva’s wash-and-wear wigs that are made with a high-quality synthetic hair called kanekalon that is durable, lightweight and returns to its style after a shampoo and drip dry.
The wigs are adjustable and are secured in place with built-in clips. They’re often worn with a headband called a wig grip.
Styles range from short and sassy to long and romantic and come in around 30 different colors. Godiva’s also sells top pieces, headbands with bangs and ball caps with ponytails. The shop recently started carrying options for men. Prices start at $159, with most wigs costing under $200.
Herbert, 49, said first-time customers who are losing their hair due to a medical crisis often come in scared and uneasy. She chats with them about their diagnosis and treatment plan. Then they start trying on different styles.
“We don’t have a pity party,” she said. “We get right down to it.”
Herbert was born in New York state but grew up in the San Fernando Valley where she went to beauty school before moving to Thousand Oaks in 1995. Her own mother battled ovarian cancer 20 years ago. She said her goal is to make a difficult time in her clients’ lives a little bit easier.
“Cancer is a major disruption. Having a wig helps them walk through that,” she said.
When women no longer need their wigs, they bring them back to the shop so Herbert can wash and donate them to the Nancy Reagan Breast Center at Simi Valley Hospital to benefit low-income cancer patients.
One customer who’s donated her fair share of wigs is Carolyn Singer. The 71-year-old currently owns nine wigs but has donated back around 40 over the years.
Singer has lived in the Conejo Valley for four decades and currently makes her home in Newbury Park. She started wearing wigs after a pixie-cut-gone-wrong 20 years ago sent her in search of a temporary fix. But she found she so preferred the synthetic hair to her own that it became her permanent look.
The septuagenarian has an active social life and she said her beaus never know it’s a wig until she tells them. She said it also saves her time that she doesn’t have to spend on her hair.
“It’s great,” Singer said.
Herbert said many of her clients choose to wear wigs for reasons unrelated to illness. Women wear them for fashion and convenience, and married couples use them to keep their relationships fun. She said the shop also happily serves cross dressers and transgender individuals.
The shop is a safe haven for vulnerable people, Herbert said, and the work can often be emotionally taxing. Women share stories about personal and medical issues and Herbert has been a shoulder to cry on for women going through abusive relationships, the death of their children and the dissolution of their marriages.
“I get sad sometimes, but it’s worth it (when) a client brings back a wig because they finished treatment or I see them at Trader Joe’s looking beautiful and living their life,” she said.