Male baldness has been looked down upon for thousands of years, but there’s one thing far more embarrassing than losing your hair: getting caught in a toupee. For nearly two centuries, hairpieces have been the butt of jokes in pop culture, from the Three Stooges to Congress.
Hairstylist Phil Ring is hoping to change the taboo. He wants to rebrand the toupee as a trendy, internet-approved hair replacement for millennials and even Generation Z. He’s recently gone viral for his TikToks showing guys allegedly as young as 17 transforming from hair-scarce to proud owners of pompadours, undercuts and even curly bangs.
“There’s not been anything for guys in this way in a really long time,” says Ring, who splits his time between studios in Brooklyn and Pawtucket, Rhode Island. “I have clients who are ripped. I have clients with incredible jobs. I have clients who spend a lot of money on skin care, and the one thing they can’t do is have hair.”
Ring is an ambassador for Hairskeen USA. It’s the only system he uses, though it’s not the only company in the market. The toupee application process is simple: It’s attached to a shaved scalp through adhesive tape or glue. Unlike retro toupees, these systems are made of real hair and can be worn up to six months with proper treatment. You can sweat, sleep and swim in one. Hell, you can even shower in a hair system, though Ring advises less-rigorous shampooing to increase their longevity.
He stumbled upon hair replacement after a chance meeting with a New York barber two years ago. Looking to step away from the oversaturated women’s-hairstyling market, Ring soon began studying the art of hair replacement on himself through trial and error while documenting his journey on Instagram, where he has over 200,000 followers. “I said to myself, I’d lead by example and I’d do it,” Ring says.
Next, Ring started posting clips removing the hairpieces to reveal the glue and tape residue on clients’ bald heads. At first, his peers balked at literally blowing the wig off the magic. “They’d all been taught and conditioned that the gross and dirty parts of hair replacement are an absolute no-no to even bring up,” Ring says. “But the people that were following me were just so fascinated.”
After Instagram came TikTok, where Ring has amassed 170,000 fans in two months. “Instagram is all about a curated life, and TikTok is all about people poking fun at their insecurities,” Ring says. Hair replacement fit right in among the other instant-transformation videos. “People tend to be really vulnerable,” he points out. The magic is “this moment where they change into something bigger.”
The videos are unexpectedly emotional. The men receiving systems for the first time are commonly smiling, some even teary-eyed, as they run their hands through thick hair for the first time in years. Ring never expected his career would include becoming an impromptu self-esteem coach. “I leave the room, come back and they’re taking selfies,” he says. “Just trying to understand, was it this easy to look this good? Is this all it took?”
Ring has attracted a large enough male clientele that he’s grown selective about new clients. He now employs two full-time assistants who scroll through his flooded DMs.
For men not located on the East Coast, Ring encourages consulting with a local hairstylist or barber about hair systems. There’s even a Hairskeen online course, though it’ll cost $750. Ring charges $850 for his full service, including a consultation, application session and follow-up appointments.
In just two years as a full-time hair replacement stylist, Ring has seen a drastic change in the dialogue around men embracing the cosmetic industry. He’s aiming to show there’s a young, hungry clientele for the antiquated toupee, and he wagers his oldest clients are in their mid-30s — the range of guys embarrassed to be prematurely balding.
To learn this, all he had to do was look at his Instagram comments, once dominated by people insisting men should be happy bald. Now, it’s women tagging their boyfriends and encouraging them to try out a system. He says, “It’s just perfect timing in the industry. Women have pioneered all hair replacement and cosmetics, and it’s made it easier for guys to do this for themselves and feel better.”