Janine Panek of Lino Lakes was not satisfied with the free wig she received from the hospital during her chemo treatment. She even had the wig custom cut twice. Even then, she was not entirely satisfied.

“I kept trying (the wig) on thinking, ‘I don’t like it, I don’t like it,’” she recalled.

Eventually, Panek learned about Jerene Bailey, the wig specialist at Salon 61 in White Bear Lake. She  made an appointment for a free wig consultation.

“You’re really kinda scared when you go in there,” she said about entering the studio. “You don’t know what it’s going to be like to wear a wig.”

But after her consultation, Panek was finally fully satisfied with her wig experience. Panek said that she learned a lot from Bailey about wig care, such as how a wig should properly fit and be cared for. For instance, she realized for the first time that the wig she had received from the hospital was too big for her.

More importantly, after seeing Bailey, Panek also regained a lot of self-confidence.

Panek recalled that when she first started chemo treatment for her breast cancer, she didn’t want to talk to anybody. She believed that when people looked at her, all they would see 

was her hair loss and illness.

“It’s easier when people don’t know (you’re sick), otherwise your whole life turns into breast cancer,” she said.

When she started wearing the wig she had purchased from Bailey, however, she no longer felt defined by her illness. “When you wear a wig, you think everyone knows,” she said. But while wearing Bailey’s wig, she said “very few people knew I was sick.”

“If you get the wig and it fits properly and is the right color,” she continued, “... it will just make you more confident.” She wasn’t the only one who noticed improved self-confidence; she said that her daughter noticed it, too.

“What a difference it made to me to have that wig and start wearing it,” she said.


Jerene Bailey’s beginning

Bailey has thank-you notes from clients taped to her window in her private wig consultation room. Although the notes are all phrased differently, they echo a similar sentiment: a revival of self-confidence after undergoing Bailey’s wig services.

“This is my calling in life,” she said. “This is just something that is so needed for women.”

Bailey adhered to this call 15 years ago when several of her clients needed wig care but didn’t know where to turn. After researching brands of wigs with natural-looking appearances, she went to a seminar hosted by a company from California and then got right to work providing wig care and free wig consultations.

Her work has continued since Salon 61 relocated to downtown White Bear Lake about a year ago. Today, clients who have faced cancer, alopecia and other conditions involving hair loss meet with Bailey in a private room at the studio. Bailey then does everything she can to make the clients feel as comfortable about the wig-fitting procedure as possible.

She understands and has observed that clients coming in for a wig consultation often feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.

“I make them feel comfortable,” she said. “It’s pretty tense when they walk in … I try to break the ice so it’s not so tense to begin with.”

Breaking the ice often looks like explaining what the wigs she carries are made of and assuring her client that these wigs are comfortable. Bailey explained that sharing knowledge and assurance about the wigs inspires trust in the clients. She also encourages clients to bring friends or family members to provide further support and insight, as well as photographs of themselves from when they used to have hair. Photographs often serve as inspiration for Bailey when she chooses, fits, cuts and styles wigs so that the wigs can match the clients’ hair preferences. This practice is one of many reflecting Bailey’s efforts to make wigs seem like wig-like and more like actual hair.

“Hair is really important to (clients),” she explained. “They don’t think of anything else to do with their (situation) until they get their wig taken care of.” Bailey also takes care to update her stock with the latest hairstyles.

In the end, Bailey said that when she started wig care, “I wanted to make my clients feel more confident with themselves,” and “have somebody feel like themselves.”

The thank-you notes on display and the confidence she has observed from clients when they leave their consultation both seem to testify that she has accomplished her mission.

“I am very, very thankful that (I started wig care),” she said.


A lasting impact

Panek no longer wears the wig she bought from Bailey, but the confidence she gained from wearing it has had a lasting impact.

About a month ago, Panek learned that her daughter had raised money by selling raffle tickets at a bean bag tournament. About $1,100 was donated to Bailey’s wig services at Salon 61.

Bailey never met Panek’s daughter; she was attending to a client when the woman came in to donate  the money.

“I can’t believe she did that,” Bailey said, noting that such an act of financial generosity has never happened to her before. Bailey is also shocked that anyone would leave so much money behind and trust that it would be used wisely.

Since then, Bailey has used the money to provide two free wigs and is planning to provide a third. A wig usually costs between $250 and $400.

“I need to meet with them,” Bailey said of the women who participated in the raffle. “It’s very appreciated.”

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