18 years crafting wigs for OSF helps Virginia Hudson’s work with those experiencing hair loss
By Jim Flint for Ashland.news
Virginia Carol Hudson develops a unique attachment to her clients, but especially the women who lose their hair from chemotherapy after a cancer diagnosis.
As they struggle with their treatments while balancing family and work life responsibilities, she helps them achieve some sense of normality by creating and designing beautiful, natural-looking wigs for them.
“I am so grateful that I am the one they come to see,” Hudson said. “By the time a client gets to me, they have already gone through a whole host of emotions and cried a river of tears. Having gone through breast cancer myself, I can empathize with some of what they go through.”
Hudson, who lives and works in Ashland, has had a long career designing and creating wigs for film, television, videos, and the theater — including 18 years with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Now fully half her business is with clients suffering hair loss from chemo treatments or alopecia.
“My job is not to sit, hand-pat, and commiserate about woes. My job is to uplift their spirits and assist them in moving ever forward with their lives,” she said.
Jessica Coble is a recent client. She started chemo treatments in November, and heard about Virginia and her business, Wigs by Design, from a nurse navigator at Providence Cancer Center in Medford who provided a list of resources.
Coble helps her husband in his real estate business and the two of them are raising six girls. Learning about Hudson raised her spirits.
“I was excited and hopeful,” Coble said. “I had tried other wigs, one from Amazon, and others off the shelf, and nothing fit right or was comfortable.”
After an initial consultation with Hudson to discuss goals, colors, and styles, Coble settled on a wig similar in color to her own hair, but a little lighter.
“Virginia spent time going over many options, talked about fit and care, and helped filter out things leading to the final choice,” Coble said. “I love having a wig that fits.”
Rebecca Chaney is another recent client who also is undergoing chemo treatments. She had to put her day care business, Little Learning Cottage, on hold after her cancer diagnosis, but looks forward to reopening it soon.
“My oncologist said, ‘you’re going to lose your hair, but it will grow back.’” More bad news, but a flicker of good news, too.
The single mother of five, she also started treatments in November and learned about Hudson from Providence’s nurse navigator.
Her own hair was dark brown. After discussing options with Hudson and taking measurements, she chose an auburn color and a slightly different style.
Chaney recently went to Hudson’s in-home studio for the final fitting after being notified that the ordered wig had arrived.
As she sat in the chair, gazing at her image in the mirror, she beamed when Hudson placed the wig on her head. “Very sexy,” Hudson said.
“I was very excited,” Chaney said later. “To feel normal again is amazing. A little hair and makeup go a long way!”
In some cases, Hudson has harvested a client’s own hair pre-chemo while it was still healthy, creating a custom hand-tied wig in a style very close to the original.
“Others want to go with something different, even daring,” she said. “Then there are those ladies who want a wig wardrobe. I encourage it all.”
Occasionally, she said, she advises a client against a particular style because she doesn’t think it works. “When asked why, I just say, ‘because I don’t like it.’ That’s usually good enough and we move on. They trust my expertise.”
Hudson enjoys having her studio in her home.
“It ensures that the consultation is very private and discrete,” she said. “It also allows me to keep overhead low and charge reasonable rates.”
With every new client, she works up a profile that helps her understand an individual’s unique needs. After that, the client tries on various styles, looking at various shapes and colors.
“The most important thing is how does the cap fit? It can’t be too small or large, itchy, or painful. After all the comparisons, we make an educated decision on style and color and order the piece.”
When the client comes back for the final fitting, Hudson cuts it, if necessary, to enhance the client’s features.
“That usually leads to photos, hugs, and happy tears from both of us,” Hudson said.
For many years, she volunteered for the American Cancer Society’s Look Good, Feel Better program. It provided informational sessions for women undergoing chemo, bringing them together with beauty professionals who taught them how to deal with the ravaging effects of treatment.
She came to Ashland in 1986 to work for OSF as assistant to the costume shop manager.
“But I knew I wanted to focus on wigs,” she said. “To that end, I would work in the wig room when other duties allowed, and shortly became one of three who built and maintained wigs for all 11 plays in rotation for 18 years.”
She still does work for other Rogue Valley theater companies.
She just finished a job for Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s production of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” playing now through April 2. She had to create a “bad” toupee for a character in the show.
“I thought the toupee for Billy Breed’s character looked pretty bad, but director Valerie Rachelle told me it looked too good and asked if I could make it look worse. I guess that goes against my nature, but of course I could and I did.”
She has done recent work for Camelot Theatre and Collaborative Theatre Project. Over the years she’s lived in the Rogue Valley, the list of companies she’s worked for also includes The Craterian, Next Stage Theatre, Oregon Stage Works, Rogue Opera, The Randall Theatre, Brava! Opera Theatre, Ashland High School Theatre Department and Scenic Middle School.
Her knack for wig and hair styling might be in her DNA.
The youngest of four, Hudson was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and grew up in her mother’s beauty salon.
“When the kindergarten bus dropped me off at her shop, I was given hair pieces to style to keep me occupied while my mother worked,” Hudson said.
She’s been designing and maintaining wigs most of her life.
“During my senior year of high school, I designed my wig for ‘West Side Story’ in which I played Anita.”
By the time she enrolled in Memphis State University, working toward a bachelor of fine arts degree in technical theater, she already had a skill set working with hair.
“I did wigs for many of our theater department’s productions,” she said, “as well as costuming and some acting. Before, during and after my time at OSF, I continued to work for other theaters, on movies, commercials, and videos.”
On of her toughest assignments was for a show at OSF in 1992 called “La Bete,” set in 17th century France.
“The wigs were elaborate, with the Louis XIV ‘spaniel ear’ style that required chicken wire cone cages on the sides of the women’s heads to hold up the poodle-style curls,” she said.
Another job for the Camelot was just about as difficult, calling for Marie Antoinette-style wigs for “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”
“I had to build a foundation of 2-foot-high suspension birdcage bridges on the inside of the wigs so actors could balance them perfectly as they danced. I love that stuff!”
Not surprisingly, she works with more women than men in her private practice.
“The men who find me usually want a wig or toupee,” she said.
“Men who like to cross-dress and people transitioning appreciate the discretion provided by working in the privacy of my home.”
She doesn’t relish the prospect of going on the road as much as she did when she was younger. These days, she keeps herself close to home and enjoys a long association with many Rogue Valley theater companies.
Meanwhile, her increased involvement with cancer patient and alopecia clients continues to uplift her spirits while she uplifts others’.
“I am very grateful and blessed to help make the world a wee bit better, in small ways, for these special clients, one person at a time.”
Those who wish to donate hair for cancer patients can contact Hudson at 541-727-1354.
Reach writer Jim Flint at email@example.com.