PORT TOWNSEND — A Port Townsend man who spent much of his career handcrafting hair pieces for bigwigs in show business has discovered he can make a difference for people locally who are suffering from hair loss.
Michael Costain, who owns Wig Master Associates in Port Townsend, originally opened his shop in Port Hadlock a couple of years ago and has learned he can use his wig-making skills to improve people’s lives.
“This has been more satisfying because you get to see people live again,” said Costain, who grew up in Port Townsend. “The ladies I’m making a difference with, it’s not about fashion.”
Costain builds wigs and hair pieces for men and women who suffer hair loss because of medical reasons, hormones or age.
For Jackie Benson, 82, of Brinnon, the wig Costain crafted for her about two years ago helped her regain the confidence that she had lost when her hair began to thin about two decades earlier.
It’s nothing fancy and it’s difficult to tell it’s a wig unless one looks closely, which is exactly what she wanted.
“It has given me a lot more self-confidence,” she said.
Her thyroid shut down about 20 years ago, triggering her hair loss. Then she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007.
Though the radiation treatment appears to have gotten rid of her cancer, which had come back once, it also has thinned out her hair even more, she said.
Before she had her wig, people would ignore her, she said.
She remembered servers at restaurants would speak to her friends instead of her and at grocery stores, cashiers would avoid eye contact.
“They would look at the other person because — at least I thought — they had nicer hair,” she said. “I wanted to have someone look at me and see me, and I didn’t feel like that was happening.
“It would feel like I’m not even there.”
Benson said she was apprehensive about reaching out to Costain for a consultation. She didn’t know if she could afford it and she didn’t want to wear a wig.
“It’s something different and I don’t like to call attention,” she said. “I waited for a long time before I went to see Michael. When I did, I decided I’m going to do that for me — and I’m not sorry.”
Costain did not expect to open a wig-making business when he moved back to Port Townsend.
He spent more then 30 years in the entertainment industry, working in the New York City Opera Makeup Department and designing and building wigs, designing makeup, masks and prosthetics for Broadway, opera, ballet and regional theater companies.
When he returned to his hometown of Port Townsend, Costain was searching for a source of income and, with little luck finding a job, he began doing what he knew best.
“I couldn’t make a decent income and I just threw my hands up and thought ‘what am I excellent at, what do I know I’m really good at,’ ” Costain said. “I’m going to brag now, but I’m really, really good at this. Really good.”
He then found a place in Port Hadlock to open his shop, not knowing if there was a market for handmade wigs on the North Olympic Peninsula. Recently he relocated to Port Townsend.
Costs for a wig can vary, depending on what a client wants, but he typically charges $25 per hour.
Depending on budget and need, the custom hair pieces can take around three weeks to make and cost can range from free to $3,000, he said.
He’s willing to negotiate on price if that means helping another person, he said.
“I try not to turn people away under any circumstances, particularly if it’s medical,” he said.
He hand-makes his wigs using 19th-century techniques he says are “pretty much lost now” and each wig is custom made for each of his clients. He’ll also do alterations on wigs that have been ordered and do what he can to fit clients’ needs.
“It’s like buying a wedding dress or suit off the rack or having one made from scratch,” he said.
He likes to compare wigs to dentures. Costain says nobody wants them and when they are done best nobody can tell they are there.
For Costain, what started originally as an effort just to make ends meet turned into a path for him to help others, which he said was missing when he worked in theater.
“Selfishly, that’s what I want out of it,” he said. “It’s really satisfying.”
For more information, call Costain at 360-878-5241 or visit www.wigmasterassociates.com.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.