Em Cheney, 23, used to loathe her job applying men’s toupees — then she started sharing her work on TikTok
Toupees have long been the butt of the joke. But on TikTok, men are boldly showing off their balding options.
23-year-old Em Cheney, who dubs herself the Toupee Queen on TikTok, joined her mother in hair services after graduating high school.
Cheney tells PEOPLE she initially loathed the process of affixing hair pieces to the shorn heads of sexagenarians. “I hated it!” Cheney admits.
But that changed when she shifted her business to focus on Millennials and Gen Z clients, who were game to let the Lululemon-clad stylist film her spin on the hair-replacement process.
“When I started doing social media, that was more me and it made my job a little bit more fun. I have a lot of really, really young clients," she says, noting that they range from 17-year-olds to men in their 20s. “I would say my average client is 26 now.”
Set to the beat of Bad Bunny and Olivia Rodrigo, Cheney’s addictive TikTok videos chronicle her buzzing off a client's wispy locks, spreading glue like icing on his gleaming pate and trimming the dense new topper into a trendy cut (occasionally adding a yank to show how stable her work is). To date, her videos have amassed over 500,000 followers and more than 32 million likes.
It’s notable that on her TikTok, no one is hiding their faces. Cheney calls too much of the hair replacement industry shame-based. “If you feel embarrassed, those are your real feelings and I respect that,” says Cheney. “But this isn't objectively embarrassing. It's just how we treat it. And that's why I think I attract people. When I treat it like it's not embarrassing — because I don't think it is — people believe me.”
Historically, that's not been the case. “Some of our older clients don't even tell their wives about it. They feel a lot of shame and guilt around it, and I hate that," she says. "I think it is a lot about just being more progressive when it comes to gender roles.”
What Cheney is seeking in the cosmetics space is something akin to parity. “It's the same thing with makeup for women or highlights or coloring your hair. It's not embarrassing to show yourself without your eyebrows micro-bladed or before you get Botox. We all [share] pictures of this and it's not weird. It's only weird because of how society treats men. It's normal for women to be vulnerable. But when men are vulnerable, it's very weird.”
Based out of her studio in Bountiful, Utah, which she shares with her mom, Cheney sees 20 to 30 clients per week while also teaching classes. For optimal upkeep, her clients generally come in every two to four weeks for a trim and color touch up, and the toupee itself needs to be replaced every two to three months. “Their hair continues to grow while the toupee doesn't, so you have to do a cut that blends,” she explains.
It all amounts to pricey upkeep. Clients spend up to $3,800 per year on toupee management, with Cheney custom dying and perming their hair pieces.
“Men spend this much money on golf, they spend this much money on their cars, they spend this much money on food, going out to eat, doing fun things. It's just a little bit of an adjustment because this isn't how they've been spending their money, but they'll get used to it,” she says. “Women spend thousands and thousands of dollars a year on our cosmetics.”
(For the curious, toupee wearers can treat their hair normally after a 24-hour no-heat window that allows the glue to dry. Afterwards, “you wash your hair twice a week. You can condition it every day. If you swim in chlorine water, you need to rinse it out after,” says Cheney.)
The stylist has been heartened by the embrace of her work — to the extent that she can’t always accommodate those ready for their closeup.
“I think it's been really cool to have people just come in and be like, 'You're going to do a video on me, right?'"
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