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Nicky Smetham, the owner and creator of Suburban Turban has the experience to not just make beautiful turbans and head-wear, but she knows what will suit you and your face/head shape.

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Nicky's Story

The Beginning

I trained as a formal daywear milliner (think Ascot / The Season and Mother of the Bride) in Chelsea and the London College of Fashion during the late 1990s. I was lucky enough to work for Stephen Jones on London Fashion Week and carried on assisting London milliners until I started my own label Nicky Zip.

NZ ran for 10 years designing, making and dying bespoke pieces to match clients’ special outfits. I enjoyed coming alongside women as they prepared to celebrate and mark milestone events in their lives – investitures, passing out parades, royal garden parties, the marriages of their children.

It was following a charity fashion show of my work that I first was asked to design hats for hair loss. An oncology surgeon friend of mine at the event suggested it was this group of women, that needed my work more than most. My technical understanding of fabric hats was minimal (!) but looking back that probably gave me the freedom to pursue what I was looking for.

And so Suburban Turban started up in 2007, its purpose to design ‘normal’ hats adapted for significant hair loss and longer wear comfort. I wanted to create choice in fashion colours and lift awareness of women undergoing treatment – this was pre-Jade Goody and a little after Kylie Minogue.

The landscape was changing and cancer was becoming less of an ‘elephant in the room’. From what I read now and the women I meet, we need more information and support for the long-term psychological effects of hair loss. Hair loss where there is no time frame attached. The long term hair loss charities such as Alopecia UK are doing good work in breaking down social taboos, but there is much work to be done still.

For most women hair is a big part of how they are recognised by family and friends. It’s a visual measure of our well-being and how we choose to blend in with ‘the pack’. Visually it can infer continued poor health, and invite further well-intentioned enquiries of concern from family, friends and strangers.

Practically it can be cold in cooler seasons and emotionally, hair is so deeply interwoven with our sense of femininity it can be extremely hard to come to terms with. All at a time (post cancer recovery) when it’s important to move on and start to build a new ‘norm’, whatever that might look like - returning to work, exercise and stepping out into the busy-ness of life again. In this situation many women will opt for a wig, to regain how they once looked - appearance consistency can alleviate further questions.


Wigs have come a long way in the 17 years since Suburban Turban started, and Amber Jean Shop is a great example of such progress. Modern, casual styles for the younger woman, who is looking for something less set in a specific style.

Julia Lampard is a salon with exemplary customer service that listens well. However, you interact with a wig there may well be times when a wig is either too hot, or just not that practical. This article is about all practical ‘aids’ for managing your hair loss, looking at some of the alternatives and letting go of some of the pressure to ‘be consistent’. Nothing I’m about to discuss will replace a full head of bio hair, (apologies for stating the obvious), but it pitches our research at a realistic start point.

Hats and Fabric

If you’re already thinking ‘hats don’t really work for me’, now’s the time to reevaluate and look again. Hats for hair loss are different from what many of us have experienced. They are not winter hats, worn for warmth, or summer hats shading us from the sun. Both functions are required but to a different degree.

Principally most women want to blend in wherever they are, so the hat has to look less ‘bulky’ when worn indoors. For example - to wear a ski hat in a café or restaurant (away from the slopes) for the duration of your meal would look a little out of place. You’d quite possibly overheat and it is essentially ‘outdoor’ wear. By making hats in tee shirt material, or jumper knit we can create the right balance. Fabrics and cut are important – they should feel floppy and soft, and quite honestly nothing much to look at off your head. They should be elasticated in some way – stretch fabrics, or a fitting elastic, so that as your head temperature varies through the day, you still feel comfortable.

Hats for hair loss need to sit lower on the neck without you having to pull them down and spoil the shape of the hat. A fuller shape to your hat is softer around the face and more flattering to wear. Beanies can be found everywhere and are super easy ‘pull-on and go’ wear but give no flattering asymmetry to the face, or volume to disguise defined head shape. You can easily adapt them, by using them as a base cap and layering with headscarves, infinity bands (see picture below), or worn under your favourite hats to create deeper coverage at the neckline.

I have written a couple of further articles on face shape here - and To keep it really simple it’s worth understanding if your face is longer, or wider in one dimension. Your hat shapes should then add width or height to compliment the opposite of your face shape – longer faces need width. Wider faces often find extra flattering height.

In other styles volume is created by adding fabric – pleating it, draping it, fabric prints that distract the eye - blurring the head shape. Turbans and scarves are the most voluminous of styles because of the fabric they can incorporate around the head.

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‘Sabrina’ /‘Perry’/‘Romilly’/ scarf turbans – Caps can be a slightly more unexpected style for hair loss, select those with fuller crown shapes – Baker Boy caps, or caps with a draped sideband. (The classic baseball cap can be too head defining and with a cut-out at the back, not really viable headwear.) Beanie shapes work if they have some sort of trim added to them or asymmetrical detail. 

‘Genevieve’ and ‘Bobbi’ Think colour – your colours. As women we know when we look good in something. We know the which style and fit help us achieve this with our clothing. Hats are no different – find your shape of hat (as discussed above), something that you feel confident in and then buy it in every colour that you like to wear. This makes for easy headwear – headwear that goes with most of your wardrobe and makes for a quick and easy ‘out the door’ sort of morning.

A trusted hairdresser can be an enormous support – someone who can clip your hair in a quieter salon period, or advise and show you how to do it. Someone who can advise on sensitive shampoos and sun block for your head – scalp skin can be more sensitive to sunlight. Green People has a range of scent free shampoos. You will need a scalp moisturiser with SPF – Travel and Leisure have one of the best comprehensive lists I’ve found here -,dioxide)%20SPF %2030%2D50. I hope I’ve covered some of the practical aspects of long-term hair loss management.

The psychological impact is something else and I’ve been so impressed to hear all that Ahead of our time are doing for their membership and their long running information campaign. However dark the journey seems right now, as women we are SO MUCH MORE THAN OUR HAIR. Thoughtless comments, daily stares can erode self-worth, my hope for everyone who reads this is that they find their source of kindness and support and the journey gets a little easier.

Those of us at Ahead of our time would like to thank Nicky for sharing her expertise with us and taking the time to write this article which touched on some points that are not routinely addressed.  

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