for Montclair Local

Montclair resident Debbie Epps Rose trims bangs and layers cuts, not on hair, but on wigs worn by women coping with hair loss due to breast cancer treatment and various medical conditions. Using a razor to slice through the synthetic hair recently, Epps Rose asked clients about their style preferences. 

“Do you like the length or want to go shorter?” she said.

 “Go a little shorter on the bangs. I can’t stand hair in my eyes,” said breast cancer survivor Vern Thomas, 59. 

The owner of Black Beauty in East Orange, Epps Rose has been styling wigs at Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake’s “Covered With Compassion” events in the 34th Legislative District office for three years. She keeps her own hair super short in order to focus on her clients. The Oct. 28 event is a way for her to give back to the community. “I want to make women feel beautiful and that no matter what, they’re sexy divas,” Epps Rose said. 

An Orange resident, Thomas said the medium-length wig accentuates her face and will go with the Tina Turner costume she planned to wear for a Halloween event. She’s in remission and plans to live a long time. Getting the right haircut to go with her costume was Important: “I had long locks down my back for over 20 years. I lopped them off after the sides started receding from chemotherapy. My head felt strange. I used wigs but they felt constraining, so I embraced my baldness.”

As her assistant styled a client donning a blonde wig, Epps Rosejoked, “They say blondes have more fun.”

Latephia Farrior admires the work of Montclair hairdresser Debbie Epps Rose on her new wig.
Latephia Farrior admires the work of Montclair hairdresser Debbie Epps Rose on her new wig.

The wigs had been donated by community groups, including the Montclair Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.  Dozens of women perused various styles, textures, colors and lengths. They chose everything from tight, short curls to long, silky layers in blonde, brown, red and black shades.

Losing 40 pounds after gastric sleeve surgery is helping to wean Christine Samuel, 66, of Orange, off her diabetes medication. But the transformation also came with the temporary physical and psychological impacts of losing two thirds of her hair. “It made me start to wear a lot of stylish hats,” Samuel said. This was her first wig. 

Attendees asked about the best styles and colors for their face shape, complexion, and more. 

Joan Pulliam, 73, of Orange wanted to try something different from her usual bouffant. “Surprise me but don’t shock me,” Pulliam told Epps Rose before getting her short blonde wig trimmed.

In remission, Trinette Williams, 51, of Orange has gone through a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and says she has four more surgeries to go. “My hair fell out and I started wearing wigs because it never grew back right. Usually I wear a lace front wig, which is a glue wig, so it’s not practical,” Williams said. 

Cancer has affected her mental health, leading to depression, but buying a wig was also a choice between making a medical co-pay or focusing on hair.

Assemblywoman Timberlake helped the women choose wigs. The “Covered with Compassion” initiative was born from her partnership with Reverend Ira Fox of East Orange General Hospital and the Guyana American Heritage Foundation.

Timberlake’s endeavor is personal: her grandmother died from breast cancer. “I used to do her hair and makeup. It changed her spirit from sorrowful to cheerful even though her health was suffering. Losing your hair is emotional. It sounds silly but you feel worse about cancer when you wake up and find locks of hair on your pillow. So in order to celebrate women’s inner and outer beauty and as a token of our love as a sisterhood, we have these events to provide wigs, massages, makeup…everything to pamper women,” she said.

Women who could not attend can call Timberlake’s office and make an appointment to come in for a wig.

DAs ladies made their way through the hallway, Irvington resident June Jarvis helped clients choose Mary Kay makeup colors in lipsticks, eye shadows and blushers. Roselle-based Dossage massage representatives provided complimentary services. Planned Parenthood of Essex County, and Montclair-based A Angels NJ provided information for attendees.

Angelina Killane-Sims, founder of A Angels NJ, a community resource group for breast cancer survivors said she started the non-profit to help her cope after her own battle. Sims was awarded for her advocacy at the event. Presented with a proclamation from Timberlake during a lunch break with the women, Sims encouraged them to take a proactive approach to their health. “Know your body. Don’t ignore different signs. Be your own health advocate. Be aggressive,” Killane-Sims told the women.