Feather extensions, earrings trending in Baltimore

Formerly used for fishing bait, now they're a fashion craze

July 26, 2011|By John-John Williams IV

Reginald Dowdy separated the strand of his customer’s hair and slid a hollow bead-sized copper object to her scalp, leaving a black-and-white striped feather hanging. Dowdy’s client, April McGill-Willhide, tilted her hair to the side and examined the bunch of multi-colored feathers that now outlined the side of her face.

“It looks fantastic,” she exclaimed. “They’re wonderful!”

McGill-Willhide, a hair salon assistant, has a number of feather-accented earrings but wanted something more permanent that would allow her to look more current and chic.

“I work around tons of stylists who wear them and put them in,” she said. “They’re beautiful. I love that they are a natural fiber. You can hide them when you don’t want them to show. And you can expose them when you want to spice it up.”

They once were used by fishermen for bait. Now the fashion forward are flocking to feather extensions, which seem to be everywhere right now. The trend, which started on the runways of haute couture fashion shows last fall, have won over celebrities and have quickly caught on among fashionistas. The demand for the feathers has gotten so great that stock have dwindled, which has resulted in skyrocketing prices. The New York Times and Associated Press recently reported that consumers are going as far as making their own extensions and earrings from feathers used for fishing bait at outdoors specialty stores; some of those stores now refuse to sell the fishing supplies to anyone other than anglers.

Britney Spears, Beyonce, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry have all worn the extensions. Even “American Idol” judge Steven Tyler has gotten in on the craze. Keri Hilson wore them when she performed last month on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Ke$ha has been wearing feathers for years. And of course there was the feather massacre, which is better known as Cee-Lo Green’s Grammy performance with the Muppets and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Dowdy’s Canton-based salon, Geometrics, has been offering feather extensions since January. The salon completes about 25 feather extensions a week. The extensions range in price from $15 to $35 depending on the type of feathers. The entire process—including a consultation—takes about five minutes. The extensions, which can be tightened by sliding it up the hair shaft, can last up to six months. The feather accents can hold up to daily washings and heat from curling irons.

“This is the biggest hair trend since the braids of hair wrap [strands of hair twisted, braided and wrapped with embroidery floss],” said Shaina Bloom, a stylist at Geometrics. “This is a much more wearable trend.”

Although Geometrics was one of the first salons in the region to provide feather extensions, other salons have quickly caught up. Flaunt in Hampden, Patrick’s  Hair Design in Columbia, various About Faces locations and Darrell Barrett Salon in Timonium provide the service.

Baltimore-based stylist Stephanie Bradshaw is surprised by the popularity.

“Real trends don’t always happen that fast,” said Bradshaw, who thinks the trend is genuinely fun. “But for some reason this trend has really caught on and we are seeing it everywhere. ... It definitely has them all aflutter,” she said with a laugh.

Emily Hale, a stylist at Geometrics who describes her style as more of a “hippie,” said it was easy to learn to attach the extensions, and she enjoys wearing them.

“I like more of a natural look,” said Hale, who also admitted to putting the extensions in her pet Chihuahua.

Robin Genkel was recently spotted wearing the earrings and thin feather-and-tinsel extensions at DeBois Textiles in Pigtown.

“It’s getting harder to find longer earrings because of the feather extensions,” said Genkel, who owns more than 10 pairs of feather earrings. She started collecting the earrings last year after a jewelry-designer friend sold her a pair. “I love how they look.”

Genkel said she’s been recently concerned about how feathers are gathered.

“I always ask where they come from,” she said. “I like the look, but I would want them to be animal friendly.”

According to the Associated Press, feathers usually come from roosters that are genetically bred and raised for their plumage. In most cases, the birds do not survive the plucking. At Whiting Farms Inc., in western Colorado, one of the world’s largest producers of fly tying feathers, the roosters live about a year while their saddle feathers — the ones on the bird’s backside and the most popular for hair extensions — grow as long as possible. Then the animal is euthanized.

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