Ask a Fancy Person: Occasionless Gifts, Chemo Baldness at the Office, The “Thanks For the Birthday…

Ask a Fancy Person: Occasionless Gifts, Chemo Baldness at the Office, The “Thanks For the Birthday Wishes” Anomie

by Kirsten Schofield


Dear Fancy,

I am a woman in my 30’s undergoing chemotherapy. As a result, I’m bald. It hasn’t been so bad (well, the chemo sucks, but fashion-wise, I mean), because my friends have lent me many colorful headscarves to wear. I’m also fortunate to have a nice wig to wear for special occasions, but I prefer not to wear the wig all the time.

Sometimes, though, I’d just like to be bald, especially in the summer when it’s so hot outside. Do you think it would be unprofessional for me to go bald sometimes in the office if I still dress well and pay attention to my makeup? I’ve only done it a few times in public and I’ve liked it, but I’m worried about working in the office bald.

Thank you!


Dear Baldie,

First, let me say on behalf of my real self, my alterego Fancy, and all the ‘Pinners, we’re rooting for you and are completely positive you’re going to deal cancer a humiliating loss, akin to the one the Mighty Ducks dealt Iceland in D2.

But you didn’t write me to give you Gordon Bombay-style pep talks via the internet, so onto your question. Feel completely and totally free to do whatever you want. It’s dandy if you want to wear colorful scarves and a wig, and it’s peachy to go without, too. Professionalism doesn’t even enter into that equation. Cancer aside, if you chose to buzz your hair, you’re still presentable in a business setting. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, that’s unacceptable and you can tell them I said that. There are some kinds of styles that aren’t appropriate in all settings, but this just ain’t one of them. Looking the part of the teacher/sandwich artist/graphic designer/nanny/lawyer you are is more about not distracting from your work with a Pikachu neck tat, not about the specifics of the length of your hair. Dress like you’re at work, put on a touch more makeup than you might otherwise to play up your best features, and wear some pretty earrings and people will forget that you aren’t choosing baldness as A Look.

What I’m going to say next is likely not going to be popular, but I’m not here to make friends. Much like people love to touch the bellies of pregnant ladies in the deli aisle at the Piggly Wiggly, people love to talk to bald women about their lack of hair. If you choose not to wear your wig or scarves, you have to be prepared for thoughtless people both known and unknown to you to say galling things. You need to have a pat answer at the ready to keep it from wrecking your whole day and making you feel less confident. If you’re feeling glum, that might not be the occasion to go scalp out; having a lot of these interactions can wear you down.

So, I recommend against telling strangers you’re too busy roundhouse kicking cancer in the face to worry about dumb shit like their comfort level with your illness: it’s the true response, but you’ll ultimately end up in an even longer, more galling conversation if you take that route. Tell them that you were tired of it drying weird after bikram yoga, pick up your dry cleaning, and exit stage left. There’s nothing to be ashamed of about losing your hair, but you probably don’t want to have a lengthy back and forth with anyone stupid enough to approach a woman they don’t know to ask about her prognosis.

For people you know but not well, don’t feel like you have to lie or divulge personal information or make an excuse. Say something like, “Well, Steve, I’m going through both August and chemo at the same time, and it was just too hot today to mess with my wig. Have you seen any Keurig pods? I’m not nuts about the Caribou ones and that’s all that’s left in that bin by the water cooler.” Don’t give them a point of entry into talking about your health because you don’t owe them that; be better than them by not making a scene when you easily could. Anyone who needles you about it is just being thoughtless, so surprise them by being thoughtful in return.

Yours in sickness and in health,


Dear Fancy,

I’ve inherited a strange shopping habit from my mother and aunts, which is to buy things for my friends and family, regardless of occasion, if it’s cheap and I think they’ll like it. I do most of my clothes shopping at thrift and consignment stores, and I cannot control myself if I see something I think my roommate would look great in, or a good pair of shoes for my fashionably-challenged younger brother. Sometimes I get to the checkout and I’m buying more stuff for other people than I am for myself! Most of the recipients seem to enjoy my spontaneous “I-saw-this-and-thought-of-you” gifts, but sometimes I can’t tell if they genuinely like it or if they’re just humoring me. Is this a habit I should break, or am I doing my loved ones a favor by always keeping an eye out?


I’m Turning Into My Mother


We all turn into our mothers, and I think you should wholeheartedly embrace this direction you are taking so young. I, for one, would welcome any surprise gifts you have in your stores, so please contact Jia for my mailing address.

Your impulse for generosity you can afford is a plus in the “things people love about you” column, and I don’t think you should quash it, though it’s possible that your friends and family are both genuinely touched and humoring you. They’re glad you’re thinking of them and want to bring light to their days, but they’re also accumulating a lot of stuff that they may not need or already have. When you see a plaid skirt for two dollars at a yard sale and think, “Maybe Julia would want this, even though it’s a little short for work,” you should skip it. If you see a pair of mint-condition Red Wing boots at the Salvation Army and Josh the other day mentioned how cool he thinks those are, grab them! Keep in mind not only the sizes and styles people in your life might need or want, and don’t stray too wildly from that to avoid giving the gift of both a sweater and that feeling you get when you need to wear the sweater your grandmother got you because she’s coming over for lunch but orange is not your thing.

Make an occasion of these “just because” gifts by wrapping them nicely and writing a little note for the recipient. This is a little time-consuming, but it gives you pause: can you visualize them opening this up and being excited? Great! That’s a present to give them. And don’t worry too much: who doesn’t love a unwrapping something on a day that isn’t Christmas?

Yours in Unbirthdays,


Dear Fancy,

Like many people, I have the good fortune of having supportive friends who wish me happy birthday or write kind things on my wall at life milestones like graduation or engagement. Problem is, I never know how to respond to these messages. I’ve seen the general “thanks for the birthday wishes!” post, but that feels humble-braggy: like, hey everyone, I am very popular, and for those of you who didn’t wish me a happy birthday, where were you? I’ve also seen people go through and “like” every nice wish they’ve received, but that seems both impersonal and time-intensive. Simply not responding feels rude, too. Are there alternatives? What do you recommend?


Seasons Greetings

Dear Greetings,

Congrats on being so well-liked, and a happy belated birthday, graduation, and engagement! Sorry to make you a victim of this, but now seems like a good time to share this GIF:


Do you remember your first Facebook birthday? It’s completely uncool to admit this now, but you loved it. It feels great to hear from people who are just letting you know, in the most basic way possible, they’re glad they know you and that you continued to draw breath since they last saw you. It’s fun to see what people are up to and to hear from them during happy times. Don’t lose sight of that in the crush of incoming messages you’re sure to receive.

Catching up with all these people, though, can be exhausting and time intensive, and with Jesse Eisenberg changing the settings every ten minutes, you have to figure out the best way to do it anew each time you have a major life event. This is both boring and a waste of time.

The solution to this has two parts, and it requires a change in behavior from you as a giver and receiver of well-wishes. You have 362–364 days a year to issue good wishes (let’s say a person graduates, gets engaged, and has a birthday in an eventful year, and just has a birthday in a more normal one), so start today. Use the most personal mode of address you have for each person’s events. Invite your neighbor down for a drink to celebrate his promotion rather than clicking “like.” Send a card, in the mail with a stamp, to people you are close enough to to have their address on their birthdays. Text or email your cousin or childhood friend when you hear news of the birth of their child. It gives your missive a chance not to be lost in a sea of canned, cloned shoutouts and takes very little time.

If you want to hear back from someone but don’t have those options, feel free to send a social media DM to tell them they looked really happy in their law school graduation photos and that you’d be happy to send their resume to your uncle the judge. Resort to a simple “like” or wall post for people you want to reach out to, but don’t have any pressing need to catch up with.

Facebook and Twitter are both permanent and ephemeral; you think you’re going to double back to the messages, but once they fall off the main page, you’re not ever going to see them again until you’re running for public office and some intern has been tasked to go through your digital garbage in 2035. Use either a more physical (in person, a note) or more immediate (email, text) medium to really convey good messages. We all get dozens of well-wishes on special occasions via Pintstaface, but the ones that stand out in our minds are the ones that took a little more doing on behalf of the sender.

As the recipient, I think you’ll notice that if you start passing along your messages this way, people will being to respond in kind to you. After I started using the approach, I noticed I got a lot more birthday calls, emails, texts, and cards and my Facebook wall post count fell substantially. For the stragglers, I recommend looking through and sending a message, email, or text to anyone on that list that you have been wanting to reestablish contact with. For the others, a simple comment on the post, “Thanks for the well-wishes! Hope all is great in Chicago!” will do just fine.

Yours in Celebratory Drinks and Snacks,


Kirsten Schofield is an editor and excellent dancer living in Charleston, South Carolina. She’s taking questions for Ask a Fancy Person here.