My Adventure in Wearing $600 ‘Couture Clip-Ins’

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Photo: Victor Prado

In three years, my hair has skimmed my collar bones, been cropped to my temples, and then cut to its current length, a chin-length bob. So when I walked into Wonderland Beauty Parlor to get my own set of Balmain’s hair extensions, I was in it for the long haul. Literally: Boob-surpassing, belly-button grazing, championship pony hair was my follicular goal. Especially because this option was temporary and without the frustration — and breakage — that would come with growing my natural hair two feet.

Grabbing my scalp, hairstylist Michael Angelo quickly destroyed my dream: "These aren't those extensions," he told me. "They're subtle additions that should be treated more like accessories for your hair that maybe add a little length.” Not a bad deal, of course, but I guess I'll never look like Cher.

Balmain Hair+, as Angelo explained, is a licensee of the grungy, leather-clad French fashion house; the only things the clothing line and the hair line share are an extremely high price and a bit of history: The extensions have been around since the seventies, when every major couture house made hair pieces.

Some 40 years later, the line now includes Ready-to-Wear Hair ($36) — made from two strips of real human hair attached to a tiny clip — and Ready-to Wear Fringe ($40), which is basically the same thing for women who want bangs. Both sets come in a range of colors from normal brown and blondes to bright orange and fuchsia; the salon can also color-match them to your own shade for an additional fee.

If you’re truly dedicated, there’s the Couture Clip-In treatment, which I tried. The service starts out at $600 and can go as high as $1,000, depending on how many pieces (of actual human hair) are added onto your head, which takes two days. Your initial appointment starts out with Angelo assessing your natural locks and learning how you would like your hair to look. "It's not to have hair down to there," he mentions again, totally dissing my belly-dancer dreams. “But to add little pieces for volume and color." For me, he selected a jet-black set — after I nixed a navy blue option — along with a lighter version with subtle brown highlights to give some "sparkle" to my own black, never-been-colored strands.

Before your second appointment, 48 hours after your initial consultation, Angelo's team custom-dyes any strips that need a color adjustment for a more perfect look. If you’re short on time, though, you can shop “off the rack” (like I did). In less than one hour, you’ll get a quick trim, a heat straightening, a few spritzes of hair spray, and an entirely unrecognizable hairstyle. My new do was longer and more varied in length, with a few strands now falling above and below my collar bone. I felt like a power-lunching lawyer, even as I could feel the tiny clips pulling at my part. They’re not heavy exactly, but you’ll feel them there.

Despite that small irritation, the extensions are believable enough that strangers wouldn’t notice I had something attached to my scalp. Over time, even these fanciest of extensions would get stringy, though, so removing them at night and clipping them back each morning would be essential to keeping the sleek look. They're easy to reattach, but I didn’t even bother: Before I got home, I had taken them and placed them back in Balmain’s sleek, black “backstage” storage book. Because there’s nothing quite like regifting $600 worth of fake hair this Christmas.