Many people who lose their hair due to chemotherapy or other breast cancer treatments discover that scarves and hats are the easiest, most comfortable, and versatile head coverings. Scarves and hats can hide your hair loss, help keep you warm, and protect you from the sun. And since they are available in so many styles and colors, you can find options that fit your personal taste and make you feel stylish and not like you’re wearing them just to cover up.
You may decide to alternate wearing hats or scarves with wearing a wig, or no head covering, depending on the occasion and the weather. Some people prefer hats and scarves to wigs, because they find them to be more comfortable and easier to wear and maintain. Hats and scarves are also much less expensive than wigs. High-quality ones that work well for people with hair loss can cost as little as $15-$40.
Nicki Serquinia, a former hairdresser who specialized in helping people with cancer find head coverings and owner of Hats, Scarves & More, recommends buying a few basic head coverings before you start to lose your hair so that you’re not caught off guard with nothing to wear. For example, you could start with a sleep cap, a soft turban, a scarf, and one hat.
“After your hair falls out, you can continue to figure out which head coverings you prefer,” she says. “You might notice, for instance, that you feel colder than usual with no hair so you want to get some warmer hats, or that you’re finding tying a scarf to be easier than you expected so you want to get more scarves.”
On this page, you can learn about where to buy hats and scarves or get them for free, how to select styles that are comfortable and flattering, and more.
Where to get scarves and hats
The scarves and hats that tend to work best for people with hair loss have a soft interior, stay on securely, and provide some coverage over the ears and neckline. Even if you already own some scarves and hats that you like, you’ll probably want to get some new ones with those features if you lose your hair.
A number of online retailers offer fashionable, reasonably priced hats and scarves for people with hair loss. Some examples are Headcovers Unlimited; TLC; Hats, Scarves & More; and Etsy. It’s a good idea to find out about the return policies of a retailer before purchasing a scarf or hat, since you may want to try on a few different styles and return some of them.
Insurance won’t cover scarves and hats for hair loss related to cancer treatment, but there are several ways to get free head coverings:
- Call the American Cancer Society’s helpline (1-800-227-2345) to get referrals to local and national organizations that provide free hats, scarves, wigs, and hair pieces to people with cancer.
- Search online for free hats or scarves for people with cancer. For example, an organization called Good Wishes will ship a free head scarf to anyone experiencing loss or thinning of hair as a result of illness or treatment.
- Ask if the resource center at your local cancer center or your oncologist’s office can provide free head coverings.
How to choose a scarf or hat
Here’s what to look for when selecting a hat or scarf to wear when you’ve lost some or all of your hair:
- Comfort: Your scalp may feel sensitive or irritated when you’re losing your hair due to treatment, so look for headwear that is made from a very soft, breathable fabric (or that at least has a soft lining). Some people like to wear a “liner cap” under a hat, scarf, or wig to make it more comfortable, keep it in place, add warmth, and/or to absorb and wick away sweat.
- A secure fit: Make sure any headwear you’re considering stays securely on your head so you won’t have to worry about it slipping or falling off. Choose a scarf in a fabric that has some grip to it — like cotton, rayon, or bamboo — rather than slippery fabrics like silk or polyester. Look for hats that are close-fitting and made from stretchy fabrics (such as beanies and turbans) or those that have features like an adjustable inner drawstring or a stretchy gathered band at the back that provides a custom fit.
- Full coverage: Many people with hair loss prefer head coverings that extend to cover the whole hairline, the nape of the neck, and the ears. Headwear with this level of coverage hides hair loss and offers better protection from the sun and cold air. You may find that some hats you already own and have worn in the past don’t offer enough coverage. For instance, a traditional baseball cap worn on its own may not cover enough of your head. But a baseball cap with an attached hair piece, or a cadet, military, or newsboy hat in a soft material can provide more coverage.
- Easy to wear and care for: Look for scarves and hats that can be easily cleaned — either in a washing machine or by hand. Also, consider investing in a couple of pieces of headwear that are pull-on and foldable (so that you can easily keep them in your bag or coat pocket when you’re on the go), such as a pre-tied head scarf or a turban.
- Suits your personal style: You’ll probably feel most comfortable in head coverings that make you feel attractive and that go with your wardrobe and your taste. “A good question to ask yourself is: would I feel good wearing this if I didn’t have hair loss?” says Serquinia. “To find the styles that will work for you, you might have to go outside your comfort zone at first, especially if you haven’t worn hats or scarves much in the past.”
Head scarf tips
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you’re trying out head scarves for the first time:
- Head scarves are usually square or rectangular (oblong). A square head scarf should be at least 27 inches x 27 inches to provide enough coverage. A rectangular (or oblong) scarf should be at least 15 inches wide. Rectangular scarves are a good option if you want more fabric hanging down in the back or you want to tie the scarf multiple times around your head to resemble a headwrap or turban.
- People with hair loss tend to prefer scarves in fabrics that are soft, lightweight, breathable, and not too slippery, such as cotton, rayon, and bamboo. Heavier fabrics generally don’t work as well, particularly if you’re experiencing treatment-related hot flashes. Bamboo in particular can help keep you cool and dry because it wicks sweat.
- There are many stylish ways to wear and to tie a head scarf. You can get inspired by searching online for videos with step-by-step instructions on head scarf tying techniques.
- If you’re looking for a quick, easy-to-use option, consider pre-tied head scarves (also called slip-on scarves). A pre-tied scarf looks like it was tied by hand, but you just slip it on, it will stay on securely, and it doesn’t require complex folding or tying. Some styles require tying simple knots or a bow in the back, while some don’t require any tying at all. Pre-tied scarves typically have covered elastic at the neckline.
- If you want to add a small amount of height and volume under your head scarf (so that the scarf doesn’t look too flat on your head), try a scarf pad, padded hat liner, or padded headband. These will also help keep the scarf in place.
Hat styles to try
Depending on your personal preferences and the season, you may want to try some of the following styles of hats:
- A sleep cap (typically a soft, form-fitting cap made from cotton or bamboo) can feel soothing and help keep you warm at night.
- A turban is a form-fitting cap that surrounds your whole head and that looks like layers of fabric wrapped or twisted around the head. Turbans — and similar styles such as beanies and slouchy hats — have long been popular with people with treatment-related hair loss because they’re comfortable and easy to wear, offer coverage over the ears and neckline, and can make you look put together without a lot of effort. You may find that turbans that give you some height and fullness are especially flattering. Many turbans and beanies can double as sleep caps. If you’re comfortable with learning slightly intricate scarf tying techniques, you can create a turban look with a scarf instead of a hat.
- A beret, cloche, bucket, cadet, military, or newsboy hat are other styles that can hide hair loss, provide good coverage, and be worn indoors or outdoors. If you’ll be primarily wearing a particular hat indoors, Serquinia recommends choosing a style with no bill or brim (or a relatively short bill or brim).
- A wide-brimmed sun hat made from (or lined with) a soft material can keep your scalp, face, and neck protected from the sun. Look for fabrics with built-in UV protection (such as those labeled UPF 50+). You can wear a scarf or a wide headband under a sun hat for extra softness and coverage. Keep in mind that some breast cancer treatments can make your skin extra sensitive to the sun.
- Knit, winter hats in soft fabrics like fleece or chenille can keep you warm and cozy if you’ll be spending time outdoors in the cold.
Hair pieces to wear with hats and scarves
Some women like to wear a hair piece under a hat or scarf to get the look of hair without having to wear a full wig. Hair pieces tend to be cooler, more lightweight, easier to take care of, and more affordable than wigs. They are available in a variety of colors and lengths and in straight or curly styles. Here are a few options to consider:
- A “halo” hair piece, worn under a hat or scarf, gives the appearance of hair around the back and sides of the head and sometimes includes bangs as well. Unlike a full wig, it is open at the top to keep you cool.
- A baseball cap with hair permanently attached is an easy option because it’s ready to wear and doesn’t require any styling.
- Bangs can be attached to your scarf, turban, or hat with peel-and-stick Velcro strips.
- A “hair headband” has a ponytail or bangs (with or without side fringe) attached and is worn under a hat or scarf.
This page was developed with contributions from the following experts:
Nicki Serquinia, founder and owner of Hats, Scarves & More
Melissa Hutchison, American Cancer Society patient navigator at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, PA