Don’t Leave Your Hat On

Alopecia Fashion Show Raising Awareness

Pierre (Lawanda) McCreary has modeled in fashions shows around the country.

The Polish Heritage Center in St. Louis is the site of the upcoming Hats Off Alopecia fashion show, bringing alopecia to the runway.

Pierre McCleary, now 46, has lived with the condition all of her life. Currently working to build her business brand, Hats Off, McCleary said she raised daughters to be successful women in a society that said she would fail as a single mother.

“I am a mother of three beautiful daughters and a grandmother to three girls and three boys,” she said.

An only child, McCleary’s mother died of lung cancer in 2005, and as a cancer survivor for her mom, being open and sharing her story about living with alopecia was a way that she began to empower herself.

“Nobody really knew that I had alopecia, because I would always cover up with wigs, so sharing my story was a way for me to accept who I am so that I can encourage, inspire and empower others,” McCleary said. “Never did I imagine me – a person who has lived in a dark place for a lot of her life – could be a person to brighten other people’s lives with the simple truth of my story.”

Though she has been dealing with alopecia for a long time, she didn’t always know what it was. She also dealt with other things in her life, including other health issues like asthma, eczema and allergies – and the stress of feeling like an “outcast.”

When she first started telling people about her condition and began taking off her wig, the first reaction was that people thought she had cancer.

“I tell them I don’t have cancer. I have alopecia, an autoimmune deficiency,” McCleary said. “I don’t consider myself to have a disease. It’s a condition that affects my immune system.”

She was inspired to do a fashion show because there are a very limited amount of models who have alopecia.

“I wanted to do a fashion show that brought alopecia to the runway so that the world can see that there is beauty with the condition,” she said.

The Hats Off Alopecia fashion show at the Polish Heritage Center, will include models who have alopecia from a number of states, as well as Dubai and Canada.

“These models are bold, beautiful and courageous, and they want to be a part of this,” McCleary said. “Most of them have never been in public in their trueness of alopecia. There will also be two 6-year-old girls who were born with alopecia and one male model from Indiana.”

For anyone who is living with alopecia, McCleary stresses that the first step is to accept who you are.

“Believe in who you are, and know that you are not your hair,” she said. “Do not allow someone else’s perception of you to stop you from being you. You are the only one that can live your life – whatever you are going through – whether that is alopecia or any other health hardship.

“Know that we all get the same amount of time every day of our lives. Do not let anything take away from that time. Live your life; love your life,” she said.

Hats Off will be presented at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, July 23 at the Polish Heritage Center, 1413 N. 20th Street in St. Louis. General admission tickets are $25; VIP tickets are $50, which includes a reception with dinner and wine from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at eventbrite.com.