I audition for QVC.

Humiliating myself for fun and profit.
Feb. 15 2005 2:01 PM

QVC, Here I Come!

Can I get my brilliant new product—Hairmuffs—on home shopping television?

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

People have been stealing my ideas for inventions my whole life. Back in the 1960s, when I was in kindergarten and my mother was pregnant, I told her there should be a way for her to know whether she was going to have a girl or a boy. But I am not bitter toward the inventors of the sonogram. A few years later, frustrated at not being able to reach school friends on the phone when I wanted, I declared that there ought to be a method for getting around the busy signal. I have choked down my resentment at being overlooked as the originator of call waiting.

Emily Yoffe Emily Yoffe

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

But now it was my turn. A few weeks ago, my husband and I were engaged in our usual evening festivities: lying on the couch like a couple of beached manatees while he flipped channels. He landed on an announcement for QVC, the home shopping network. In the nanosecond before he flipped onward, I heard the hostess mention "new product search." I demanded he go back. I learned that QVC representatives would soon be at a hotel near me looking for their next blockbuster item.

Not the scene of a tragic accident: It's the Hairmuffs collection
Not the scene of a tragic accident: It's the Hairmuffs collection

This must have been like that moment in 1928 when Alexander Fleming, gazing into a petri dish and seeing that mold had killed bacteria, discovered penicillin. Watching the QVC ad, I realized I had in me a product America desperately needed: Hairmuffs.

Before I describe Hairmuffs (although they are really self-explanatory), here is the background on how my breakthrough came to be. Recently, I was waiting to pick up my daughter at school. It was cold, and I was wearing earmuffs. Another mother—a friend of mine—and I were talking when she interrupted our conversation to say, "You look so incredibly nerdy in those." It wasn't that I minded looking nerdy, but the vehemence with which she said it made me recognize that I had fallen below the minimally accepted standard of sweatpants-clad, unshowered, work-at-home motherhood.

But with Hairmuffs I could wear my earmuffs and be stylish. As I explained in my online QVC product application form:

It's freezing out and your ears are red and painful. So you put on a pair of earmuffs—and you look like an overgrown elementary-school student. Hairmuffs to the rescue! With Hairmuffs you can keep those tender ears cozy and no one will ever know you are wearing earmuffs. Hairmuffs are earmuffs that have been covered in a variety of hair colors and textures—one sure to match anyone's own tresses.

Advertisement

When I read the description to my husband, he declared that Hairmuffs were "hare-brained." But wasn't my darling manatee surprised when a few days later I showed him the return e-mail from QVC with an appointment time. "Maybe they give everyone a slot," he said. Then a bizarre thought struck him: "Maybe they like Hairmuffs."

Slate Deputy Editor David Plotz models NoHairmuffs
Slate Deputy Editor David Plotz models NoHairmuffs

It was time for me to manufacture Hairmuffs. I realized I needed a companion product for women with short hair or for men. So I came up with NoHairmuffs—a pair of fake ears attached to earmuffs. With a week to go before presentation day, I started to search for my raw materials. It turns out there is not a large market for fake human ears. Days of calling to costume stores and magic shops turned up nothing. I finally purchased from the Cinema Secrets Web site an Alien Dome Cap ($16), which came complete with realistic latex ears.

The Saturday before my Monday appointment, I went to the mall to get the rest of the ingredients for my prototype. The hair attachments kiosk had everything I needed, but I was stunned at the prices. Each small swatch of synthetic hair was $5. Buying enough in brown, black, and blond cost $62.87. I started to panic when I was unable to locate any earmuffs. It was 27 degrees outside, but the department stores were displaying sandals and swimwear. I started scanning the crowds—I was ready to approach someone wearing earmuffs to buy a pair directly. Almost everyone had something stuck in their ears, but they were all electronic devices.

I finally found earmuffs at a variety store, for only $2.99 each. Buying enough Velcro and glue cost another $19.93. When I added all my expenses, Hairmuffs production costs were $110 a set. I had told QVC I could wholesale Hairmuffs to them for $17. Now I understood it wasn't Kevin Costner's fault that the budget for Waterworld got so bloated.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Uh-Oh. The World’s Oceans Have Broken Their All-Time Heat Record.

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

How to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

A Simple Way to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.