Searching for the Perfect Wig
Other Orthodox women cover their hair with beautiful sheitels. Why does mine make me look like Marge Simpson?
During that period, Joanne died. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t hit by a truck or blown up by a terrorist. She got a terrible headache and then she was gone, leaving a husband and three children, the youngest of whom was a girl of 4. My appointment fell right after the shiva week. I canceled. For a time, I forgot about sheitels.
Then, one warm spring day about six months later, when I was highly pregnant and feeling like my body had been taken over by my stomach, I drifted into a downtown Jerusalem sheitel salon. The stylist handed me a catalog full of pictures of the same woman in hundreds of different styles, as if she were preparing to enter a witness protection program. I chose a dark brown pageboy.
After a half hour of sitting still while the stylist snipped and combed the wig that was affixed to my head with an elastic band, I was ready. I thought I looked good; maybe too good? Was I violating the spirit of the modesty laws? The last thing I wanted to be was a head-turner in a sheitel.
But at home, my brand new wig looked as if it was made of molten plastic. I was devastated. Had I been deceived by the salon’s lights? By my faulty eyesight?
“Take it to my girl,” said my sheitel-maven cousin Hedva. Hedva’s “girl,” who happened to be a grown woman, was booked solid.
“I’ll book you with Shula tomorrow. She’s just as good,” the salon receptionist said.
Against my better judgment, I took the appointment.
“The color removes the light from your face,” Shula said while looking at my new purchase, her face set in a frown.
She snipped and teased and combed, turning my light-deflecting pageboy into a light-deflecting pixie.
Back at home, my kids said the short sheitel turned me into an alte bubbe, an old grandma. I was barely 34. I returned the wig to its box and went back to hats and scarves.
On a visit to the United States, my pal Rivi booked me into her own sheitelmacher, Chani, the top stylist at the leading salon, in the sheitel capital of the world: Boro Park, Brooklyn.
“You don’t know what a big favor she is doing by squeezing you in,” Rivi told me with great seriousness.
After a five-hour wait, my turn to see Chani arrived. True to form, she picked out the perfect wig, a short frothy bob that struck the elusive balance between elegance and modesty. I floated out of the salon on a cloud of love for all the other sheitel wearers who crowded the Boro Park streets, all of us sisters under our wigs.
Back home in Jerusalem, I gave my new sheitel to my babysitter’s wayward niece, who claimed to be a beauty school graduate, for a wash. She blow-dried the curls to straw.
Since that time nearly 20 years ago, I’ve worn my way through a dozen or more wigs. I’m still searching for that perfect one.
On my current search I learned about a new innovation in the rapidly evolving world of sheitel technology: a hairpiece that converts a band fall (a wig with a cloth headband replacing the hair in front) into a full wig. Since I already have a band fall, the sheitelmacher suggested this. Priced at $520, as opposed to up to four times that price for a regular wig, it almost seemed like a steal. I ordered one over the telephone sight unseen, but on its Styrofoam wig head, it looked like the front of a Lhasa Apso pup.
On my head, the piece is an 18-year-old’s hair framing my 53-year-old face, like Dorian Grey in reverse. Do I like it? Right after the stylist had finished her work, I did, but once I got home, the combs holding the two halves together popped open, making me look me look like Marge Simpson.
So, I’m back where I started. And as I ponder my options—continue the search for something new, try to fix the damaged wig I already bought, stick it out with my old wig, or go back to scarves and hats—I know one thing: I’m still feeling bad about my sheitel.
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Breastfeeding mothers have enough to think about without worrying that they’re not sufficiently sexy