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Wigging Out

Wigging Out

My decision to cover my hair with a wig has me feeling better about myself physically and spiritually!

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“Wow, I love your hair!” the supermarket checker exclaimed. This was a thrilling change from the predictable “Paper or plastic?” question checkers typically asked and which usually encompassed our entire interchange. “I wish I could have my hair like that, all short and feathery, but my boyfriend likes it long,” she added wistfully.

As she enthused over my tresses, I was grinning like the Cheshire cat. The cut was new, and I didn’t mind a public endorsement of my choice. Beyond that, my grin camouflaged my wickedly strong temptation to lean over the check stand and tell her, “Guess what? It’s a wig!”

“Guess what? It’s a wig!”

But I conquered the temptation and didn’t blow my cover. Why ruin the mystique? I’d been covering my hair for many years with hats or berets, but had only recently “wigged out,” so to speak. Sure, once upon a time I vowed that I could never cover my hair full time. Keeping Shabbat and kosher I could deal with; wearing a wig? Fuggedaboutit! Granted, Rebbetzin Feige Twerski writes persuasively about the mitzvah here, but I had a “should I or shouldn’t I?” relationship about the matter for years. But I finally joined the hidden-hair ranks when my first son was 3 years old, and I felt too sheepish to remind him to put on his kippah when my own hair was on display.

I bought an inexpensive wig, and felt like a fake. It wasn’t my style, and I took it out for airings only on special occasions. That mop also gave me a headache, which is a real deal-breaker if you cover your hair full-time. So I remained loyal to hats and berets, and my chapeaux collection grew to prodigious proportions. I could never have joined the military, since they only offered green berets. Mine spanned the entire color spectrum, from forest green to deep burgundy, ivories, royal and baby blues, and a half of dozen shades of brown. Most were embroidered with flowers or patterns. One has tiny copper chairs on it – it’s a real conversation piece. When I guiltily wrote another check for a new, irresistible topper, I rationalized, “At least I’m not a shoe hound! And it’s for a mitzvah!”

Still, I wished I could just wear a sheitel, Yiddish for wig. Hats could be fun, but you never have to match your hair to an outfit. Professionally, wigs let you just blend in, at least until lunch, when everyone else at the company meeting is eating what the caterer is serving and you surreptitiously nibble at your brown-bagged sandwich. Finally, I had a growing fear of ending up a little old Jewish bubbe, whose collection of hats would brand me “eccentric.” Eccentric old ladies with hats also usually have 15 cats, and I don’t like cats.

That is how I decided to risk another wig, but this time, it was going to be the real deal. No more shock mops for me, with their unnatural volume or stiffness marking them obviously fakes.

Still, it was scary to graduate to the major leagues of sheitel-wearing. What if I gambled major league money in a custom-designed, human hair sheitel and still got headaches? Oy! That would result in the kind of pain that no amount of Naproxen could dull. Despite the risk, I found myself sitting in the salon of a trusted sheitel designer. “I’m not ready for this! I’m scared!” I hollered as she plopped an uncut, long, dark brown wig on my head. “What do you think?” she asked.

“I look like Elvira. I can’t imagine how this would look after it’s cut.”

“I look like Elvira. I can’t imagine how this would look after it’s cut.” She quickly flipped through a celebrity magazine and pointed to a photo of Katie Holmes, sporting a fashion-forward bob. “That’s the cut for you,” she said. I laughed. “Katie Holmes! I’m old enough to be her, er, um, aunt!” I protested. Yet in less than an hour, I left the salon utterly transformed, the sheitel cut, washed and blow dried into a modern, elongated bob. Katie would have been jealous. “You look fantastic! So much younger!” The stylist and her assistant were staring at me, mouths agape.

I left the salon in shock, not only at how much money I had just paid but also at my striking resemblance to Katie Holmes (well, except for being oh so slightly older). I stuffed the beret I had worn in to the salon deep in my purse. Compared to my new locks, my blue beret now looked like a shmatte, barely suitable for dusting the furniture.

I have good news and bad news about my having flipped to wearing wigs. The good news is that everybody has been gushingly enthusiastic about my new locks. Friends have said, “Wow! You look so good I didn’t recognize you!” or “You look so much younger, it’s amazing!” The bad news is that friends have said, “Wow! You look so good I didn’t recognize you!” or “You look so much younger, it’s amazing!” This has been somewhat mortifying. What in the world did I look like before? I wondered. If I had looked that bedraggled in my hats, why hadn’t my girlfriends tipped me off? Was there a conspiracy afoot?

Hair covering doesn’t come easy to a lot of women who have chosen to keep the mitzvah. I know; I’m one of them. While I was proud to wear my hats and berets, knowing they often identified me as a member of this part of the tribe, I’m even happier to now sport a smart coiffure that lets me appear younger than my years, at least according to a recent survey of my friends and supermarket checkers. Sure, our inner beauty must always come first, but Judaism has a healthy respect for a woman’s God-given hardwiring to want to be beautiful too. With my new hair, I get to keep the mitzvah and enjoy feeling a little prettier at the same time. What a deal!

The best news of all, however, may be that my two new sheitels have rarely spiked a headache. I take this as a sign from above that going the extra mile for a mitzvah carries its own rewards.

Published: February 28, 2010


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Visitor Comments: 27

(27) Anonymous, February 8, 2014 10:25 PM

Modesty and Wigs

Yes modesty does not mean that we have to look ugly.
It is more to do with the woman's sense of privacy.
the practice (I would imagine) give the woman a real sense of putting into practice the difference between secular and Jewish identity. I would also think that wearing a wig would mean that you have modesty all day , since you won't be tempted to take it off (like a scarf or a hat) and stuff it in your handbag, to blend in when you are in a secular environment.
I am a gentile but respect the way orthodox women express their identity as a Jew , even if they may get comments from others. Being different in a religious way takes real courage these days.

(26) Rachel, May 19, 2013 6:51 AM

Wigs/ scarves who cares which

I fail to understand why wearing a wig has become the token height of piety in the diaspora. I cover my hair. In winter with large rasta berets and in summer with intricate scarves. I have some showing. I wear baker boy caps . I once borrowed a fall for a wedding which was a secular tel aviv wedding d'affaires because I had no suitable scarf and didn't want to stand out. It was fun, heck I might even buy one. But it IS just a method of covering your hair. It doesn't make you really anymore of a tzadika than the hat wearer. I was no more a tzadika in a wig. You don't upgrade to Operating System Sheitel.

At the swimming pool I met a little old lady who wears a turban which ironically have become fashion (xref Accessorize) she stopped wearing a wig because her rav was against it. Has she downgraded? Wear what you like on your heads but a Sheitel is just another head covering not a spiritual upgrade from a hat.

(25) Anonymous, November 2, 2010 11:11 PM

Normal beautiful

No, a Jewish wife's wig should not be "Glenda The Good Witch super-glamorous", but it is fine to look quite nice, even an improvement over nature. As for looking good for your husband, simply wear the wig around him as much as you can! He should certainly see you in it. It is a huge mistake in marriage to dress nicely for the office, and fall into any schmata when home. No, your beautiful wig is not just for others to look at, outside the home. A man knows this mitzvah is not easy, and he is extremely impressed when we do it. And, he likes the beauty, the simple beauty. The chic. The implication of youth and health that nice hair conveys. Even fake hair. A long bob makes you look thinner, believe it or not.

(24) Anonymous, November 2, 2010 2:10 AM

SYNTHETIC HAIR WIGS ARE CHEAP AND GREAT

They DO TOO look really good, if you choose carefully, cost only FIFTY dollars, wash in cold water, get ordered from websites. Just get an elongated bob. They don't style: what you see is what you get; so shop until you find a good one for you, and get several. Wigs-Us is a good web site, Paula Young is another, Wilsire Wigs, Light In The Box is great. You have to search and search, past the party wigs, but it's worth it. Straight not curly, not much bang, length well past the chin, maybe grazing the shoulder. Eleven inches in the back is a good length. The fit is adjustable, because of little tabs inside the wig. Just measure your head, as they advise. Lighter colors work well. We are supposed to serve G-d with joy, so we can look as beautiful as possible. As for the textual source, you know about the suspected woman having her hair uncovered publicly; that's in Talmud, right? Seriously, the artificial hair of today fluffs around, bounces and swings, and catches the light just like real hair. Whatever wigs you buy mail-order and decide you can't use, just donate to a Wig Gemach. Somebody else will be happy to have them, and it is not money lost. It is amazing to realize ;you can wake up in the morning and have any hair you want today. Maybe the hair you always wanted. Maybe, for fifty dollars, the hair others are spending hundreds getting from their colorists.

(23) Devora, July 27, 2010 11:14 PM

Re: Shaitels

As far as getting a good sheitel goes, it is all about getting a good stylist. I have a great one, where I'd be without her I don't know, and she's so amazing that at Kids Cuts the stylist told my daughter that she had my hair!

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