I saw some striking wigs today. Gleaming, glinting, brunette, raven black, strawberry blonde. They don’t resemble real hair, and maybe that’s the point.
My job site was on the corner of Dayhill Road and 53rd Street, in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. The two Zelkova trees I was there to watch over had gnarled roots pushing up the sidewalk, important issues to attend to, but it wasn’t yet time to attend to them. So I spent the early morning watching the parade of moms dropping off their kids at the 3-in-1 school on the corner. The Al and Sonny Gindi Barkal Yeshiva, Tomer Deborah Girls School, and the Jack and Grace Cayre Elementary School.
Being Orthodox, the women all came out in the morning in their wigs. I have often wondered why, if the point of hiding one’s hair from the world is to be modest, to reserve its beauty for one’s husband only, why do these women wear kosher locks that are so flashy, which would seem only to call more attention from men outside the marriage bed. (Some Hasidic women actually shave their heads.) One of the mysteries, and just thinking about it shows my insensitivity, I’m sure.
A great wig is a rare find. I remember accompanying my friend Deb after her chemotherapy to one of the best wigmakers in Manhattan, near Columbus Circle. It was a glamorous place (they did a lot of show biz extensions) and she was treated like a queen as she had two wigs fitted, one her “good” wig and one her “bad” wig. In either one she looked as good as she ever had — beautiful — but there was still a slight brassiness to the hair’s texture.
I sat behind a man wearing a rug recently in a theater and the gloss of his hair nearly blinded me. His was plain. When periwigs were mainstays for men, in the eighteenth century, you could choose from dozens of imaginatively named styles, from the Adonis to the Cauliflower to the Ramilies, a romantic number that sported a black silk bow on its ponytail. If human hair was unavailable, the peruke maker would substitute materials from horse hair to fine metal wire.
It’s almost impossible to get a wig right.
Here come the moms, at school dismissal, and here comes their hair. So sleek and straight. Maybe the smoothness is what makes it look so artificial. I would bet that a hefty percentage of their wearers have soft, luscious waves framing their faces when the wigs come off, like Deb had before her chemo. But we’ll never know, will we?