The Evolution of the Sheitel

I actually wrote a paper on the advancements of sheitels that was printed in The Queens College Journal of Jewish Studies in spring 2004. pp. 93-101. (If I could pretend to have been a student at the time, i could try to pass for much younger than I am ;-), but the bio gives that away, alas.). The essay's argument was that as American woman accepted the practice of hair covering, they also demanded sheitels that didn't merely cover their hair but gave them the perfect hair of the American beauty standard. I observed how the standards and prices for shitels have escalated just in my own lifetime and looked back at how unpopular and basic sheitels were earlier in the 20th Century. We have come to the point that rabbis like Rabbi Falks exhort women to forego the scalp lining and indecipherable hairlines of the more expensive sheitels that make them appear to not be covering their hair at all.

But while the sheitel-wearing women have popularized the lace front wig, I learned that the technique for it actually was developed long ago -- back in the 1920's. It was not the demand of frum American women -- who still associated sheitels with the old world and old women, as Ruchama Shain points out in All for the Boss -- that was behind the development. The demand was for films. On the stage, actors wore wigs sewn on to bands -- like the falls of today. That worked fine at the distance between actors and audience in the theater but not for the closeups of film. So the lace front wig with its natural-looking hairline was made to help make movie magic. That is one of the interesting things I learned on a trip to the museum of the moving image in Astoria, Queens.


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