Unapologetic: Cutting Away at Wig Tradition
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because tradition moves with modernity — and no one wants to be out of fashion.
By Viviane Feldman
If you ever find yourself in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, you may notice the approximately 40 synagogues and many yeshivas. You’ll see bearded men in black coats and modestly dressed women with short brown hair following the traditional appearance called for by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. What you may not notice, though, is what many women in this community, and in many other Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, are wearing: wigs.
It’s expected if you’re a married woman in these communities that you’ll cover your hair outside the home. Some women use hats or scarves, but many wear a sheitel, or wig. Traditional sheitels are often mature-looking: dark, full-bodied and cropped.
Zelda Volkov, a Crown Heights native, used to wear a traditional sheitel.
I love that my salon gives that space to women. A space that they don’t necessarily get elsewhere. An open, loving, very nonjudgmental space.
“I remember looking at myself in the mirror and I was 21, and I was like, ‘I feel 50,’” she recalls. “‘I just don’t feel like my youthful self.’ It was dark and it was fluffy … I did not feel good.”
When she was on maternity leave with her second child, Volkov decided to change her look. She was determined to make a wig that didn’t look like a wig. After finding a supplier in Ukraine, and creating a natural-looking wig, she decided to take her creation public.
“If I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna do it, like, all the way,” Volkov says. “So, I reached [out] to a branding company.”
Her shop, Zelda Wigs, is located just down the street from her childhood home, and Volkov regularly holds pop-up shops in Paris, Israel and across the United States. She also ships wigs worldwide.
Now a divorcée and mother of three, Volkov runs the shop without wearing a wig. And, a far cry from her former look, she currently sports long blond, beachy waves.
“[When] I did get divorced, I took off my wig. I feel like there was this sense of confusion,” she says. “Like, you know, ’Oh, she sells wigs but she’s not wearing a wig.’ I came to terms with the fact that I could make the best wigs on the market … and not wear a wig right now … I realized that that’s OK.”
Volkov says her shop is a safe space for women of all backgrounds and all interpretations of Judaism. “I love that my salon gives that space to women. A space that they don’t necessarily get elsewhere,” she says. “An open, loving, very nonjudgmental space.”
A backlash against the natural wig movement has been growing in the past 15 years. Stricter Orthodox camps worry that these lush, shiny hairpieces attract unwanted attention and undermine what they see as the purpose of the wig: a modest head covering. Volkov, and many other Jewish women around the globe, are opting for a different approach to the practice.
“One of the greatest misunderstandings in the Jewish wig world is that a wig is meant to make you look unattractive or ugly. In fact, that’s completely not the purpose of the wig,” Volkov says. “The purpose … is really just to maintain the privacy for your husband. But you could look as hot, as sexy, as beautiful as you want. Or as natural or as plain as you want. And that just depends on the style of the woman.”
For now, the most popular style at Zelda Wigs is an elevated, polished and, yes, natural look.