Coveted Coiffures

By Susan M. Kirschbaum

Published September 15, 2006, issue of September 15, 2006.
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‘Stylish jackets, great shoes… they are perfect,” hair stylist Atsuko Tanaka said. She is talking not about socialites on New York City’s Park Avenue but rather about married Orthodox women. Tanaka’s wig clients often visit the Mark Garrison Salon at 60th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues in Manhattan — where Tanaka works — after stops at Bloomingdale’s.

Rabbinic law considers it a breach of modesty for a married woman to exhibit her natural hair in the presence of any man other than her husband. But with costs of European hair wigs ranging anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 — plus the Garrison Salon’s initial shaping, which runs from $600 to $1,000, and the $85 styling — this is not your bubbe’s cookie-cutter sheytl.

Prior to the arrival of the High Holy Days, women wait in line for hours for a chance to attend showroom sales in Brooklyn, hosted by Milano — a wig company in talks with Garrison to launch a signature line — with natural hair wigs ranging in cost from $500 to $1,000.

“People want variety,” Milano’s head of production said. She asked to remain anonymous, due to the large volume of calls she received from women asking about everything from wig sales to styling advice the last time her name was in print. “When you are spending thousands for a wig, people would rather buy three at once.”

Top style requests include feathered, sweeping bangs and wavy.

“Part of our society is more affluent now,” said Reisel Dutcher, 49, of Teaneck, N.J. “My [26-year-old] daughter is a lawyer, a professional. And they have the look. I’m older, so three wigs is enough. But my daughter has five. In my day, we didn’t have the money. These girls in the work force have to fit in.”

Tanaka, who apprenticed under Garrison six years ago, agrees. “Ladies would schedule a blow-dry every other month. Now, they come in each or every other week, with pages from Elle magazine.”

“The point is to appear natural,” said Judy from Flatbush, Brooklyn, about Garrison’s technique. “It’s worth every penny.”

Dutcher, who has been covering her hair for almost three decades, agrees: “I’ve seen the transition. The main thing is the style. People say to me, ‘Are you sure you’re wearing a wig?’”

Susan M. Kirschbaum is a freelance writer/editor living in New York City.

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