Secrets of the Sheitel Stylists
Gneshe Bron of Wigs by Gneshe / Martyna Starosta
On the Wednesday evening before Passover, Gneshe Bron sent out the last freshly washed and styled sheitel from her salon, Wigs by Gneshe. She swept the tan linoleum floor clean of hair, washed the styling table and chair and plopped down on the black leather couch to breathe a sigh of relief.
“There is nothing like the feeling of sending out that last wig and closing shop for Pesach,” she said.
Bron does a brisk business during the year, but it’s utter madness in the weeks preceding Passover, when customers bring two or three wigs each to be styled in time for one of the longest Jewish holidays of the year.
Bron is one of the many wig stylists, also known as sheitel makhers, in Monsey, New York. Her salon, a rented basement room with lavender walls, a black leather love seat, a styling table, chair and mirror, two sewing machines for wig repair and other repair and styling equipment, looks like countless other small wig salons in Orthodox communities throughout the Tri-state area and in other populous Jewish communities across the United States. Bouncy long wigs with luscious beach curls sit next to stiff, matronly wigs on Styrofoam heads on the windowsills and cabinets, awaiting their owners.
She has been in the wig business for close to 10 years, and takes tremendous pride in not needing to advertise or run after customers; hers is a word-of-mouth business, and women flock to her for her inimitable talent and creativity. Her clientele is exclusively Orthodox women, from modern to ultra, as well as a few Hasidic clients who favor her modern touch and sense of fashion.
I observed her process as she effortlessly whisked a sheitel into a chic updo, rendering it as close to natural-looking as possible. Her Facebook and Instagram pages boast photos of similar sleek and glamorous wigs styled to perfection: intricate braids tied into buns or pulled back into half updos. Her wig-styling is a thing of art.
Working alongside Bron, on a tall chair between the black loveseat and one of the repair sewing machines, is Tzipora, a young, Orthodox woman who repairs wigs for Bron’s customers, as well as for customers of other local sheitel makhers. She works with her hands, fastidiously threading new hair, which she buys from hair brokers in South America and Europe, into wigs that have thinned out. Sometimes, she removes hair from dense wigs to lighten the load on the customer’s head.
Unlike Bron’s homey wig salon in suburban Monsey, Shuly Wigs, one of the most popular Brooklyn-based brands of gorgeous, natural-looking wigs, is a luxurious storefront salon bedecked in modern decor. Shuly Wigs is located at the crossroads of heavily ultra-Orthodox Boro Park and modern Flatbush. Customers come here in search of the most natural-looking wigs that will fit like a glove and last for seven to 10 years.
Shuly Amsel, the owner of the salon, manufactures her own wigs. She selects and purchases the finest hair from brokers in Europe and South America. They arrive in long ponytails, which then need to be washed, treated and threaded into a net. This is a meticulous craft, done by workers who sit over wig nets and heads threading hair. The net and direction of the hair constantly needs updating and refinement to keep up with the latest trends and to satisfy the customers.
“Art in Wigs” is the motto of Shuly Wigs, proudly presented on the hood of the salon window.
“Art is not only about painting a canvas,” Amsel explained. “Art is also about taking a wig and creating an image on a woman. I find that a woman’s face becomes a canvas when I’m cutting and styling on them.”
Shuly, herself a modern woman in a long and sleek brunette wig has a mission: to make every woman who walks through the door of her salon leave looking and feeling beautiful.
“I always liked the idea of empowering women,” she said. “I think that beauty empowers women; it makes them confident.”
And beautiful they look, indeed. Her customer base is diverse, as is evident in the back room of the salon, covered wall-to-wall with wigs of every style, length and texture. Amsel has also attracted a wide range of non-Jewish women suffering from alopecia, cancer and other ailments that cause the loss of hair. Shuly Wigs have been featured in magazines, TV shows and runaway, not a small feat for a businesswoman who began her career as a sheitel makher in a basement room in Brooklyn.
I asked how she explains the seemingly contradictory act of covering one’s own hair with someone else’s beautiful hair. Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of this halacha?
It’s not an oxymoron to wear a beautiful wig when you’re supposed to cover your hair, she said. “I feel that women who are fulfilling the mitzvah of covering their hair should look as best as possible as they’re doing it.”