July 23, 2024
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July 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

We’re all familiar in these parlous times with the expression that “clothes make the man.” But it’s a cliche and, while at one time it contained more than a grain of truth, through overuse most people don’t give it the weight that perhaps they should. As we will learn below, it’s the emphasis in the trite phrase on the term “clothes” that may be somewhat overdone. If one instead focuses on “accessories,” the validity of the old saw is reestablished. For “accessories” will truly make the man or the woman in a given case, as it has in the case of Brenda Aydelman and her collection of wigs.

Throughout history, there have been notable periods when wig-wearing became popular, usually among the upper classes. In ancient Egypt, for example, noble women would shave their natural hair and wear wigs to cover their baldness. In Bourbon France, the layered, powdered wig was all the rage, at least until Madame Guillotine made the fashion somewhat unpopular during the Revolution. Among Orthodox Jews, the custom of married women donning the sheitel took hold over the last two centuries, and currently the modern sheitel in composition and fashion has become unrivaled in beauty and construction in the history of wigs. There’s a bit of irony in this in that covering one’s hair is essentially a sign of modesty—a married woman’s actual hair being considered an overt attraction to other males—yet the modern wig is far from an unattractive accessory.

When Shmuel Aydelman first married his wife, Brenda, she didn’t plan to wear a sheitel, but instead simply cover her hair in public with a hat or scarf, as was the case with many Orthodox women at the time. As the years went by, however, Brenda decided to go the wig route. Shmuel had no objection to Brenda’s change of heart aside from the cost associated with a garden-variety sheitel: $2,000 to $3,000 each.

“My goodness,” Shmuel exclaimed, when Brenda brought her first sheitel home from the local wig emporium. He thought she looked more attractive wearing her new coif than she did in her own hair, but being a gentleman, he offered only an “It’s very nice” as his review. Had Shmuel realized at that time how Brenda’s sheitel habit would grow, he might not have been so complimentary, but as you know, you can’t always tell how things are going to work out.

Now Shmuel was quite superstitious for a modern man, and, in time, he believed that Brenda’s sheitels (there are three currently) exerted some influence over her personality. Now such a belief wasn’t really so far-fetched as the sheitel business (for such it had become) was increasingly competitive and cutthroat so each wig maker sought an edge over his or her competitor. Brenda preferred the creations of her local provider, Roxanna, a Romainian émigré who had learned gypsy ways in her youth outside Sofia. It was rumored that Roxanna, herself a small, somewhat mysterious woman with long, natural hair, practiced the dark arts. But of course that was just rumor. She would merely point out that her customers often underwent personality changes when first donning their new sheitels in the same way any person might change upon wearing any new, fresh item of attire. When it was pointed out that a previously somewhat depressed matron had noticeably brightened up, Roxanna always answered the accusations of magic being involved, with an often insensitive “Can’t you see how much better she looks with my new sheitel in place of her own, more drab, hair? It is not surprising, for she is happier!”

Shmuel really became concerned when Brenda, intrigued by a new wig maker, Alfredo (real name Freddy Goldschmidt), who began to cut into Roxanna’s business, arranged to make a home appointment with Brenda to show off his latest creations for the high holidays. At that time, Brenda owned two of Roxanna’s wigs, one slightly darker than the other and Brenda’s naturally dark blonde hair. Brenda wore the older one for Smachot and happy, special occasions; the newer one she wore more routinely on Shabbat. She seemed more pensive, more thoughtful when wearing that second sheitel, but Shmuel thought that had more to do with the time of week Brenda wore it. The familiar sheitel-wearing pattern I just described changed dramatically when Brenda purchased her third sheitel, the first from Alfredo. This sheitel had more of an auburn quality to it; it was nice, Shmuel thought, but soon after acquiring it, strange things began to occur in the dressing room where Brenda stored her wigs.

As is well known to all people who own wigs, each wig is stored on its personal head manikin, a rather bizarre-looking arrangement that converts the friendly confines of many suburban master bedrooms into sort of an Amazonian rain forest hut.

After her latest purchase, Brenda installed the new Alfredo wig on its personal manikin near the two older wigs; she was surprised the next morning to find the older ones on the floor of the bedroom in disarray and the Alfredo wig standing triumphantly, alone, on the dresser. On subsequent days, matters became more bizarre, as the old wigs began turning up inside dressers, leaving their respective manikins bare.

“This can’t keep going on,” Shmuel complained. “This new wig is some kind of menace to your old wigs, Brenda. They’re pretty expensive items, you know!”

Brenda didn’t know what to do; she called Alfredo’s for advice, but was informed the line had been disconnected. After several more days of strange wig goings-on, she decided to consult the local rabbinic authorities for guidance. The consensus was that the rule that should apply was that the newest wig should go (LIFO). For it seemed to be the source of all the trouble. (Devarim 21:14)

“I hope we can get a refund,” was Shmuel’s lament. It was a comment echoed throughout the community as Roxanna wore a knowing, happy smile as her wigs, bedeviled by Alfredo’s interlopers, resumed their most-favored wig status.

Joseph Rotenberg, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Link, has resided in Teaneck for over 45 years with his wife, Barbara. His first collection of short stories and essays, entitled “Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment,” was published in 2018 by Gefen Books and is available online at Amazon.com. He is currently working on a follow-up volume of stories and essays.

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