Now that’s high holy hair! Linda, an Orthodox Jewish woman from Forest Hills, has both of her wigs
Orthodox Jewish women are renouncing the local hairdresser for pricey Manhattan salons that charge up to $1,600 a cut -- on their wigs
Linda is whisked to a private, VIP room that has been graced by the likes of Al Pacino, the former queen of Jordan and assorted NYC elites. She’s a young, fashionable, Louboutin-loving mom from Forest Hills who gladly spends as much on her shoes as she does haircuts. A fact that normally wouldn’t turn heads -- except that these costly sessions, which run about $325, aren’t for her own hair. They’re for her wig.
While her fellow Orthodox Jewish friends schlep to Brooklyn to visit the basement beauty salons of the “sheitel lady,” Linda, a 29-year-old home-care nurse who asked that her last name not be used, breaks tradition: Her chosen one is 15 stories above Fifth Avenue, at the Louis Licari salon. There, she’s spent thousands of dollars, since getting married nine years ago, to see her stylist and wig artiste, Arsen Gurgov.
Gurgov has been Linda’s mane man since she first donned a sheitel -- a wig married Orthodox women wear to cover their hair for modesty. Jewish law states that only the husband of a married woman can see her real hair -- some say that going out wigless is tantamount to walking around naked.
Per religious custom, Linda and her stylist have never hugged or shaken hands. But their bond is unbreakable.
It’s my wig,” Linda says. “I can’t just trust any woman with it. I can’t afford to get it wrong. I don’t think I’m extravagant in my day-to-day life, but if people consider my sheitel maintenance extravagant, so be it. My wig is not something I would try to save money on.”
Like Linda, a growing number of Orthodox women in NYC are stepping out at upscale Manhattan salons and spending anywhere from $300 to $1,600 on the styling of their wigs just before the High Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah, which begins at sundown tomorrow.
Everyone does their hair before Rosh Hashanah,” says Gurgov. “Even if they neglect their hair all year, this is the time.”
For years, Orthodox women have lamented that their wigs could be spotted like a bad toupee. There were fewer salons that specialized in the styling of these wigs, and less of an emphasis on fashion or style in the community.
But as more frum (pious) women started to demand a more contemporary -- and convincing -- look, that’s not the case anymore.
First it started with the young girls, then the mothers, then the friends,” says Mark Garrison, who has made a cottage industry out of wig cuts at his namesake hair salon on the Upper East Side.
It’s definitely more expensive, but it’s worth it,” adds Linda. She’s on her fifth wig in nine years.
With upfront wig costs climbing well into the thousands, maintaining a haute wig hairstyle is no easy -- or cheap -- feat. Even lower-end blended wigs with partial human hair will cost $500, while top-of-the-line, 100 percent European-hair wigs can run up to $6,000. It is customary for the husband’s family to buy a woman’s first wig.
And whether it’s the Kardashian, the Rachel or the Jackie, Orthodox women show up at salons with ripped magazine pages wanting a cutting-edge cut like everyone else.
More women are leaving the sheitel lady behind and coming to me,” says Gurgov, who boasts a few dozen Orthodox clients.
They come for my technique, they come for the high-end salon experience they just can’t get anywhere else.”
The uptick in recent demand has also buoyed business for Garrison, who claims his steep $1,000-per-cut price tag is worth it.
I’ve always wanted to take my time to get it right,” says Garrison, whose cuts generally take two to three hours.
It doesn’t grow back. You don’t have margin for error here. You don’t just bang these things out.”
Garrison -- whose clients are known to show up with a bag full of five wigs ready for a blow-out -- has been building kosher street cred since the early ’90s, working at Frederic Fekkai, where many of his clients were young Orthodox brides.
According to online Orthodox chat rooms, where intensely private women don’t use their real names for fear of rebuke for spending so much on a cut -- and allowing a man to style them -- Garrison is a “perfectionist; do not go anywhere else for a wig cut.”
My clients are more modern, and their rabbis approve,” he says.
But in a community renowned for its modesty, some complain these spendthrift women are losing sight of their traditional values.
Elie Weinstock, associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan, explains: “While it doesn’t seem like the best way to spend one’s money, it’s a complex issue that conflicts some women while others are quite satisfied with their decision.”
In fact, most women are so guarded about this issue, they declined to speak on the record.
The staff at Orlo, an exclusive Meatpacking District salon, is also fiercely protective of its kosher clients, who pay $1,600 for a wig cut with salon owner Orlando Pita -- double that of his regular haircuts.
These women don’t want to admit they’re spending this much on a haircut,” says George, a staffer.
Every culture gets gussied up before their holiday, and it’s the same for Jewish women.” He estimates that Orthodox women comprise about 25 percent of Orlo’s overall clientele.
These days, you don’t even have to be in Manhattan to pay Manhattan prices. Noa, who goes by one name as a sign of honor and respect as the go-to sheitel macher in Flatbush, charges $500 for her no-frills wig cut -- and judging by her rabid fan base, she is durably recession-proof.
Esty Schlossberg, meanwhile, is a wig stylist in Marine Park who’s by no means cheap -- her cuts with all the trimmings start at $125. The 33-year-old mom of three dismisses the chichi prices of upscale salons and insists that once her clients try an expensive hairstylist “and get it out of their system,” they always come back to her. And while her Brooklyn basement beauty shop may not have all the trappings of a full-service city salon, she does possess something all the fancy Manhattan stylists don’t: firsthand knowledge of the goods.
They just don’t understand wigs like I do,” insists the 5-foot dynamo, who’s been in the business 10 years and wears a wig herself. “Those outside the community -- and especially men -- don’t understand the nature of the wig. I’m a therapist. After they try the expensive salons in the city, they all come back to me.”