When I got married in the mid-1990s, it was obvious to me that I would be observing the mitzvah of covering my hair.What I didn’t realise was that it would take me nearly 20 years to find a way of covering that I felt fully comfortable with.
Two decades ago, strictly Orthodox women in the UK mostly wore sheitels (wigs), with the only available alternative being frumpy black crocheted snoods. I bought a wig, but balked at the idea of a realistic, custom-made affair, whose prices started at around £1,000. And I hated the £250 straw-like piece I ended up with.
I moved through a snood phase, a hat phase and eventually bought a slightly pricier sheitel and settled
into an uneasy relationship with it, never loving it but not seeing much alternative.
Until last summer, when I stumbled across a brave new world of hair wrapping. A young American woman had set up Wrapunzel, an online store selling tichels (mitpachot in Hebrew), a YouTube channel stuffed with step-by step hair-wrapping tutorials and a Facebook group with almost 2,000 members. I dug out a scarf, gave it a try and was hooked. I haven’t looked back since. My sheitel is in the back of a cupboard gathering dust and I’m an official “wrapper”.
Hair wrapping is an art form – you don’t have to stick at one scarf, you can wrap two, three or even four, accessorise with beads and bows and co-ordinate with every outfit in your wardrobe. But what really surprised me is that this is not just a world for Orthodox Jews. Only one third of Wrapunzel’s Facebook fans are Jewish, let alone religious. There are Christians who wrap for church, Muslims who wear the scarves hijab-style, pagans, women experiencing medical hair loss and those who wrap as a fashion statement.
Scarves present a real cahnce to change your look quickly and easily
Among young Orthodox Brits, choosing tichels over sheitels has become a real option.
“Wrapping has definitely become more common, especially in young communities like Edgware,” says 25-year-old Melissa Grossman, partner in Mook, a home business selling Israel-sourced headscarves. “Lots of women tell me that they are wrapping for the first time and find it so liberating not to have to wear a wig every day.”
Melissa has been involved in Mook for a year, taking over the UK branch of the business after the founder made aliyah. She finds that she usually chooses to cover her hair with a scarf, citing comfort as the main factor. “I don’t like having bits of hair in my face,” she says. She also feels more herself when wearing a beautifully wrapped tichel. “Wearing a wig for everyday use seems too glamorous,” she explains.
Manchester nursery teacher Channa Schwartz agrees. She has covered her hair since marrying four years ago, but has recently become more drawn to scarves. “I didn’t grow up religious and never expected to be covering my hair,” she says. “But now that I do, I find that scarves feel more modest than a wig.”
It hasn’t always been plain sailing, though. “I’ve been on the receiving end of some hurtful comments such as ‘Why are you wearing that rag on your head?'” she says. “But since discovering Wrapunzel, I’ve learned a lot from the other ladies on the site, and now I regularly get compliments from people.”
Malca Wacks, an American-born mother of two little boys, has also had her fair share of comments.
“I was in college when I got married and my classmates used to say I looked like a babushka,” she laughs. “I do sometimes feel that the way I cover my hair brands me as being hippie or New Age, when I’m neither of those things. But I can’t afford a wig and my husband doesn’t like them on me, he thinks they look fake.”
While admitting that she sometimes misses the look of having wisps of hair around her face, Malca is passionate about helping other women feel their best in scarves. She recently held a home workshop that was attended by five ladies. They were surprised by how easily a few patterned scarves close to the face could change a look so completely.
“Wearing the same hairstyle every day can get monotonous, but making changes to a wig is pricey – and permanent,” she said. “Scarves present a real chance to change your look quickly and easily.”
Channa concurs, adding: “I like being able to wear a different style every day, even though sometimes it can be hard to get to an itch on your head under all those layers!”
With the cost of a scarf coming in at under £15, compared to a custom wig that could set you back thousands, it seems a small price to pay for looking good while observing an important mitzvah. So, as we wrapping ladies like to say, keep smiling and tichel on!