Image | Netflix
What's The Show About?
Released this year, the miniseries is based in part on Deborah Feldman's 2012 memoir about escaping life in her Orthodox Hasidic community. The show made history as the first Netflix series in which the primary language spoken is Yiddish and follows the life of Esty; a 19-year-old Hasidic Satmar Jewish woman from Brooklyn as she attempts to escape an unwanted arranged marriage by fleeing to Berlin in search of her mother. She's quickly faced with a range of challenges away from the bubble that was her strict, Orthodox life in Brooklyn.
Why Are The Wigs So Important?
Wigs–also known as sheitels amongst Jewish communities are an important part of life for members of Orthodox communities. As hair is considered holy and needs to be separated from the mundane, some Hasidic women will traditionally cover their hair after marriage as a show of modesty. Much like other cultures, they believe that the hair, which is considered holy must be separated and protected from the mundane, hence the wigs.
Whilst some might choose to wear headscarves like a lot of the female characters in Unorthodox, others prefer to use sheitels. Either way, both choices are made in regards to upholding Tzniut dress standards which are rooted in promoting modesty.
Whilst the image of sheitels in the past recall short, dark bobs, in recent times, women are using their sheitels as extensions of their personality. In a New York Times article, Anan Hazan said: “It’s an act that has a very deep meaning beyond its physical expression — and it’s not only for modesty reasons, since in many times the wig is more beautiful than a woman’s hair.” Refinery29 explored the subject in a great article outlining how modern Orthodox women are wearing their wigs on their own terms.
For Esty, however, her wig is a physical reminder of the Orthodox life she's fleeing from. This makes the scene where she takes it off in public for the first time that much more poignant. For her, it's almost cathartic and freeing–in a sense, it's the first moment she's truly allowing herself to break away from her previous life and beliefs.
Image | Esty Wearing Her Sheitel
Esty's wig is perhaps what is considered a more traditional sheitel wig. The short, dark bob is a no-frills look designed to conform to what her traditional lifestyle expects of her.
Her wig is made even more important in the scene where she takes it off after arriving in Berlin and meeting a group of musicians who later become her friends. By taking it off and abandoning it in favour of wearing her natural, shaven style for all to see, Esty takes a big leap away from her Orthodox upbringing and heads instead towards a more secular and in her eyes–a more freeing life.
Gif | Uproxx
The Men's Shtreimel And Payots
Not quite a wig but a hair enhancement, all the same, the shtreimels and payots worn by the men in the series are another reflection of the Orthodox beliefs explored within the show. The shtreimels, which are the large fur hats worn by the men are traditionally worn by married men on festive occasions. In the show's behind the scenes exclusive, the producers talk about the fact that authentic shtreimels which are made using mink hair can often cost over €1000 each meaning they were way out of budget for the series. Instead, they hired a theatre company to create versions made out fake fur.
As for the payots–which is the Hebrew word for sideburns–these were created and tailored to each individual actor. While these efforts no doubt took a lot of work, the final result is stunning, especially in the wedding scenes.
Have you watched Unorthodox? What did you think of the show and the wigs showcased? Let us know!