The special mitzvah of Kisui Rosh (hair covering) is one that I've invested many hours of time researching, reading a lot of different material and speaking to various prominent Rabbanim and Rebbetzins. I am not in any authoritative position but I have had the privilege of speaking on numerous occasions to Rebbetzin Tehilla Abramov and Rebbetzin Wachsman who clarified so much about this mitzvah.
The mitzvah of kisui Rosh is unfortunately very misunderstood and many women really have no idea why they are covering their hair. I was very confused myself and this prompted me to research the purpose of my head covering. When women uncover the truth about why they are required to cover their hair they gain a much deeper understanding of this powerful mitzvah and are enabled to perform the mitzvah to the utmost of their abilities.
A major part of the confusion is that women think that as long as their hair is physically covered they are perfectly fulfilling the mitzvah of kisui Rosh. Some women know that there is a vague connection between kisui Rosh and tznius but most are not aware that modesty is the primary purpose of the mitzvah. The reason that the Torah prohibits a married woman to reveal her hair is the following:
אסור גלוי הראש אינו אלא משום פריצות דגברי (תרומת הדשן)
The prohibition of revealing one’s hair is because hair is Pritzus. Since the hair of a married woman is attractive to another man and can cause him to sin, it must be covered. All the Rishonim and Achronim have said that this is the reason that a woman must cover her hair in public. (For many sources on this Divrei Shalom is a great resource.)
Rav Falk writes in his pamphlet Mitzvos Kisui Saaros that "The Torah requires a married women to conceal her hair from the eyes of the public in order to lessen attraction to herself." (page 7)
He continues: "An unmarried maiden may attract attention to herself (within the boundaries of tznius) so that she is sought after and eventually marries (Ta'anis 13a and Kesubos 52b). Similarly, a man may look at a girl and take an interest in her appearance, chein, mannerisms etc. if he is considering her for marriage for himself or someone else. A married woman may, however, neither attract attention to herself (Kesubos 73a Rashi v.s. Sahara. See also Rosh and Ritvo) nor may a man take an interest in the appearance of an eishes ish, as she is unavailable to everyone but her husband.
For this reason the hair of a girl may be seen, whilst the hair of a married woman, which is naturally a major source of attraction to her, must be covered and hidden from the eye of the public. Accordingly, for a married woman to wear a head covering that easily passes as her own hair, defeats the very function of this mitzvah, since a man seeing her can think that he is seeing her own hair and be attracted by it, especially when he does not know who she is and whether she is married or not.
A similar but different reason why just a married woman must cover her hair is based on the verse "stolen waters are sweet" (Mishlei 9:17). Due to this phenomenon there is a special yetzer hora towards a married woman since she is an eishes ish (see Sanhedrin 75a and Avoda Zarah 20a). The mitzvah of kisui sa'aros was given to lessen attraction to such a person and safeguard Kedushas Yisroel. See Oz Vehadar Levusha, page 265 that in numerous places in the Torah hair is highlighted as a major source of attraction. Accordingly, by commanding the married woman to withhold from the public how she looks in her true hair, there is far less danger of a person being drawn to her and Kedushas Yisroel is guaranteed.
A natural looking sheitel is furthermore forbidden because of Maris hoayin (it appears that the person is sinning), as some observers will not be able to discern whether this woman has covered her hair or not." (pages 7-9)
It's very clear that since hair is so attracting to men and it is therefore required to be covered after marriage, the less the head covering resembles hair the better the mitzvah of kisui Rosh is being fulfilled- with the Tichel being the ideal as it doesn't resemble hair at all. If a sheitel looks like hair it beautifies the woman wearing it and that goes against the entire purpose of the mitzvah of kisui Rosh. As it says in Rabbi Falk’s sefer Oz vehadar levusha: “Hair was given the status of ervah by Chazal because when part of a female that should be covered is uncovered it can affect a man who sees it and cause him to feel attracted to it.” (page 228)
In a powerful shiur given by Reb. Kalmanovich, she explains how in a scientific study that was done on men to see what were the most attracting features of a woman, a woman’s hair and voice were the most attracting. It doesn't matter if it's your hair or someone else's hair- if it attracts other men, it's defeating the purpose of the mitzvah. While a shorter wig might appear more modest, many times it's not just the length of the wig that's problematic. It's the natural appearance of the wig that is the issue, and most of today's wigs are natural looking, closely resembling real hair.
For this reason Rav Elyashiv ztz'l" spoke very harshly against today's sheitels.
These are the words of the Rav translated into English:
Even though there’s a dispute among the Poskim whether it’s mutar or ossur to wear a sheitel, if they walk as if their hair is revealed, the way those that are not covering their hair walk, they are violating an issur gamur, it’s mamish, it’s emes like ervah. (the term used in gemara to describe parts of the body that must be covered according to halacha) The issur is as follows: If they walk with a sheitel like the times 100 years ago, then of course this is allowed, even a drop nicer. But, it should not be the way they walk today. All those that walk today, it looks like hair for sure and this is definitely assur, this nobody was mattir.…A woman with the hair of today the way she walks, it’s mamish ervah, it looks like hair, there is no difference, regarding this there is no heter....
HaRav Chaim Kanievsky shlita stated “If the sheitel looks like hair, it is the obvious truth that it is definitely forbidden. There is no room for dispute in the matter.” He repeated this several times in his conversation with Harav Avraham Lipshitz shlita. (Adorned with Dignity, page 102)
Rav Falk interestingly compares the wearing of a yarmulka made out of hair to the natural sheitels women are using today:
"How would a woman feel if her son had a yarmulke made for himself that was like a miniature sheitel- gauze on the inside and short man- like hair covering it from on top? When he wears it, his head is of course covered. However, to anyone who sees him, he has nothing on his head!
We can well imagine what his distraught mother would say to her son when trying to convince him that it is wrong of him to brush his religion under the carpet in such a manner. The answer he gives her, that when out on the street he is ashamed to show that he is a yid and therefore hides it, will of course meet with little sympathy from his mother. Yet, little does his mother realize that she is doing exactly the same as her perplexed son. She with many of her friends, are ashamed or hurt by the fact that yiddishkeit requires them to cover their hair and that they cannot look "as natural" as an unmarried girl. They therefore have a sheitel made which looks exactly as their own hair. With it, they successfully hide a major part of their yiddishkeit, much to the chagrin of all erlicher Yidden.” (Mitzvos Kisui Saaros, pages 14-15)
When one delves into the history of sheitels, it is quite fascinating. Most women mistakenly believe that wigs were worn as head coverings by Jewish women for hundreds of years and that it is part of our mesora. The wigs that were originally mentioned in the Gemara, peah nachris (strange wigs) were never used as head coverings. Women who were balding or had thinning hair wore wigs in the house to make themselves more attractive for their husbands. Women always put on a scarf that covered all of the wig when they went out in public.
Until about 180 years ago Jewish women always wore scarves outside- it was always the traditional headwear of the Jewish woman. About 180 years ago there was a decree in Russia that Jewish women were not allowed to cover their hair outside. The Rabbanim therefore allowed the use of wigs, otherwise women would have been walking around bare headed. The wigs then were extremely unnatural and wiggy looking. The Rabbanim were relying on the heter from the Shiltei giborim, but there were also many Rabbanim at that time that were against this heter- of using wigs as a head covering. They screamed about the use of the wigs. The heter itself is a big machlokas among poskim. Many poskim, Ashkenazic and Sephardic, held that the Shiltei giborim never allowed the use of wigs outside, that he never meant for the wig to be used in rishus harabim, in a public courtyard. (Adapted from Adorned with Dignity)
Of course, now there is an accepted heter in most Ashkenazic circles but the heter was originally only given for very wiggy wigs. As stated in The Unique Princess by Rabbi Yirmiyohu and Tehilla Abramov, "The halachic opinions that permit the wearing of wigs were talking about wigs that were short, unnatural looking, and "wiggy". Such wigs were in use a century ago, explains Maran HaGaon Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, shlita. "They were short and stiff, and the hairs did not move from their place." (page 103) Further on it says, “Rav Elyashiv also clearly stated that in his opinion it is preferable for a woman to cover her hair with a kerchief rather than a wig. He constantly expressed his concern about the use of wigs that are not modest- a practice which, he says, has made inroads even into the families of pious men and roshei Yeshivah.” (page 105). In a letter written by Rav Moshe Mordechai Karp it says, “Many times, we heard from Rav Elyashiv zt”l, how pained he was by this great breach (immodest wigs), and how much he encouraged Jewish women to go with a mitpachat, which he considered “Glatt”, because even the old wigs, were a matter of controversy among the poskim…”
Rav Falk mentions tichels too in sefer Oz vehadar levusha:
"Communities in which women wear only a Tichel not a sheitel, it has been mentioned above that some communities are particular that women do not wear sheitels. They follow opinions which consider a sheitel an inappropriate cover as it displays hair, and the Torah requires that a married woman does not display hair. The fact that a sheitel is not her true hair is immaterial according to their opinion. Those who wear a Tichel, either for the reason mentioned or because they wish to wear the original headwear of the Jewish woman, demonstrate that they happily accede to covering their hair as Hashem wants them to. They are not perturbed by the fact that covering hair in this manner is only practiced by orthodox Jewry and is otherwise totally unheard of in the outside world." (page 254)
In conclusion, A Tichel is clearly the ideal head covering both halachically and hashkafically and a sheitel can only be worn if it does not resemble hair and if it does not beautify the wearer in any way. This information is vital for women to know as this mitzvah is of such importance and is performed by women every second they are outside. The yetzer horah knows this and has caused great confusion regarding the mitzvah of hair covering. As Rav Falk writes: “It appears that the yetzer horah has found himself no greater target than the holy mitzvah of kisui sa'aros- hair covering, which he continuously undermines with new plots and tactics.” (Mitzvos Kisui Saaros, pages 40)
The key is education. When women take the time to learn about the mitzvah of kisui Rosh and educate themselves well about what is acceptable and not acceptable in a head covering, great change can happen. We can combat the yetzer hora, restore tznius to klal Yisroel and help merit greeting Moshiach tzidkeinu speedily in our days.