Let’s take stock of the hot—if controversial—intersection of Jewish garments and today’s fashion industry.
We’ve been through the prayer shawl-inspired spring scarf that H&M seems to put out ever year, along with their “If Not Now, When” tees. We’ve seen various of Zara’s clumsly designs, which I charitably put down to the fact that Spain has had no major Jewish presence to tell people there when they’ve majorly messed up, for the past 550 years. Similarly clumsy choices have been made by Urban Outfitters and their “Holocaust garb.” (To be fair, we also seen some positive moments, such as when Vogue proclaimed Orthodox fashion to be fall’s sexiest trend.)
Now, in the latest act of Jewish cultural appropriation by the fashion world, a man was glimpsed attending New York Fashion Week wearing an actual, honest-to-god tallit over his overcoat. What are we to make of this?
Well, first of all, let’s outline what we don’t know. We have no way of knowing definitively that this man was actually making an out-of-context fashion statement, and wasn’t, say, planning to pop straight over for Ma’ariv services after the Victoria Beckham show. But should that, shockingly, not turn out to be the case, I’m afraid I can’t rouse myself to much outrage that a such a sacred object of my people—you’re married under one, and wrapped in one when you die, I think (frankly this is basically the end of my knowledge of these rituals)—is being used to this end.
I know the Internet occasionally works itself into a frothy lather when Kylie Jenner wears cornrows, or some bland white hipster girl shows up at Coachella in an Sioux war bonnet, but—I don’t know. With the state of the world today, there just seems to be so many other things towards which to direct the admittedly dwindling supply of my righteous fury. In fact, I find myself asking not why this man is wearing a tallit now, but why it’s taken so long for them to catch on. Every college freshman on St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan has been wearing a keffiyeh for years, so why not try the other side on for size?
Besides, fashion is first and foremost about aesthetics—perhaps, only about aesthetics—and there’s no denying the fact that a tallit looks freaking cool. They’re big, they’re dramatic, and they have a fabulous graphic design and classic minimalist color scheme. They are often handmade, and of pure, hand-dyed wool. They’ve got a great Old World feel mixed with a sense of ancient tribalism—an impossible combination to resist for the truly dedicated fashionista, who always looks for synthesis above all else. Fashion, at its best, is always about mixing a little of Column A with Column B—English tailoring rendered Central Asian textiles; Japanese kimono silk meeting functional athletic wear. Where can such a mix find a purer and more refined expression than in the ritual objects of a people who have, since practically the dawn of time, lived in, and been influenced by, virtually every corner of the world?
So rather than discourage this expression, I hope we see more of it. Next New York Fashion Week, I don’t want to see just want your average “tallit-on-the-street.” I want full on streimels. I want to see people in those little satin knee breeches the very religious men in my neighborhood wear on Shabbat. I want to see a Philip Treacy fascinator based on teffilin, and Princess Eugenie showing up somewhere in one of those big embroidered yarmulkes that little boys wear because they don’t fall off and get lost as easily as the smaller ones.
I want to bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “ghetto fabulous” into the zeitgeist. This is New York Fashion Week, after all, and we know who invented the shmatte business, people. Let’s dress like it.
Previous: Dolce & Gabbana Launches Hijab and Abaya Collection
Harlem Rapper A$AP Rocky Wears Tzitzit
Urban Outfitters Under Fire for ‘Holocaust Garb’
H&M Selling ‘If Not Now, When’ T-Shirts