When I learned that the halachic justification for only wearing skirts was flimsy at best (suffice to say that the Biblical injunction against wearing men’s clothing has less weight in an era when pants are made for women), I continued to wear them at or below my knee, but I internally conceded that pants were infinitely more comfortable and easier to walk in. (I had been experimenting in private. Instead of trying drugs in college, I tried jeans. And sometimes, short-sleeve shirts.) Why? Because I wanted to be easily identified as an Orthodox Jewish woman. For me, this is no longer the case. But for others, fashion trends may (temporarily, anyway) blot out this basis for identification.
It is easy to spot an Orthodox man, modern or otherwise, by his yarmulke. But unmarried women don’t have one thing that clearly conveys themselves to others as religious. Instead, they must think holistically about their outfits: Long sleeves won’t do the trick if they’re paired with shorts or jeans; a long skirt with spaghetti straps means you could be just another hippie chick.
So for a couple of years after I stopped believing that I had to wear long skirts, I continued to do so. As a result, I enjoyed the knowing looks from other similarly clad women on the subway; being approached on the street to be asked where the nearest kosher restaurant was; and being greeted with a hearty “chag sameach.” These little nods, gestures, and words make you feel a little less anonymous in the largeness of New York.
Eventually, though, being easily identified as frum was no longer enough of an inducement to continue doing something I didn’t believe in. These days, I take full liberty with my wardrobe: Tank tops, booty shorts, and, for my shyer days, jeans and t-shirts. And though I can still easily spot Orthodox girls in their long skirts and three-quarter-length sleeve shirts, they pass me without giving me a second look.
However, if Leandra Medine is correct, this fall’s fashion might confuse those possessed of even the best Jewdar. Her site is dedicated to clothing that is fashion forward yet so unappealing and unflattering that it will cause men to start calculating minimum safe distance. Medine, a former day-school student and writer for several fashion sites, observes that the design community has seemingly drawn inspiration for its autumn styles from the Orthodox community.
While I don’t understand why anyone would wear these skirts if they didn’t have to, I do hope that a memo is being circulated at the yeshivas regarding this development. At least for the next few months, approach women in long skirts and sleeves with extreme caution. They may not be Jewish.
This Fall, Fashion Channels Yeshiva School Girls [The Man Repellent]
Dvora Meyers is a journalist and author based in Brooklyn.