Wednesday, September 05, 2007
like orthodox jewish women?
A month or two ago a box addressed to Veronika arrived at my office. It was full of clothes that our friend Julia had deemed unsuitable to her new life as mother and Midwesterner. I persuaded Veronika to give me two of the blouses, one a black v-neck with lace trim and the other a denim-colored cotton button-down. All the clothes in the box were simple, stylish, significantly more modest than racy, and reminded me fondly of Julia. I remember the blouses as part of Julia's wardrobe here in New York; now they are refugees from a life she no longer wears. Our fashion sense changes as our lifestyles change, as our bodies age, as we take on or discard roles, or--in the case of Julia--move to small town Midwestern America.
One nice thing about dressing in my thirties is that I have grown more or less comfortable with my body and have worked out a way to dress that both pleases me and flatters my figure. Which means lots of whimsical skirts, simple low-cut blouses, tight-fitting cardigans or jackets, shoes that unite comfort with girliness, and boots as often as weather allows. I also try to incorporate one incongruent item--Adriel's invaluable fashion advice--a pair of green shoes, pale pink fishnet tights, or an orange lucite rose ring. I dress colorfully, artistically, and I like to think attractively. Maybe even sexy. Right?
Clearly "sexy" means something different to men than it does to women, and doesn't include my beloved moss-green tulle-over-satin Cyndi-Lauper-meets-the-Little-Mermaid skirt. My boyfriend hates it. He also thinks I wear mostly dark colors (read "earth tones") and he mentioned the other day, off-hand, that I dress like an Orthodox Jewish woman. What the heck? My style is being likened to that of a wig-wearing, buttoned-up-blouse, long-skirted Orthodox Jewish woman?? Oi Vey!
I mentioned this outrageous critique of my fashion sense to Veronika, who in turn asked her boyfriend what he thought of her style. "Well, sweetie," he said, "a little like an Orthodox Jewish lady."
So, there it is. Men think we dress like Orthodox Jewish women. Veronika and I wandered around New Haven on Labor Day, looking in askance at the returning undergrad Yale girls prancing around in short shorts, satiny strapless blouses, and showy sheath dresses. Most the girls we saw were more than ten years younger than us, and--although they weren't wearing much--what they were wearing wasn't all that interesting or particularly attractive. But they themselves were beautiful, glowing, their faces hopeful and energetic. Whether or not their clothing looked good on them, they looked good. When I was their age I had no idea how beautiful I was; I was concerned instead with being an adult, with knowing the right things, with pleasing my professors which, in turn, meant displeasing my father.
But I'm a woman in her early thirties who knows she's beautiful. I respond quite warmly to the youthful beauty of these enthusiastic co-eds, albeit not as warmly to the power their attendant sexiness has over men. That is the rub, of course, the place where something sticks inside me. Yet doesn't my own thirty-something beauty come in recognizing that I have nothing to fear from youthful beauty? That dignity comes in dressing appropriate to my age, to my interests, and to my own inner sense of style?
And I don't think I dress like an Orthodox Jewish lady.
I asked my boyfriend what he meant by that comment last night. He considered for a moment, "Well, I didn't mean you dress dowdy. I guess I meant you dress a little retro, a little European." Well, that's better. I dress a little European. Fine.
By the way: this is what comes to mind when I think of Orthodox Jewish ladies--