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--


Julia said...

I'm not sure how I feel about being featured so prominently in this post about fashion...but I guess I should comment. Here are my thoughts in no particular order:

1. Description of Yale girls is identical to Notre Dame girls. They're beautiful, for sure, but they don't have a monopoly on beauty.
2. I agree with your own interpretation of how you dress. It's artistic, creative, unique, colorful, feminine, and a lot more dynamic than the cloned look of college girls. I don't really know what your boyfriend is talking about. I'd like to say it falls into the same category as looking into a refrigerator and not being able to find an item that is right in front of the line of vision, but maybe I would need to hear his side of the story.
3. I really don't have any personal experience with how Orthodox Jewish women dress, so can't say anything to that affect (effect?).
4. I'm glad you two are actually wearing those clothes I sent. I was sort of wondering....

Ser said...

I asked Craig to describe my style as an experiment--after all, if you dress like an Orthodox Jewish woman, I don't know what I dress like--and he said, "You used to dress like a mid-90's Alaskan hippy. Now you wear tighter shirts."

So my point is, most guys just really have no tools with which to describe style.

Lucy said...

Yes, I suspected this sort of thinking. Well, especially after the observation that I wear "dark colors." Which mostly means I don't wear yellow, sky blue and white all the time. I DO wear colors, so many that Veronika has noted I dress up like a Christmas tree.

So you're a mid-90s Alaskan hippie in tight shirts? That's hot, Ser.

By the way, I think our circumcision/lesbian/shrinking-breast blog posts are embarrassing Jenny.

Lucy said...

Julia--I hope you don't mind being featured in my fashion blog post. I love the cotton button-down, it looks great with my cowboy boots. God only knows what he was thinking when he made that comment. Although I do have to say that when I did a search for photos of Orthodox Jewish women, they basically looked like women with long hair wearing long skirts, which, well, isn't totally off. Thank you for your compliments about my style, I wish you were here to go poking around T.J.Maxx and Beacon's Closet with V and I.

Julia said...

Oh, I don't mind. I wish I were able to go on T.J. Maxx runs too, except, oh yeah, I have no money for new clothes. I haven't totally lost interest in clothes, it's just that they seem so irrelevent to my life right now, for a lot of different reasons, not least of which is geographical. Remember what our buddy A said to me (disdainfully) when he heard I was moving here? "You're moving to the land of sweatpants." He got it right.

Ser never fails to make me laugh.

Jenny said...

What I'm wondering, after reading this hilarious post--is why you and Veronica, who are certainly very stylish and need no wardrobe boost received the package from Jules, while I--proud owner of a tattered fleet of black t-shirts and a few pairs of jeans that only fit on a good week--did NOT receive such a package. The items you described sounded quite lovely.

Amber, that's a good assessment of your own style. I was tickled by Craig's assessment of Ser's style as well.

I'm going to go see what John comes up with when I pose the question to him.


P.S. I do have some very cool orange and teal shoes, just for the record.

Jenny said...

So I asked John and he thought and thought and rubbed his chin and thought and then burst out laughing.

I said, "What?" He said, "Ah, you'd probably take it the wrong way."

"Just tell me," I said.
"Remember how your mom used to get frustrated when she'd buy you shoes because they were too blocky?"

"Simple, blocky . . . elegance," he said.

Ser said...

That's what I'm going to say when I wear my new tankini that has, as Craig puts it, "too much space between the top and the bottom."

Simple, blocky elegance.

Jenny--I think those shoes are cool, too. But would Amber?

Julia--I am totally in the land of sweatpants now. It used to be, I wouldn't take my kids out without at least a nod at trying to look okay. We lived in the city, after all, albeit a midwestern one. Now I take Luke to school in all but my pajamas.

Jenny said...


Amber LOVES my shoes. I think she's a little giddy over the mere fact that I'm willing to wear a color!


Lucy said...

I do love those shoes. They add a touch of flair to your simple blocky elegance.

Dove Knits said...

I think it's because of the skirts. If they're not denim and super-short, they're considered, by men, to be matronly.

(Found you through Jenny. I think I've commented here before, but I'm not sure.)

Anonymous said...

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