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This is not a fashion show (except when it is)

There is a short period during the year where my choice of dress code does not distinguish me from others. It’s usually that intersection between seasons, for instance, where many women are wearing skirts, long-sleeved shirts and maybe some (combat) boots. But as a friend recently noted on Facebook, it is not this season. My friend, who is in the process of converting herself, observed casually that when it gets warm, the clothes tend to come off and she’s surprised how little people will wear.

Growing up my mother tried to force me into miniskirts and other girlie clothing in all manner of tightness and shortness. By 13, I had rebelled by becoming a tomboy. By 15, during a boy crazy phase, I had accepted that my clothing gave me a certain power and allure over men. But by 25, I was tired of the misconceptions people made about me because of my clothing (stupid lot!) and when I decided to cover up and adopt the Orthodox Jewish dress code (mostly, some people argue I could go further), I was grateful that all eyes were no longer on me.

But they still were! Some ultra-Orthodox Jews looked at me with scorn because they thought my clothing was still too tight, too short, too modern. I remember being shocked by this and the idea that in my “modern” Orthodox garb, I could still lure, captivate and drive men to sin. Then I walked around Manhattan in my modern Orthodox garb and I got hit on by men and women alike. Sure, for the most part I was ignored on the streets of Washington Heights but I was still stared and gawked at everywhere else. As blogger Elana Sztokman notes in a different argument altogether, the laws of modesty did not protect me from the “imposed sexualized gaze upon [women’s] bodies”. Because as someone else put it, sometimes, men (and some women) are just dogs.

This is not my problem. Sorry, but nope, I am not ready to cover myself head to toe like some Muslim women do. In fact, I believe it is my right and yours to dress however you like. If you don’t like how I dress then don’t look! In a “What Not to Wear” Should Never Be More Than a TV Show,” Ilana Teitelbaum talks about what it’s like when your dress code is not your own choice but society’s choice. It made me feel really lucky that I’ve been able to explore my options. But it reminded me that it took twenty-five years of one type of oppression to convert and leave it for what sometimes feels like another one.

What do I mean? I’m talking about people who think it’s their G-d given right to go around policing everyone else’s dress code. There seem to be a great many of them in Orthodox Jewish circles. No, I’m not talking about infringing on your ability to instill your values and your judgments into your kids. Brainwash them, however, you like. However, I’m talking about annoying other self-respecting adults with them. I think it’s particularly disgusting when people make negative remarks about my head coverings and my clothing (and other people’s thinking I’ll agree) as if they somehow have ownership over a body that is, get it, all mine and not theirs. How is this any better than kindergarten name-calling? Ah, because they’re so sure they have G-d on their side? I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

I do hope people are making thoughtful decisions about what they wear because it’s their right and their body. If you choose to go against the grain, more power to you but I’m sorry if somehow, I have given people the impression that I haven’t made thoughtful decisions about what I choose to wear on my body. I think people should keep those thoughts to themselves. Now, if my skirt is tucked into my underpants, please try to help me from myself but it might be polite to ask me if that wasn’t the look I was going for first. Teehee, teehee. Anyway and otherwise, we’re all adults here (on Planet Earth), aren’t we? So why don’t we start acting like them?

3 thoughts on “This is not a fashion show (except when it is)

  1. I echo Margaret’s comment, although I’m not Muslim! I have spent years dressing really quite conservatively – long skirts/trousers/tops that don’t show my cleavage etc. I haven’t really changed this either – it’s just how I am. But in the past few days, I’ve found that I’ve been getting some unwarranted advances from all kinds of quarters. The only thing I can put it down to is a new-found self-confidence since getting fitter and stronger and ‘trimming up’ my 38 year old body!

    I think you could wear a sack and still get ‘offers’!

    I agree with you – other people don’t have a right to criticise. i think what you wear is for you and your husband/partner alone. Not that even he has a right to instruct you in your clothiing habits, but a good relationship is about compromise and negotiation, after all.

    I love your blog, by the way.

    Shabbat Shalom!

    rachel

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  2. From personal experience, I find that men hit on me more when I’m dressed super modest. I was in Boro Park today and got catcalled by 5 men (and two of them were chassidish) on one block. Unfortunately, my destination was four blocks from the train station. So you can’t win.

    Like

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