Why Some Orthodox Jews Dress Un-stylishly

FamilySliderI’ve always been a music geek, and I don’t mean it in the new fangled we’ve-reclaimed-a-negative-in-order-to-make-a-positive sense of the word. I mean it in the old-school “loser,” “dweeb,” “dork” sense. (Is there a non-dorky way of saying “dork”?!) I always saw other kids – “cooler” kids – who were into music when I was growing up and wondered how they got to be that way. When someone would ask me what I was into I’d say something really lame like: “show tunes.” (True story.)

I always just figured that when I got older, like teenager-aged older, I’d magically wake up one day and be one of those music geeks (now I mean it in the positive sense) who was totally into this band and memorized all the words to that album, went to concerts, and was generally cool. But that day never came. (Incidentally, I recently met a woman who *is* one of those music people and asked her how kids “back in the day” became music experts. “Magazines,” she informed me. “Hmm,” I thought to myself. “Never got the memo.”)

So since I was a kid, my music taste has never extended to beyond whatever pop song is playing on the radio (and show tunes!). And because music has gotten to be more disgusting than ever, and I’m getting older, I stick mostly to lite radio stations when I listen to the radio. (Don’t judge me!) But there’s something I noticed recently: There are only like three or four songs that are allowed to be popular at once. I usually don’t even like these songs at first, but when they play again and again and again, eventually, I can’t get them out of my head. (Sometimes I’ll switch from one station to another and they’re both playing the same song simultaneously, and more often than not, it’s Taylor Swift.)

Same thing goes with fashion. A new style will emerge – like ankle boots from couple seasons ago – which I HATED at first. But after seeing them around again and again and again, I couldn’t help but start to like them. (I now own two pairs.) The power of trends got me thinking about the segment of the Orthodox Jewish community that specifically tries NOT to dress according to the latest styles.

I happen to be a person who likes to dress fashionably, and discovering that I could be modest and stylish was a big relief as I was becoming religious. Fashion is not the be all and end all of my life, but the shallow side of me appreciates looking put together and even a bit trendy. Once I learned that looking fashionable is allowed according to Jewish law, I never quite understood what the value would be in specifically looking unstylish. That is until T. Swift helped me realize something the other day as I was belting out one of her tunes as I drove.

There’s something kind of nice about not just changing what you like with every whim and new fangled thing that comes out. That’s not to say that there aren’t many modern advances made that we should adopt and learn from. But not every fad is necessarily a good one. The critics of the most seclusive parts of the Orthodox world are afraid that there is too much “control” from the top down. And I hear the concern – I believe that we should all live self-actualized existences and not make choices based on coercion or outside pressure. But, the question is, for those of us who do follow the trends, are we actually being controlled on some level too? And is it even more sinister if we’re being controlled without even realizing it?

I plan to stick to my trendy dressing and my lame music, but when the next fads appears, I may tell it “I knew you were trouble when you walked in.”

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

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  1. Go Taylor!

  2. Zahava Krevsky says:

    There is a slippery slope here between trendy and trashy……good taste never goes out of style. I like to sew and deconstruct/alter clothes especially thrift shop togs…and as a musician with a low-impact profile in the community I am expected to be a little “out-there’…I’ve always loved fashion and dreamed of being a designer when I was a kid..But I try to remain within the halacha as far as look and fit of my clothes.Then again…we’re not talking “frumpy” when we talk about not following trends. To me, frumpy, with it’s entire image of disheveled wigs and trash-bin skirts do women a big disservice.
    Is the real challenge here is to look put-together and fresh…(while avoiding those five-inch stillettos and skin-tight pencil skirts)?
    Yes. It can. Just think “classic”….

  3. I totally hear your post. It drives me crazy when I’m flipping stations and they are all playing the same song!

  4. someone had written on your facebook page post but since I am not on facebook I cannot respond to Noam. This is my response to him: As in every community, religious or not, there are certain amounts of social pressure. What I think you are seeing, feeling, thinking and reacting to are what a lot of uneducated people see, feel, think and react when they see orthodox religious Jews. Every day a person wakes up and puts on their clothes and part of what they wear is a reminder of who they are and what they stand for. The President of the United States gets up and puts on a suit and probably at first said something like “you’re the President, represent the position well”. When an orthodox Jewish woman wakes up and puts on modest clothing she has to chose to be happy with it, just like the fast food restaurant employee. You chose to be happy with what you have, in a positive way, not by force in all aspects of life. The streimel came about as a tradition due to when some Chassidim were in Russia the government wanted to humiliate the Jews by only allowing them to use the tails of the animal, seemingly the least important part of the animal. they took that tail and made a most beautiful hat that kept them warm and honored the Shabbos by it being a beautiful hat. It is important to know that no matter where a person is in life, if they aren’t happy they need to see why, work it out, shift their life or move on. We cannot walk around blaming others for what we have, don’t have, have to wear, can’t wear, eat, not eat, read, not read. This life is a choice and some of us choose to walk in the way of the Torah and raise children to see it’s truth and beauty. Hopefully in orthodox Jewish communities as well as non religious, non Jewish etc., parents hope to instill in their children values. We teach a love of Torah and Hashem. Vegans teach to love all creatures. A literature professor teaches to love the written word. A midwife, doula, accupuncturist, homeopathic doctor and a chiropractor teach natural health and healing. It should not be by force. It should be by love. And G-d created people to be fallible and BE human. I think this is the most common mistake when one observes something from the outside and doesn’t step in to take a look and ask questions. Hatzlocha raba to you!

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