Thursday, December 15, 2011

Two Skirts of a Different Color

 When you look at these skirts, what do you think and see? Who are the women that would wear them? What do you think about the statement they may present to the world?

In New York, when I would open my closet to get dressed in the morning I would think about color, pattern, weather, what I had to do that day. I would have fun choosing pieces of jewelry to go with each outfit and think of how to do my hair. The shoes I wore would be chosen based on how much I would be standing on my feet and how much I would be walking. In New York, fashion is everywhere and everyone molds themselves to a certain persona. There are the bohemian-chic with their bold colors and avant-garde head scarves and fedoras, sometimes wearing a feminine tie and vest combo or classic tailored pieces mixed with flowing skirts or blouses. There are the conservative business professionals in their too high heels, precious stone jewels, sleek up-does, blazers, and skirt suits. There are the hippies with long, frayed curls up-swept by pencils and clips, interesting costume jewelry, clothes to reveal possible tattoos and varied piercings. There are the hipsters who are a mesh of the bohemian-chic and the hippies. And there is everything else in between. 

But in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem, what you wear takes on a whole new meaning--more powerful than anything I have ever experienced. What one wears seems to seep into a crucial ingredient in making life choices. When you sit on the bus and look at the people next to you, you don't just make a judgement on what they might like to do on the weekends or what kind of work they might do. Instead, you make instant assumptions about their belief systems, morals, and values. A woman with a long black skirt is a different degree of religiousness to one wearing a modest yet figure-fitting dress with sheer tights. One wearing a hat means something different from a head scarf and the colors you wear make a statement too. There are those that let their hair fall loose from beneath a simple bandana-like band and others that don't let one lock stray. There are some who show their bra straps and wear short shirts with tight leggings in complete casualty beneath their deeply-dyed purple, frizzed out hair. There are the women with their high spiked heels and bleached, spiky crop who tend to have a certain kind of accent. There are women who line their eyes with long, thick black lines to help them stand out from within their covering. There are some whose hair is always, always up and others who overload on fantastic, bold, shiny costume jewelry. And when you look at each of these women as you pass them on the street, speak to them in the stores and cafes, and sit beside them on a bus or train, their clothing speaks volumes. From each of these fashions one can make a pretty accurate educated guess about one's family background, religious views and religion in general, culture, ethnicity, and whether they are sabras (Israeli-born citizens), new olim (immigrants), old olim, Russian, Sephardim, Ashkenazim, French, American, religious, secular, kibbutznikim, or a mix.

When I get dressed in the morning now, I don't just think about how I want to put together the pieces in my closet. I also now consider what possible assumptions and stereotypes I may fall into on any given day. On Tuesday I wore a long, layered, flowing skirt, high boots, a warm long-sleeved sweater, a scarf, and a floppy, knit hat. Instant frumification (my word for looking religious), and necessarily so as I was visiting my religious cousin and her family. Today when I went to one of the moadonit I work at (after-school center) I had on a shiny azure blue blouse, long dangling earrings and skinny jeans with the same long-sleeved sweater, scarf, and hat and I was NY-chic. Yesterday, for a day in the office and on a sight visit to this wonderful Arab and Israeli youth photography program luanch I wore my favorite corduroy black and white polka-dot skirt with thick tights and a simple black tee. Add on heels and a tasteful cardigan and I looked like a recent religious American or French transplant.

Every day I have to think about where I'm going to be and with whom I will be interacting and try to match my clothing to what will be most appropriate. I need to think about if what I wear will fit in with the role I am undertaking. And when I wear a long skirts now-a-days, I don't feel particularly hippie or artistic, rather, I feel like I look pretty religious. It may not be fair that these expectations exist, but they do. Turns out that here, fashion isn't just a creative display of how you want people to perceive you but can be an instant message to people about where you stand and where you identify yourself. Something I never thought about until now but that I think will stay with me even when I return to the city that never sleeps.

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