The Fashionable Jew

“I’ve read a bunch of advice you gave and was wondering if you could apply your great wisdom to my case too. I love fashion and style, and I wish I could muster the courage to wear some really cool attention grabbing outfit… I am in tenth grade and wear a long (floor length) denim skirt with a black T-shirt just about every day. I have to abide by some rather strict religious rules with regard to dress – not just at school, everywhere. (The rules: no pants, nothing tight or revealing, shirts up to the collar bone and past the elbows, absolutely no exposed midriff, skirts past the knee, no visible underwear, nothing transparent or too sexy in general.) I was wondering if you could help me get out of my rut, or if I should just resort to wearing a burka. I would be eternally grateful… I am a [modern] Orthodox Jew (not Ultra-Orthodox) and I live in Israel, where — according to a relative of my mother — fashion is more extreme: either very racy and immodest or very dowdy and frumpy. But if you manage to think of cool outfits that are modest enough for me I’m sure I’ll find equivalents locally.”

This cry for help was a true test of my abilities! I’ve never been to the Middle East & I have very little knowledge of Judaism, so here goes! Most of what I have written is in accordance with Tzniut. Please know that I have tried my hardest & my intention in writing this was not to insult anyone, but instead to give a girl some style hope!

I recognise that Jewish women are not the only people in the world with restrictions placed on their dress by religion, & I hope that any of you in a similar position will be able to use this article as a springboard for your own appearance! Alright, without further ado…

Hello, my sweet! Thank you for writing & I’m sorry it has taken me so long to put this together.

Really, I think the best way to approach this is to work with the things you’ve got, rather than focussing on the limits you have. Thinking about restrictions all the time is very boring & tiring, so let’s accentuate the positive!

Take your hair, for example. You can do, literally, thousands of things with it. Colour it, have it cut, give yourself a mohawk if you can get away with it. Pull it back from your face & pin some big, sparkly brooches into your hair — say three stars (one on either side of your head & one on the top, charmingly askew) or a rose. Even if you’re wearing all black, a bit of glamour in the hair will cause you to dazzle everyone in the room! Tease your hair up into a wild bird’s nest & stick feathers in it. On days when you can’t be bothered with your hair, throw a brightly-coloured silk scarf over your head, or tie it up into a (fashion) turban.

Buy up vintage t-shirts on Ebay. If you buy men’s shirts in the same size that you are (a men’s small if you’re a small in women’s clothing, etc.) — that way they won’t be tight or too clingy. You can buy all sorts of crazy shirts, featuring anything from Mickey Mouse to World’s Biggest Ball Of String. Wear a thin hooded sweatshirt underneath & pull the hood up through the t-shirt’s collar, so it flops back behind you. Alternatively, throw a cardigan over the top, even one with 3/4 sleeves should do. Short little cardigans that end at the waist are super-adorable, while a cardigan which ends at the hip is really wearable, & a long cardigan is great for hiding in or bundling up on cold days. You can always push the sleeves up a little bit if you want to show your wrists, or if you have bracelet mania like me!

Try piling your wrists with bangles in any colour scheme you like. I’m nutty about clear lucite bangles at the moment, but you can buy AMAZING vintage bangles on Ebay. I especially like stumbling across people selling collections of red bakelite bracelets, they’re beautiful. (Just look on Ebay for bakelite bangle or bracelet.) Wear them all the way almost up to your elbow & remember that if you have skinny arms you should wear big bangles, while you should wear fine ones if your arm is bigger.

Mary-Kate Olsen's silk skirt

Try a knee-length skirt with striped stockings & mary janes, or a floor-length skirt with combat boots. Mary-Kate Olsen (above) has been rocking an ankle-length black silk skirt & gladiator sandles recently & it looks gorgeous. You could also try doing a femme Karl Lagerfeld kind of look, which would be ultra-cute. Wear a starched white shirt, fingerless leather gloves, a long black skirt, a belt & sunglasses.

Accessories are really going to be the best way to differentiate yourself from everyone else, so start buying them up! Go for unusual things. Often you can buy entire estate lots of jewellery on Ebay. You’ll end up with a LOT of very interesting pieces, & the stuff you don’t like you can give away or resell. I love choker necklaces, big dangly earrings & weird clip-ons, bracelets galore & antique rings.

There are so many small things you can do to spice up a plain outfit. Brooches are brilliant for this. Have a friend buy you some in another country, borrow them from your favourite relatives or source them from strange little second-hand shops. They tell fabulous stories. Try changing the buttons on your cardigan, jacket or shirt — you could go for big, brassy, military-type buttons or cute novelty ones. I once saw purple rollerskate buttons, they were incredibly cool. Belts are fantastic too — wear one around your waist like a big bow or slung around your hips. I love pyramid-studded belts worn over floor-length skirts, I think the contrast looks gorgeous.

Buy huge sunglasses which make you look as if you’re on the run from the paparazzi! They add instant glamour to any outfit.

Make-up is every woman’s best weapon. Learn how to use it! You can go for the natural look or impersonate Elvira as it suits you. Play around with it, create a signature look which makes you feel magnificent.

Finally, you can always take a hint from the 80’s. When women first started entering the corporate “man’s” world, they thought that in order to compete they had to almost disguise themselves as men. The “power suit” was a big, boxy look, further emphasised by shoulder-pads. Thankfully, today, most women realise that they have just as much power by allowing themselves to be women, but at the time, a lot of women wore beautiful lingerie underneath their big man suits to help them retain feelings of femininity. No one has to know, it can be your little secret!

Good luck!