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A Fashion Affair

A Fashion Affair


In a society where the house of worship has a red carpet, blinding runway lights, and Armani clad photographers, you have to wonder, is this sanctuary hosting Sabbath services or New York's Fashion Week?

Tonight's attendees are dressed in their finest, in black and white Dior and heels for miles. They say they've come to worship. But are they here to pray to G‑d or have they come to bow to the gods of fashion?

Or both?

While Fashion and Judaism may have once been considered disharmonious and we've never mixed kippas with couture, it's my belief that fashion and Judaism have more in common than we've ever cared to admit.

The question remains: Fashion and Judaism – match or clash?To the naked eye, the two might seem a blatant contradiction. Judaism is of the mind; constant and fixed, and curiously timeless. Whereas fashion is a fixation of the heart and even if we're certain that what comes off the runway will blow our minds, the industry is still completely unpredictable and thus unreliable.

So is there room for Tahari in Torah? Or are they two frenemies who must never meet? The question remains: Fashion and Judaism – match or clash?

I find myself at 59th and Lexington, another house of worship, home to some of my dearest friends. Diane von Furstenberg, Yves Saint Laurent, Michael Kors and Badgley Mischka, to name a few. And as I the wander the rows of designer couture at Barneys, entirely enamored by the art of French and Italian gods, I can't help but wonder: What is it about fashion that makes it so delicious?

And there, staring me in the face at the display of the new Fall Collection, is my answer: It's come in the form of a beaten leather jacket, which hangs solo on a rack that had been occupied just a few short weeks ago by a chiffon evening gown. Of course! That's the thing about fashion. The thing that has me so besotted, kicking off my wedges and chasing the ever-changing designs down the runway. It's the variety. The constant reinvention. The land of perpetual novelty and endless eye candy!

Even the classic Chanel is revamped every season, as is the outrageous Betsy Johnson, mod Zac Posen, and très chic Oscar de la Renta. Every season is packed with the crème de la crème in fashion, to jolt us from our seats, tickling our wildest fantasies. The catwalks are continuously transforming, designs brimming with imagination, each collection more shocking than the next. And most crucial about the fashion world, if anything, is that nothing stays the same.

I must have been all of eight years old when I discovered my love for clothing. It was on one of those trips to the mall with my big sister. She accidentally left me alone in one of the departments in Macy's. I didn't care. I just lost myself in the colors and fabrics, looking and touching and imagining what these beautiful dresses would look like on me. And I didn't care if it was at Bloomys or Abercrombie and Fitch. I fell in love with it. All of it. And as I grew up, I fell even more madly in love with a religion that changes with my moods.

Plain Jane doesn't wear her Judaism with pride; she lets her Judaism wear herShirts. Skirts. Pants. Dresses. Sweaters. These are the fundamentals of fashion. We all wear them. Every day. No matter what. But there are two types of people. There's Plain Jane who wears a plain navy dress, a simple navy cardigan and sensible navy shoes. She gets dressed in the morning because she has to. She doesn't put thought into her outfits, and instead of wearing her clothing with confidence, she lets her clothing wear her. Jane is like the uninspired Jew. She keeps Shabbat because she's told to. She doesn't put thought into it. She doesn't wear her Judaism with pride; she lets her Judaism wear her.

We have the choice to be Plain Jews or fashionable Jews. We could light the Shabbat candles glumly or we could let our fires ignite with the wicks. We could go through the motions of the holidays or we could wait for each holiday, watching it in the display window until the day we've saved up enough money to make it ours. We could accessorize with scarves and hats, adorn with diamonds and pearls. Our passion can vary every season. We can get front row seats at Temple, pray with a different voice every day, learn with a new hunger. Each time we shake the lulav and etrog, we can move to a different beat. We can bring home the Torah every year like we're bringing home a new Vera Wang wedding gown.

Now I don't know if you're aware of this, but Nordstrom has an alphabetical list of like a million different designers on its website. And, frankly, if it didn't, if there weren't all the different designers, I don't think I'd care much for fashion at all. I can't bear to imagine a runway strutted solely by Chanel. Yeah, sure, Chanel is chic, classic, and ridiculously high fashion, but one designer is a joke. We'd be bored to black Sephora tears.

Granted, Coco Chanel may very well be the Moses of fashion, Chanel on her own just doesn't do it for us. Monotheism is not a belief anyone wishes to continue into the fashion world. Vogue monogamy is simply not what we've fallen head over high heels for. It's our affair with novelty that keeps us on our tippy toes.

Now imagine there was only one type of Jew. Yawn. Fortunately for us, there are many different brands of Jews, many different hues and traditions. Some believe that our distinctions separate us. They fear that if we look different or have different political stances, we won't relate as brothers and sisters. I believe we should celebrate our diversity, our gaping differences, and our ability to unite in spite of them. No, because of them. We don't have to be exactly the same, or even see eye-to-eye to be bonded and made a sublime work of art. That's what makes us so fabulous.

There are many different brands of Jews, many different hues and traditionsAfter the show, peek into our bona fide house of worship. If it's as it should be, you'll find Jews, observant and not, American and European, trendy and god-awful, but nonetheless, all swaying in one synagogue, vibrant and speckled, like the finale of a Marc Jacobs show. Perhaps they won't be donning prayer shawls (a tallit) tailored by the same designers, but they'll all be united under a force that transcends customs, attire and religious views – a common past, a common destiny… and a common love for Jerry Seinfeld.


My article about fashion and Judaism seems to have stirred a great deal of controversy and criticism due to the fact that many believe that the two are an inappropriate, offensive comparison that don't belong in the same breath.

The biting comments that followed humbled me thoroughly. And if I was wrong and mistaken, I wanted to know and stand corrected. At first I was stung, but then I couldn't help but wonder if they were right. Was I completely misguided as to say that a person could be a fashionable Jew? That a person who might normally get revved up about a pair of shoes could channel that excitement toward their Judaism? Or had my readers completely missed the point?

The focal point throughout my article was that, like football or art or any pastime, fashion is something sought after and often leaves a trail of followers. The purpose of my article wasn't to promote fashion worship but to promote the idea that a person could be as excited about Judaism as they are about fashion.

I understand that there are flaws in fashion and I don't dismiss them. The industry is fickle and immodest, sometimes to the point of immorality. A person could easily get caught up in materialistic vanity and the shallow belief that exterior appearances are all that matter. One could fall so head-over-heels in love with fashion to the point of slavery and reject all notion that there is anything more to life than their body.

That is not the aspect of fashion we ought to learn from. Reb Zushe teaches us that we can learn positive behavior even from a dishonest and corrupt individual, from a thief!

Was he suggesting we become thieves?

Or was he proposing something totally novel? That we are possibly smart enough to discern between the significant and the nonsense?!

Fashion may not be completely kosher and we've never mixed skullcaps with couture but the two may have more in common than we've ever cared to admit. The question is, are we strong enough to separate the poison from the message and learn a trick or two from the runway without getting trampled by a parade of six-foot, pin-thin models?

By the way, I shop at Forever 21 (a fashion crime, I'm sure) and I have never met Michael Kors - not in person or in the form of a dress. Fashion is eye candy to me, not my life, G‑d forbid. As much as I wish I could afford to drip materialism, I can't...

Mushka is a writer from Buffalo, New York.
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R.Richard Appelbaum Fl November 1, 2015

The clothing that we choose to wear says a lot about us and has no reflection on out religious beliefs. It's wonderful to see people at services who make an effort to look fashionable and adorned; to make a special effort to honor sacred space.
There are those who show up in clothes that reflects no special effort - a lop-sided wig, nothing matches, sloppy postures, clothes better suited to the rubbish heap than the temple for a spiritual occasion. If it's a case of economic issues, I understand. Instead, it's usually a case of poor self-image. Reply

Anonymous Newton November 1, 2015

Colors carry the vibe of the sefirah they're connected to. So makes sense that if you see a certain color, it would make you somewhat feel that certain sefira it's coneccted to.

Shapes and textures may as well- I'm trying to find out about that.

However, they will connect you to an external dimension of G-dliness. Keter, for example, is colorless. So if you want to connect to the essence, makes sense to ditch connecting to its pleasant externalities. Reply

Anonymous w May 17, 2011

Kohen Gadol Is there a more ornate beautiful robe than the one encrusted with 12 coloured precious gems, worn by the Kohen Gadol oncew a year on Yom Kippur ? G-d stressed that exact style. Furthrmore G-d specified exact amounts of gold and wood etc. in the making of the Tabernacle. i think he hinted at style in an appropriate manner.

Fashion has its place and individual taste. Drab people wear drab clothes. They have enriched souls, and fell great ! Fashion conscious people wear more fashionable clothes and possibly fine jewelry. They have enriched souls and feel great !

i'll leave it to r h of May 13 to interpret the Jew in Jew-elry. Reply

Devora Renert May 17, 2011

Dressing to worship G-d Dressing the human body in clean, beautiful garments can be analogous to dressing a Sefer Torah in a beautiful garment.

The object of worship is always G-d but He created us for His respect. Hence, we should be a manifestation of G-d's respect. Reply

Hana Austin May 16, 2011

MESSiah Well, that is again an interesting word analysis. Yes, the world is seemingly messed up, more and more as time goes on. I was in a crystal growing club once. You need a supersaturated solution of a substance. Into this you suspend one perfect crystal of that substance, and that crystal draws out all the random crystals and forms one big pretty perfect crystal around itself. It acts as a "seed" around which the large crystal forms. We live in a supersaturated mess of a world, but perhaps when the right person comes along they can form a perfect society of like types around themself. This is how I see the MESSiah making something out of a mess. Reply

Ruth housman Marshfield hills, Ma May 13, 2011

Messed things up I wasn't going to comment again but, here I am. The word Messiah in English has M E S S within. I certainly see a messed up world and wonder why it is we think a Messiah will clean this up when it is obvious there are steps we must take to make this world more humane. Could it be we actually need one person to tell us this? Or is it more like the One person will be so believed the world will then obey the precepts already in my view fairly clear in terms of humanity. Reply

Rivkah M. Brooklyn, NY via May 13, 2011

Awesome! Wow, Mushka, great job!! Loved it :) Reply

wise Simpsonville, SC October 2, 2010

fahion and judaism There is actually a prtion of the bible where G-g instucted that the garment/part of the temple should b desighned for glory and beauty. I think when G-ds ppl are glorious, then G-d and his religion are glorified. As a veres of psalms says, glorify G-d with what u have. How r others going to c the glory of our religion, if our ppl r unglorious?. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, MA June 28, 2010

snake sheds his skin, too: response thank you for your wonderful Hebrew analyses. I am fascinated by language and actually feel we can do a trip across Babel, following not only the aural connects that do seem to bind all languages to each other. Think about this: Babel, babble, but there is so much more....

I actually have the temerity to say I believe the key to what we're all doing here, all stories, are contained by words themselves, and that it is true that with the aleph bet God created a universe. I do believe through story we are actualizing the potential of words.

Think about the word dovetail, meaning pieces of carpentry that fit together perfectly and then split the word and listen.
Could it be that this overarching story is a dove tale? Meaning taking us into a world of peace, an inchoate notion that yes, has Messianic leanings. Reply

Hana June 27, 2010

sNAKEd This is a very interesting observation. I also find it interesting that in while the English translation says “The snake was more ‘subtle’ than any beast of the field", the Hebrew word they translate as "subtle" is עָרוּם (pronounced: arum). Then when Adam and Chava have eaten the fruit and "their eyes were opened, they knew they were naked", in English, but the word used for naked here in Hebrew is עֵירֻמִּם (pronounced: eirumim). It is the same word! (plural here because there are two people involved) Whatever the snake was, that is what they saw that they were, when their eyes were opened. עָרוּם Translates online as
1. Naked
2. Nude
3. Stripped
4. Cunning
5. Bare
6. Sly
7. Subtle
8. Crafty
9. Shrewd
10. Wily
11. Astute
12. Foxy Reply

Anonymous June 26, 2010

totally agree- anon new york 52 comments, even if several are from the same people, makes the subject of fashion the soup du jour. I think the subject gets nailed by " started reading the comments and laughed ".

So how about it Mushka ? Can you give us another uplifting message, please. This one was excellent. It doesn't matter if your next one is isn't controversial. Just share some more of the perspective that inspires you. You have hit the highest level of teaching :
" Leave them clamoring for more. "

Mazel tov ! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, MA June 25, 2010

messed things up? I agree with the anonymous New York comment.

I am not sure about this messed things up with respect to fashion. I AM sure about messed things up with respect to the environment. I am sure about messed things up with respect to "respect" itself and how we are selective about compassion and care.

As to that Garden Story, I honestly believe it's a story that was totally designed to get us out of the garden, so we could take this long turn around the block and learn something about values, and it is, deeply, a journey of soul. As to snake, he's had a bad rap throughout history, and I might point out it was his "rap" that convinced Adam and Eve, and yet, there is something quite beautiful too about the snake, if you look at the symmetry, the awesome symmetry, of design on his back. The words naked are partially contained within sNAKE itself.

The human body is a work of art. There is nothing shameful here and I love to look at sculpture that expresses this! Reply

Anonymous new york June 24, 2010

loved it! wow. i really enjoyed reading this article, and love your style of writing. but then i started reading the comments and laughed. some people just wrote the most ridiculous things. i mean, they just wrote about concepts that dont even have anything to do with what the author was saying, and i think they were making a big deal about silly things. i would love to read more from this author. she is very interesting and insightful Reply

Hana June 23, 2010

@ Ruth Houseman RE modesty I agree with you, within reason. G-d made us the way he wanted, but then we messed things up. I think modesty began in trying to cover up what was messed up - not necessarily sexual organs, maybe elimination organs. The fact that the two are so close, just as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life were both besok ha gan, meaning both in the exact middle, means that they were also very close. You can see that G-d prefers us not to eliminate, because he gave us the Mann to eat in the desert, from which we did not eliminate.
It is a coincidence that this weeks Torah parsha Balak has the story of the Midianite women seducing the Jewish men with sex, only to have them worship their idol by means of its particular worship - defecating in front of it. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma June 23, 2010

after a fashion It's amazing so many comments keep coming. I wonder why people think modesty is such an important virtue? We are part of Nature. Part of the grand display. Look at those beautiful birds. All creation is vibrant with beauty, and of course there's always a place for the little brown sparrow. But that so much print could be expended on this subject!

I know God loves a good fashion show because God is part of all creation. Creativity is within the endless unfolding of fabric, constant new inventions, color, dyes, and adornment.

Lose it. Lose those views that purse your lips, that express disdain for what's beautiful, joyful. The personal expression of this could be the words themselves: Thou Art.

As to the Moshiach. Or Mioschiach ess, I think God will choose someone who knows how to dance, how to celebrate the shimmering colors of every dawn, every sunset, the beauty that is within our "gasp".

Enjoy life because it is God's, every single blade of shining, singing, grass! Reply

Hadassah Aber N.M.B., FL June 23, 2010

interesting! I am not a fashion follower in any shape but did recognize some of the designer names listed. I think the point of your article is that to make our Judaism alive we need to put our energy and excitement into it. That diversity is good and that we can be individuals even when keeping within the context of halacho. Reply

Anonymous June 18, 2010

validity The theme of fashion in Judaism is modesty, period. A harlot does not dress modestly. That's a given in that profession/trade. Fashion laws are not as distinct as the laws of Kashrut. Modesty has different connotations across Jewish cultures and sects. The Berber Jews are more ornate than Lubavitchers. Reform are less drab than Haradi. These and many other considerations are matters of tradition and culture. As such, context becomes the overriding determinant. What is valid in one context is not valid in another, and vice-versa. I have seen married Ultra-orthodox women wearing modest lengths of skirt, sleeve and neckline, but the fabric is beautiful and offset by stunning gold earrings/necklaces, Star of David, or Palm sign etc. Validity does not mean anything goes. But It does allow for opposing views of fashion to be valid.
To conclude, is making one argument of fashion valid over another going to bring the Moshiach any sooner ? Doubt it. Reply

Hana Austin June 18, 2010

@Laura Beth, Bartlett NH It is not against the law to use animal skins. For one thing, the skins from the sacrifices in the Mishkan and Temples went to the Kohanim for their own use. For another thing, we are allowed to eat meat – should we just throw the skins away? That would just be a big waste. Leather is a good use of a resource that is a byproduct of meat. People at some point in time probably ate the animals they got fur from, too. I can easily see that happening with rabbits even today, since people eat rabbits. In that case it would be the same as leather. I do think that killing animals just for their fur is very wrong. Even then, however, the meat probably goes into animal food for pets. I think that people, like some animals, now actually require meat to live. I am much more appalled at the use of animals in needless experiments, or for people who mistreat them. I hope some day we can all return to a time like Gan Eden, where no one has to eat any other creature. Reply

Kalev Zalman North Miami Beach, FL June 18, 2010

Clarification I don't see the issue at hand being whether it is appropriate to dress nicely or attractively, or whether or not someone is allowed to have a personal taste in clothing. Clearly these things are OK. My concern, and I think that of most people who disagreed with the article, is that it goes beyond talking about personal tastes and actually makes allusions to the modern fashion world, name brands and all. Giving credit to that world, and exalting the name brands that are today's modern day idols is the problem. I hope my comments are not seen as "biting", I agree that Torah should be pursued at least with the same enthusiasm as our hobbies, but the examples made in the article are poor, and turning a blind eye to the many negatives of pop-culture and the fashion industry, is unrealistic. I appreciate the good intentions of the article, however. Reply

Thomas Karp New Haven, Ct. June 17, 2010

To JR JR, I am just a noahide trying to understand it all the best I can.

As I understand it, the Torah does allow a little 'wiggle room' for fashion.

The fedora that observant Jewish men often wear is a concession to fashion.

There is nothing wrong per se with an observant Jew wanting to be more attractive.

Yes, there are parshas in written Torah proscribing the Israelites to bring their fabrics and materials, and according to their individual abilities, decorate the Ark.

Clearly, Mushka is not out to exalt immodesty; rather she has expressed a very human desire to pursue what is attractive to her; the colors and textures of this world.

These are also of and from G-d. Reply

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