Understanding the dress code and various interpretations of Orthodox Jewish women

Written by Hannah Tindle, CNN

Based on the true story of Deborah Feldman, a Jewish woman who left the Satmar community in search of a new life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the hit Netflix series “Unorthodox” focuses on bringing Hasidic culture and women’s dress codes mainstream. One of the show’s most talked about aspects is the outfits that shape Esty’s story (played by Shira Haas) from start to finish.

The show’s costume designer, Justine Seymour, spent hours of rigorous research, including a week-long study at the Satmar community in New York. “I think one of the biggest gifts of my job is very creative but also very educational,” he said during the phone call.

“You must be sensitive, respectful and knowledgeable when observing a very closed society,” said non-Jewish Seymour. Said. She said that she discovered that the women she met during her research embraced designer brands for shoes, headscarves and handbags. “Kate Spade, Chanel, Ferragamo and Hermes were outstanding designers,” he said, “add some charm to the conservative dress code.”

Whether it built second-hand stores for silk scarves (said it bought more than 100 for the show) or fake fur shtreimels (usually worn by married Hasidic men made of mink), Seymour will adhere to the Orthodox Jewish laws of each, but the individual style he would also celebrate his nuances.

Esty on the wedding day

“Unusual” on Esty’s wedding day. Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

Orthodox dressing is often perceived by outsiders as extremely restrictive and too little space for individual freedom and self-expression. The fictional character of Feldman and Esty struggled with pressures that expanded on their appearance by their communities, but all three Jewish women interviewed for this article felt that discovering one’s personal style had more freedom than people could accept. – especially in less conservative households or branches – and many religious women play with fashion to reflect their personal tastes while remaining in the religious dress code they choose to follow.

Orthodox Judaism covers many traditions and traditions, just an ultra-watchdog group of Williamsburg Hasidim. And while women living in this particular community tend to subscribe to stricter rules for dressing, for example, modern Orthodox followers choose to interpret some basic principles differently.

Special style codes vary from community to community, clothes are often dictated as practical or religious occasion – Shabbat, Yom Tov (meaning holiday), weddings and bar mitzvahs – personal taste. But no matter where you are or whatever the situation is, what you wear in the Orthodox Jewish world is governed by the concept of humility, called tzniut in Hebrew and tznius in Yiddish. It is kept in mind that clothes from Tel Aviv to Massachusetts are chosen.

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“There are many different Jewish communities around the world, but the basic principles they share are the same,” said Tamara Fulton, a fashion stylist and lifestyle editor living in London who married an Orthodox rabbi. In Judaism, it is a slightly misleading word to simply mean ‘humility’, but it is not just about modest dressing. Tznius applies to both men and women and is based on the concept of humility. and how you carried yourself in a reserved but dignified manner, “Fulton said.

This usually means the following for Orthodox women: pants are not worn and should fall below the knee, including sitting skirts and dresses; the arms are covered at the elbow and the neck lines are high-cut. Often clothes are changed – slits are sewn on the skirts and false collars are added. Layering is often used to create the final look.

the stage

“Unorthodox” scene when Esty’s hair is shaved. Credit: Anika Molnar / Netflix

Covering your hair after getting married is one of the basic principles of tznius. As Esty does in one of the most memorable scenes of “Unorthodox”, not all women will shave her real hair (her hair is actually shaved for her). However, many observant women will wear a scarf or sheitel for the word Yiddish wig.

A Jewish teacher who taught at a girl seminar in Israel and also lived in the Haredi or ultra Orthodox community in Manchester, north of England, agreed to be interviewed for this article, but asked not to be named for humility reasons.

He wears himself a devil and explains that it can often be used as an accessory or as a way to change your look. On the phone, he said: “One (woman) There is a choice of different color demons in different styles. Because he says:” I protect my head and think of a devil as a hat. One day I want to be a blonde, another brunette, why not? “

Sheitel style also depends on the community. For example, some Hasidic women wear shorter wigs with hats on top, so there is no doubt that they are wearing headscarves. Sheitels are made from both human and synthetic hair. While living in Manchester, the teacher always preferred to wear real hair wigs for special occasions. “I will have real hair for Shabbat, then I will be synthetic every day,” he said.

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It is also common to wear skilled jewelry on sabbath or special occasions. “It is believed that married women should be given beautiful jewelry.” Said. “It might be modest, but it would be high quality.”

Seymour stated that jewelry is an important component when creating costumes for “Unusual”. Esty and her husband remembered that Yanky had to dress around 60 women, all in diamonds and pearls, for the wedding scene. Later in this scene, the groom wears a pair of knitted diamond earrings for his new bride. “They’re very close to the earrings that Deborah Feldman actually gives,” he said.

When it comes to color, as in other cultures and religions, different colors have different meanings, but the only color worn by Hasidic women is not black. “When I lived in Israel, we hardly wore black,” said the teacher. “They were very bright colors. But not red – never red! Since this color is not considered modest (in Hasidic communities) women will tend to wear navy, bottle green, brown and gray.”

“Clothes for all women are an expression of yourself. The idea is to look smart, but not to draw too much attention to yourself.”

A glimpse of the Erdem show at London Fashion Week in February.

A glimpse of the Erdem show at London Fashion Week in February. Credit: Stuart Wilson / BFC / Getty Images

Orthodox women prefer to buy clothes from various places in their communities, from Jewish clothing stores to other non-Jewish shops or malls. For Fulton, there are several go-to stores that usually sell parts that work for him. “Instead of layering or changing for humility, I prefer to wear clothes designed to be worn as they are.” Said. “H&M and Zara are great for this.”

He also noted that many fashion designers produce collections that offer options for women who choose to dress modestly. “It’s really interesting to see that designers like Valentino, Erdem and McQueen produce styles that are suitable for women who might want to dress more modestly. I’m a big fan of the revival of the 1970s. With designs and brands like The Vampire’s Wife inspired by Laura Ashley.”

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Another brand that has become popular among both observer and secular women is Batsheva. Winner of the 2018 CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund, the brand is known for its wrinkled, rural-style dresses. The basics of the name plate, founded by the native New Yorker Batsheva Hay, are centered around its personal history and culture.

Her husband, photographer Alexei Hay, started watching Orthodox practices just before she started dating. At the wedding, Batsheva, who grew up in a secular Jewish family and did not comply with the Jewish dress code, said that traditional men and women were separated and that Hay’s mother wore Mexican dresses. Suitable for lace and tznius.

Alexei and Batsheva Hay on their wedding day.

Alexei and Batsheva Hay on their wedding day. Credit: Courtesy of Batsheva Hay

Hay, a former lawyer who did not receive formal fashion design training, first started to make clothes for herself while raising young children at home. It launched its brand in 2016.

“When I started Batsheva, I found that most of the references I was interested in were retro or old fashioned,” she said by phone. “Also (in my neighborhood) and in Brooklyn, a short subway ride from me, I saw similarly dressed Orthodox women.” Hay said that she had difficulty working within the framework of pre-determined special rules but reinterpreted them. In this way, he developed a modest yet distinctive and fun style.

A look at the Batsheva Spring-Summer 2020 collection presented at New York Fashion Week in September 2019

A look at the Batsheva Spring-Summer 2020 collection presented at New York Fashion Week in September 2019 Credit: Victor Virgile / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images

“The goal of Orthodox Jews is not to abandon beauty,” he said. “He still had to work in it to look beautiful.”

Seymour reiterated this idea: “With ‘unusual’ costumes, I wanted to honor women who want to look beautiful without breaking the rules of modesty all over the world. He said that most women in the Satmar community are impressed by their pride in good dressing.” The show can inspire a little more glamor and beauty, and (all women) dressing. I would be very happy if he experiences his pride. ”

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