Clothes Make the Person… Or Not

When I started wearing pants, I was sure everyone in my life would know what a huge change I had just made. Most people didn’t.

As it turns out, most people who I knew only vaguely hadn’t known that my skirts and sleeves and necklines were at all religious-related. One college friend told me, years later, that she just thought my style was “business casual” and that I liked skirts…

So despite the warnings we got from our teachers that we are recognizable as religious Jews and therefore have a responsibility to represent Orthodox Jews properly, because people would judge all of frum Judaism based on our actions – yeah… no.

Some people who did know I was religious and that my dress was based in religion still didn’t understand the monumental statement I was making by wearing pants.

I’ve stayed in touch with my undergrad advisors ever since graduating, and I visited them often, just to check in and chat. When I visited wearing pants for the first time, I was a little short of breath from anxiety, apprehension, anticipation of the conversation we would have. I was excited to be telling my mentor that I had finally left – she had known about my struggles with my parents, that they were unhappy I had chosen a non-religion-related career and environment.

I was a little surprised – and deflated – when she didn’t immediately comment on the pants.

We sat in her office and chatted about her teaching, my work, her kids, my family… And as we got personal, it came up and I told her I’m no longer religious.

“I thought so,” she said. “That ring you’re wearing…”

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For a second, I was so taken aback that I didn’t know how to respond. I gaped, and said, “Really? The ring made you think I’m not religious?? Not the pants?”

“Well, I thought maybe you’re allowed to wear pants sometimes! But that ring definitely looks non-religious.”

And at this point I just laughed, long and loud.

“I actually wore this ring while I was still religious. It doesn’t fit with the frum aesthetic, true, but there’s nothing forbidden about it…”

I realized that clothing does in fact make statements, as had been drummed into us growing up – but it was not always the statement we intended.

After that, it was a lot easier for me to build my wardrobe by thinking about what I liked to wear rather than what others would think about what I wear.

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