This post will not be a heavily-researched, historically poignant account of the Jewish history of fashion and design. This is a *fashion blog* and we keep things SHALLOW here, dudes! And we use a truly ungodly amount of parentheticals as you will soon see!
I am an Ashkenazi Jew (of Eastern European, for me specifically Lithuanian, descent), was brought up practicing the religion fairly hardcore in the Conservative sect, and a large percentage of my family on my father’s side is Orthodox. Since eyeing the unparalleled Met Gala theme in 2018, “Heavenly Bodies,” I have had a bee in my bonnet about the need for more aesthetic appropriation of the Jewish look. Last year, I wrote:
I would like to go on the record as being the Jew who lovingly coined the term “Yentacore” back in October 2020 if it ever blows up. I think Christian fashion had its moment (and even had an entire Met Gala theme in its honor) with sacreligious saint-decorated lingerie and an obsession with the Virgin Mary back in 2015-ish, so now I’m suggesting we fully lean into what fashion has been tiptoeing around all year: appropriating Jewish aesthetics. Since I’m a descendent of Ashkenazi heritage (Eastern European, white), I suggest we swaddle ourselves in headscarves tied under the chin, observe the tenets of tzniut (Jewish modesty laws, the most basic of which is to cover the skin from collarbone to ankle), strap on mary-jane shoes, and listen to some radical leftist rabbi podcasts. Note: the “core” in yentacore comes from combining these aspects of the Jewish aesthetic with comfy goyim clothes, so layer your Batsheva housedress with some sweats, as I did here:
In recent years, brands and fashion writers whose work I like such as Batsheva and Mordechai Shlomo Rubinstein have been spreading Yentacore (which I envision as genderless and encompassing style influenced by not only yentas [old ladies, typically busybodies i.e. will try to matchmake you within 30 seconds of learning your name] but also Jewish kids at summer camp, epic Jews of history like Krystyna Skarbek and Simone Weil [look them both up if you don’t know of them], old Jew”ish” NYers, and bar/bat mitzvah steez) to a largely New Yorkian audience. They are doing Hashem’s work, but I want more.
The bee has remained bonnet-bound. My surface-level survey of Jewy clothing, informed by fifteen years of weekly synagogue attendance, nine years of Jewish day school, and a lifetime of being spiritually and culturally defined largely by my Judaism, has led me to the following recurring motifs in clothing I clock as “Jewish”: patchwork, tweed, tasteful or earnest kitsch, tznius (Jewish conception of modesty that inclused coverage from collarbone to ankle in its most orthodox form), a corollary fixation on collars, baggy/flowy clothing (think Israelite wandering in the desert or the tallis [prayer shawl] Jews, including myself, traditionally wear on Shabbat [our Sabbath, from Friday to Saturday sundown]), fur (like the shtreimel, an aggressively cylindrical furred cap Hasids sometimes wear to pray or like the fur coats everyone’s great aunt seems to have minimum 7 of), floral prints, paisley, imagery of produce (i.e. wheat and pomegranates, both biblically potent plants), kerchiefs, layers, violent pattern-mixing, desert-appropriate garb, holiness, fringes (as in the biblically-prescribed fringes called “tzitzit” that hang off of a tallis and are fondled sacredly during some prayers), and an extreme sense of sentimentality.
These all combine to create my favorite fashion “palette” in existence, and my favorite blog post to date. I hope you enjoy in good health.
This Bulgarian brand, Chopova Lowena, scratches my Eastern European Literalism Itch like no other. This shirt is structured modestly, looks warm, and exudes warmth in its cheery sock-flower design that makes me think of when my Bobba and Papa (grandmother and father) used to buy me and my sister and cousins all the same footie PJ’s when we’d visit on holidays, which we would all immediately tear our clothes off to put on and sit around in a circle comparing our identical fits.
The book Joseph Had a Little Overcoat was a seminal read for me and many other Jewish kids. Every time Joseph’s fly-ass overcoat gets holey and worn, he makes it into a smaller piece of clothing, like a jacket, then a scarf, then a handkerchief or something, until finally he only has enough fabric left to make a button (which he eventually loses, RIP). Not only is this inspirational in its thriftiness and eco-consciousness, but this image of Joseph with a patched-up coat will forever live in my subconscious as an aesthetic ideal:
This shirt is sick for its patchwork, mediated by sharp creases, and also for its fringy hems that call to mind the aforementioned tzitzit I used to pull at when I was small enough to stand under my dad’s tallis at shul. The multicolored buttons are so joyful. I badly want this shirt for next summer and would do my best to wear down to a button.
I love this shirt for the perfect collar, the chest detailing, and its potential to be layered and combined with hundreds of different patterns and shapes. I am a tragically huge fan of gingham, too, even though it’s been kind of played out in the past few years. It will survive, though…. just like the Jews! Okay I’m done sorry.
The collar of this jacket could bring me to my knees in humble supplication. Perfectly appropriate for synagogue, a funeral, a school photo, or a dinner party.
Another funky collar on the opposite end of the collar matrix! Something very olde Lithuania about this joint. It would be so fucking cute if you had your Bubbe/Bobba/Savta/whatever sew a little something extra onto this sweater to personalize it and transform it into a protective talisman for you.
Pomegranates adorned the garments of the Cohen Gadol, the High Priest of the ancient temple, and I guess the dude was dripping because they are a beautiful motif on this sweater. Puppets and Puppets also sold a rotund pomegranate bag which is now tragically sold out but which made me consider an addendum to the Ten Commandments: Thou Shalt Not Covet the $600 Pomegranate Bag.
This jacket looks like if a Hasid got really mad and shoved your skull through the top of a shtreimel that then came to rest gracefully around your neck and melded perfectly into your GORPed out fit (yes, I read Blackbird Spyplane, what of it?).
The Uzbek-Korean designer of this jacket, J. Kim, said “The inspiration for the jacket came to me from the times when Korean people were forced to move from Russia in 1937, where they’d been settling from 1860, to Central Asia. The concept of the construction is rooted in the bales from blankets. I pictured how those people who had time to pack their things were putting their valuable belongings into the bales from blankets.” Though there were of course, in this case, additional layers of anti-Asian racism that white Jews have not had to face, the narrative of exile and nomadism is very familiar to any Jew who’s ever sat through a Passover Seder. This jacket is brilliantly constructed, also comes in white, and is tragically too expensive for me. If you ever see me wearing it, no you didn’t (It’ll mean I have either exhausted my savings or gone deeply into debt and I will be wearing an additional coat: a coat of shame).
This feels like it’s the aforementioned Joseph’s canon overcoat. I can’t tell if I love or hate the hanging threads, they look a little too organic for my taste and veer into needlessly sloppy, but I love the colors of the coat and the bright buttons.
Something about this just screams “kiddush luncheon” (post-synagogue Shabbat service meal) to me. The dusty blue, evoking well-worn plush folding chairs? The unforgiving chartreuse reminding me of the eyeshadow worn by the women who would kiss my cheeks without consent while smelling of peach schnapps and gefilte fish? The luscious hardware?
These are drippy bloomer alternatives and the pattern and colors are gilded to perfection. The tie pockets recall J. Kim’s “bales” and the short legs create the incredible potential to pair with tights like the ones listed below.
Tactical, deserty pants with a delicious volume and the perfect amount of shirring. both Abraham AND Sarah would have rocked these.
These tights give me a visceral flashback to crawling under the Rosh Hashannah dinner table to stare at everyone’s legs with my cousins. We swear to god we saw no crotches. I especially love the scrunched-up texture of the black tights, embracing the abjection and suggested past celebration of overused nylons.
A selection of the Jewish classic, the Batsheva dress. the necklines and sleeves are the most important part.
Every skirt these designers make is perfect, and paired with the volume of these sleeves and the perfectly combative patterns, this look is downright unimpeachable. The colors are perfectly selected, the pleats are divine, this dress looks like the most ancient and modern thing I’ve ever seen simultaneously. The tights and shoes are also transcendent.
These three garments are PRIME “wandering through the desert for 40 years” fits. Pair with a shaved head or some pe’ot (more info at the end of this post). They would probably actually be super comfortable in the desert, holler if you end up out there in one of these and let me know if you stay cool!
This dress is so on-the-nose Jewish aunt. God-tier wearers will pair with the gloves, listed below, and will get blackout drunk at their nephew’s Bar Mitzvah party and hook up with a caterer.
The below pic of one of my favorite Jews for Jesus, Simone Weil, pushes me further and further into the coat-only-fit life every day. This one is gorgeously buttery and has a great collar (though not as good as SImone’s, sorry).
I have lusted over these ever since they first came on the scene a few years ago. This version is relatively affordable, comes in 22 colors if I counted correctly, and are the perfect shape and size to give you adequate puff without completely swallowing your visage.
The shape of this faux-fur hat is so perfect, with that dimple in the top! Will not give you the dreaded conehead of most beanies but still has the beanie level of chill. It also has earflaps that can be folded out on freezing days.
Nouveau shtreimels! Perfect shape and will protect your face from the winter sun.
I would do a lot of crazy things for Praying to re-release the Hebrew York hat in navy. I can’t quite reconcile the purple into my wardrobe but if it’s your thing, godspeed.
These mittens look like the comfiest couch you’ve ever reclined on after finding the Afikomen. Sorry for inundating any goyim (non-Jewish) readers with references you don’t understand but honestly? Get invited to a damn Seder some time!
Mix and match with reckless abandon, especially with the fur dress above.
Perfect for Bubbes or Bubbe-types who want to pretend that EVERY grandchild/friend/grandparent is their FAVORITE (one can simply doodle the initials of the loved one they will be seeing that day on the whiteboard).
My ears are too weak for cuffs but if yours aren’t, these are somehow the ideal intersection of classy and gaudy. Definitely sentimental and a silly interplay of traditional masculinity and femininity.
I’m simply attracted to the green of this purse and think it would go perfectly with virtually any of the fits above.
Another couch-garment! This looks like it would be SO enjoyable to hold. It feels Jewish somehow. Hey, I’m getting tired, it’s getting to the end of the list, just let me off the hook for this one,
This reminds me of tefillin, the leather straps that Jews (traditionally men) wind around their arm and head before Shabbos prayers. This bag would only look more cool the more scuffed up it got. It would probably be ridiculously heavy. And yet, the heart wants what it wants.
This bag is not out yet, but Puppets and Puppets have created a Jewish New Yorker fetish item. You will see it on many Upper West and Lower East Side arms very soon.
These boots perfectly round out any fit you may have gleaned from the above recs and will look sick no matter how toasted they get, you can add patched, wear scrunchy tights or capri bloomers, I am jealous of anyone who has gotten to touch these boots in real life.
The aforementioned Mr. Rubinstein created a zanily expensive line of tie dyes and rainbow knits which I will not even link here out of respect for myself and you all (though it’s not like I don’t drop hellish loads of clothes that cost a few racks on you on a weekly basis, just feeling compassionate in this moment). I love this image so deeply and every time I see it I think it’s me for a split second. The “BACK TO GOD” kippah is mind-bendingly sick. I am actually growing pey’ot (those curly front pieces of hair Orthodox men let grow) as well as a mullet, and I believe I am the first to neologize “Jewllet,” correct me if I’m wrong PLEASE. I would love to meet my brothers in arms.
Flame me for my admittedly ludicrous hairstyle aspirations in the comments below, or add your own links to Jewish accoutrements, or tell me about the drunkest you’ve ever gotten at a Seder. I want to know which of you accidentally kissed your cousins after four cups of wine.