LAKEWOOD, New Jersey – What was I thinking? On my very first visit to Ir HaKoidesh-West I am mortified to discover as I walk down the main shopping street that I am the only female over the age of five wearing a pink blouse. All other Jewish females whose reading level is at The Cat in the Hat or above are wearing black. I feel so conspicuous, almost as if I am wearing the fictional cat’s tall, striped hat. Everyone must know I am an out-of-towner, a real greenhorn. Of course, it could have been worse: I could have worn the red sweater!
I duck into the Fashion Stop on the same street, Clifton Avenue, and the first thing I do is apologize.
“I’m really sorry I’m wearing pink. I’m from Los Angeles,” I say to Freida, the gracious woman behind the counter. I figure, telling someone you are from L.A. can explain a lot. Freida reassures me that it’s fine, totally fine, that I am wearing pink, but she’s just being kind. I go upstairs to check out the casual clothes, looking for a simple navy skirt. This is something I have not been able to find in months of fruitless searches in Los Angeles, and navy is so close to black, surely they must carry it. But upstairs, I am overwhelmed by so much black, I would need night vision goggles to see the individual garments. I look more closely and see minor variations of color: ochre, midnight, ebony, pitch, jet and charcoal. But no navy. I spy a few lonely grey and brown skirts, but how boring is that?
Hoping against hope, I go downstairs and ask Freida if she might have some hidden treasure trove of navy skirts in the back. I don’t even care what size anymore. If she has navy, I’ll take it in any size and have it altered. But Freida shakes her head sadly and says, “No one wants navy around here. They only want black, black, and more black.”
I ask her if she can offer some reasoning to her perplexed shopper. “Maybe it’s because black is slimming, and so many women are self-conscious about their weight?” she guesses. I like Freida, and I like shopping in such a large store where everything meets the modesty requirements of tznius. And in case you’re a little fuzzy on tznius standards, don’t worry: there are diagrams in the dressing room detailing the minimum standards for sleeve lengths, necklines and hems. There is also a handwritten advertisement for a tailor, offering “tznius alterations ONLY” (emphasis hers). At this point, I have spent so much time trying on clothes that I simply can’t leave empty-handed. I walk out with a new skirt, tank, and sweater nice enough for Shabbat. Guess what color?
I ask the young kollel wife who is hosting me if she knows why green, blue, purple and other colors have been banished from Lakewood. She blames Brooklyn. “It all started there,” she explained, “and then it came here. It’s really their fault,” she says, shaking her head. Poor Brooklyn – that city gets blamed for everything. I continue to collar any friendly woman I encounter in Lakewood, searching for an answer to my burning question of why black is the new black in this town. No one defends it, but few defy the norm.
I appreciate the dignity of dressing with tzniut, but I don’t want to look like I’m going to a funeral every day. My take on this is that God made a beautiful world filled with bright and beautiful hues that are meant to be enjoyed, admired, and worn. At the last wedding I attended, I wore a reddish-rust colored jacket, not only because it was elegant, but it helped my husband find me easily across a crowded banquet room.
Come on, ladies: I challenge you to introduce colors into your wardrobes. As hemlines get longer and necklines go higher, wearing colors will not only put us in a cheerier frame of mind but also help distinguish us from the Moslem women in burkas. I know, it may be hard to break this black habit, so we’ll agree to start slowly.
How about we start with a little navy?