Sartorially speaking, I’m a Jesus freak. No fewer than three well-known Israeli designers have confirmed it in recent days.
In the course of research for an upcoming article on Israeli fashion secrets, I asked the designers the sleeper question of the summer: Why, in a place with a climate as hot as Israel, is there so little linen?
One of them gave my well-worn linen shirt the once-over and coolly replied, “you know, it was the fabric of the Bible, of Jesus…but now it’s just too expensive to import.”
I would wear only linen, but it’s not practical. Sure, another designer told me and some forays to the mall attested, you can find linen clothing in Israeli stores, but it is mostly of an inferior weave, which is to say low quality, and totally drowned out by the deluge of cotton from all quarters.
This is unfortunate, because as any acolyte of linen will tell you, linen breathes in a way cotton just can’t, and even in the toughest, sultriest Mediterranean heat keeps you cooler than a cucumber. Also, whether you’re Jesus Christ or a superstar, everyone looks better in linen.
If you manage to find a pair of 100 percent pure linen socks — and by that I do mean flax to the max — you will never go back to cotton, at least, not in summertime.
Some basic flax facts: the flax plant is the basis of all linen fabric. Apparently it can absorb up to 20 percent of its weight in moisture without actually feeling wet, another factor making it an ideal fabric for humid Mediterranean climates.
Linen is a fabric of longevity and steeped in symbolism. Before Jesus, linen was in wide use by the ancient Egyptians for both ceremonial purposes, including mummification, and daily wear. White was preferred. According to JesusCentral.com, “history suggests that Jesus would have worn the same clothes as the ordinary people of His day. He would have worn plain linens, comfortable long robes with a sash to tuck the garment in when He ran.”
It could be argued that as linen was Jesus’s choice (He could have opted for wool), linen is not only timelessly fashionable but also a fabric of peace.
There was a moment in Israeli fashion when linen was in wider use but that was many moons ago before it got so gosh darn pricey. The best flax today comes today from an area of Italy near Florence.
The high price points have resulted in that most unfortunate thing, the cotton-linen blend. It’s hard to be Hindu and Jewish at the same time, and it’s hard to make blended linen look good. Not impossible, but an unnecessary challenge. What’s more, according to the Bible, “Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together” (Deuteronomy 22:11).
Linen is a fabric that is integral to the sartorial history of the Holy Land, to the extent that the “great cotton interruption” could be viewed an unholy fashion hiccup. Linen is extraordinarily ecumenical, an all-faith fabric. Perhaps greater Egyptian-Israeli cooperation on the commercial front could yield a flax crop that’s cheaper to bring to market than the distant Italian supply. Worth exploring, and certainly worth wearing.