Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the general category.

Everything I needed to learn about fashion I learned by wearing a school uniform for 12 years

If you were always wondering about all the little hidden rules of fashion that women appear to intuitively learn, this post is for you. Guys, pay careful attention. The secrets are about to be spilled.

If you really want to learn about fashion, you need to carefully observe Bais Ya’akov-type girls in their uniforms. Just don’t talk to them, because that would be assur. Observe from a respectful distance.


            First is the shirt. At first it may just seem a simple white or blue button-down shirt, but we are not deceived for long. Much can be learned about you by your shirt. First of all, there’s the top two buttons. Are they both closed? That means you’re trying to get into BJJ. Are they both open? You’re either asking for trouble or a borderline risk taker who button her top button whenever the principal passes by. Did you sew in a tznius button? Nice try, we all know that you’re an eleventh grader who wants to frum out but is trying to stay cool. It shows. Same goes for those of you who managed to learn how to fit in the safety pin so that it doesn’t show and doesn’t prick your collar bone either. We know who you are.

Then there is an issue with how fitted the shirt is. The best fit is snug enough to show a basic outline without being too snug to get yourself sent to the office, where you will cruelly and unusually punished by being forced to change into an itchy Oxford shirt about three sizes too large for you. Then there is the shirt’s tuck. Completely tucked out is schlubby, particularly if you get caught. Partially tucked out – a shirttail or so – means you live on the edge. A deep tuck-in – where the shirt is pulled down all the way – means you’re trying too hard. The best is the kind of tuck where the shirt just skims the abdomen but is not pulled too tightly so that there is a slight skijump where the shirt meets the skirt’s waistband.

            Next we have the cardigan or sweatshirt. Wearing a school sweatshirt is social suicide and should be avoided at all cost, unless it is a senior sweatshirt or committee sweatshirt that has a hood and is black. If you are attempting to get away with a regular sweatshirt in between classes (to be pulled off before passing a teacher or principal in the hall), the sweatshirt must have the words GAP, Old Navy, or Polo stretched across the chest. If you’re going for the cardigan, the cut of it is essential. Are you going for a v-neck with buttons? A brave attempt at a cardigan-wrap or one with a belt? Is it ribbed? How long is it?

Now for the skirt. Lately I’ve been seeing girls wearing knee-length skirts, which did not fly back in my day. That length would require tights or – worse – knee-highs. We did the ankle-lengths. If your skirt was more than two inches above your ankle, you had a fashion crisis. The skirt needed to be long enough to just skim the tips of your ankle socks so that standing in one position would completely conceal the leg – for when the principal passes – while standing in another would show off the tiniest strip of flesh between sock and skirt. But not too much flesh, because that’s sloppy.

 I’m not going to even touch the question of shoes, since that is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that when in doubt, go with Puma.

Working our way back up we have your makeup. If you are going to try to get away with light-colored nailpolish, you’ll probably try to get away with just enough makeup to look better but not enough to be obvious to faculty. Concealer and foundation are fine since after all you can always say it’s pimple cream. Light lip gloss might pass for chapstick. Eyeliner and blush are trickier, so go easy on the color.

Let’s move to hair. This is really the break-it or make-it. You’ll probably try getting away with wearing your hair down. If your hair is long, sleek, and straight, you will not get away with this for more than two periods, but you can try anyway. You can also try pulling three strands of hair into a bobby pin and calling it a half-pony. If you are going to do the half- or full-pony, a lot will depend on the way your hair is parted and how it set. It should have some lift – not too much for a bad nineties flashback, but just enough to have some shape. Take care in choosing the clip for your hair. Brown or black is always safest, but you might want to try for a bit of colored rhinestone, particularly if you’re doing colored jewelry. If you are, stick with the small colored chandelier earrings. Don’t go for the big hoops. Your teachers will say it’s too Puerto Rican, especially if you’re wearing lots of hair gel and bangles on your wrist.

Got it, guys? Those of you wearing the penguin suit might take a lesson from us ladies. As you can see, wearing a uniform does not have to make you all look the same. After all, only two items of clothes are being regulated. 


Travels and Travails on the Subway

Frum people will often give me a funny look when I tell them where my school is located and how I take the train there everyday. Then they give me the anxious questions or comments of my bravery. Whenever I maintain how non-scary the ride is, I always get small sympathetic smiles usually spared for those who have gone off their rocker.

So just to set the record straight – yes, I take buses and trains through neighborhoods where I am likely to be the only or one of the only white people, and no, I have never had a frightening experience. I’ve never been mugged, assaulted, or harrassed. In fact, I have a much better time than when travelling through the financial districts in Manhattan. Riding the train near my school is far more entertaining – the people are friendlier, more laid-back, and you meet all sorts of interesting – but non-frightening- folk.

First there are the Candymen. Not to be confused with the roly-poly white-haired guy in shul, the candy guys I’m talking about are a group of teenage young men who sell M&Ms and Jolly Ranchers on the subway, all making a variation of the following sales pitch: “Attention ladies and gentlemen, sorry for the interruption, I’m here today to sell candy, not to no basketball team or football team, just to have some money in my pockets to stay in school and out of trouble…” My favorite is the dude who says “I’m selling candy because it’s better than selling drugs…” How often does a bag of chocolate come with such a feel-good public service announcement? But seriously, these guys are often really sweet, even if a buck for M&Ms is a total rip-off.

Next are the hiphop gymansts. Every once in a while I run into these guys who play hip-hop on a boombox while they do all these cool dance and acrobatic moves on the subway pools. You gotta hand it to anyone who can do flips and somersaults on a crowded train. Not to mention anyone who can get a trainful of strangers laughing, clapping, and conversing amongst themselves about a common spectacle. Naturally they walk off the train with their own public service announcements, “Stay in school!” and “Don’t talk to strangers on the train, this is New York!”

Then there are the musicians.  For one thing, there are a few groups of Mariachis who play traditional Mexican music on their accordions. Then there is a barbershop quartet of middle-aged black men who sing spirituals or gospel songs with three different harmonies.  Yesterday I met a new musician who boards the train with an electric guitar and announces that he has come to serenade the Lovely Woman with the Gray Suit. He then starts singing “My Girl,” substituting some of the lyrics about the Woman in the Gray Suit, how she looks like a manager and probably gets to boss around lots of men at work, etc. He dedicated his next song to the Woman in the Yellow Shirt. At the chorus he calls out, “Come on, sing everyone! Even white people!” People then gave him money while he announced that he would accept cash, travellers checks, clothes, food, weed, and college credits. “I have three kids at home, and they all need iPods,” he said finally. Hopefully he was kidding, but in any case he seemed like such a sweet guy that I think I would have been willing to pay for one song off of iTunes for his kids. Yes, I’m a sucker. As is anyone who enjoys hours of subway travel.

But at least I don’t spend those hours biting off my nails, scared of all the frightening people with their carriages and children and packages who don’t hurt anyone.

Henry Higgins meets the frum community

Do you have a frum accent?

I was listening to a convo with my friends, who were discussing how you can always tell when frum people from Brooklyn call into the radio, and not because they say things like baruch Hashem a lot. This convo got me thinking about the phonetics of the frum dialect, at least the dialect I hear around me in Brooklyn.

According to an unofficial Gallup poll (Snarkodox, 2008),  many frum people believe that they can tell whether a wrong number they’ve dialed belongs to a frum person. (Of course, many of the right and wrong numbers will belong to frum people in this neighborhood, so that may be due to chance). Many also claim to differentiate frum Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Many of my surveyees also maintain that they can usually tell whether a non-Chasid or Chasida is from Flatbush or Boro Park solely based on accent. Most admitted to accent profiling when trying to determine whether someone is a BT or not (they claim it is not based on choice of words). 

Hence my non-official results are suggestive of the presence of a distinct “classic” Ashkenazi-frum accent, apparently discernible from the classic Syrian-Jewish, Italian- African-, Mexican-, Dominican-, and Russian-American accents. This is supported by the “yeshivish (dialect)” article by the highly reliable Wikipedia, which differntiates this dialect from the “Jewish New York” one. Of course not all frum Jews fit into this accent, just as not all people from other ethnic groups fit display “their” accent.

I’m curious about how people feel about their “frum” accent. Do you have  one? Have you ever had an experience when someone expected something of you solely based on the way you talk? (Because it’s not often to be judged by dress.) Anyone ever try to get ride of their frum accent, like at school or work? Ever told you sounded too frum (even by Orthodox people)? …