Ringing in The New Year…Fashionably

The High Holy Days are the holiest days of the Jewish year. First comes the “Jew year”: the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah (which translates literally to ‘head of the year’.) Then comes Yom Kippur, the famed day of atonement that glorified Sandy Koufax’s career. (Interestingly, Koufax attended services here in Minneapolis on that day in 1965 as the LA Dodgers lost to the Twins). The holidays are holy for sure but for many (mostly secular) Jews the days are also a bit dreaded. You have to drag the kids (and then ask for excused absences from school), sit for long services in a language you might not understand, and you can’t even eat on Yom Kippur. To top it off – you have to dress up.
For some, the High Holy Days are a fashion show (Let’s be honest: we’re talking about YOU ladies).  But it’s a fashion show with a challenge. Who hasn’t banked on a favorite dress only to realize that it’s a bit too short by tzniut standards? Tzniut is a term that refers to modesty, and while its meaning can be applied to many aspects of Judaism, it is a commonly used reference to female dress and appearance. You don’t have to turn heads when you walk into a shul, but you don’t have to sacrifice your sense of style and individuality either.
The High Holy Days usually occur in earlier fall, when dress clothes for the other holiday season (yes, I’m talking about Christmas) are not quite on store shelves, making shopping a challenge. It can only be assumed that many women (especially secular) have run into the following dilemma: you have a gorgeous dress, but it shows your shoulders and your knees. In some synagogues, depending on the community’s traditon, arms and legs should be fully covered. Not exactly easy to do when J. Crew is still showing pencil skirts with sleeveless blouses as an early fall look.
But fear no longer. Below are tzniut options for the more and less observant, for the big spender and the penny pincher. Read on fashionistas, this is your year to master the challenging art of mixing modesty with style.
Ladies, those scandalous black pumps are for the bar, not for shul. Leave them in your closet, and pull out a pair of closed toe flats. Flats are a safe choice because they are comfortable, modest, and classy. A little wedge in a flat is a perfect way to step up an outfit. For the thrifty shopper, American Eagle offers a great simple flat that can also be found at Payless Shoes for $22.99. The Anstin Point Flat looks classic in black, and has just the slightest lift for height. It comes in three color choices, and runs from a 5.5 to 12 in women’s shoe sizes. For the shopper who just received an early holiday bonus, Nine West offers the Oaks pump which has a slight heel instead of a wedge for height. A basic black (in patent synthetic or black leather) retails for $69.
What to do for the guy in your life who really does not want to dress up? Is it going to take a bribe to get your brother or husband to stop complaining about going to services? Bribe him with a comfy hometown treat. Minnetonka Moccasins make shoes that are comfortable, stylish, and a well-received gift for any Minnesota male. The Men’s Moosehide Boat Moc ($75 at Zappos.com) come in brown and black, have a leather-like appearance and cleated bottom.
And to raise the level of difficulty a smidge? Don’t forget that tradition says that leather shoes can’t be worn on Yom Kippur. Good thing there’s some cute synthetics out there.
Outfits for the Ladies
At most synagogues it’s suggested or required that a woman cover her shoulders and knees, and bare no cleavage (making Yom Kippur a truly solemn day for teenage boys everywhere.). The biggest hint for holiday dressing: be aware of the traditions and expectations within your community (what’s kosher in one shul might be scandalous in another) and inject some personal style to make your outfit your own.
Finding dresses that fit tzniut requirements can be difficult. An easier route to take is a skirt with a top. Separates create an opportunity to mix and match items, allowing for creativity and individuality within modest realms. Shopping for a top and bottom outfit can be far more fun, and far less stressful. The options are bountiful and often cheaper. If you find a great sleeveless tunic, don’t fear. Cover your shoulders with a cardigan like this one from Target, or, if it’s ok in your synagogue, use a large wrap or scarf. (Target is a Minnesota-based company and a one-stop shop for your low-priced tzniut needs!)
Blouses and skirts are great for mixing and matching and are available at many stores. Shop around and you will find that they come in different patterns, colors, and shapes. Don’t be afraid to introduce a little color or pattern.
If you decide that a dress is what you prefer, the pickings are slimmer. (That is unless you are under the age of 10. Stores like Justice and Old Navy have plenty of appropriate dress options for the younger ladies among us.) Since dresses require more fabric, and the fall and winter sales have not yet begun, dresses will probably often end up costing you more. Then again, it’s only one item for the dry cleaners, so maybe it all comes out in the wash. With late summer and fall looks focusing on short or absent sleeves, be prepared to buy a wrap or sweater to accompany your dress. If you have a wallet that is bursting open, stores like BCBG and Urban Outfitters have plenty of trendy tzniut options. If you’re pinching pennies, there are some stylish options from stores such as Target and Papaya.
Trends for this fall include military inspiration and leather pieces. Extra points if you can work those in!
And finally: Underwear usually isn’t the first tzniut topic that comes to mind, but all ladies can relate to an embarrassing underwear line or pattern visible through your skirt or dress. Self-consciousness is never fun. Victoria’s Secret offers several different types of simple spandex underwear that will lead to an embarrassment-free holy day. Some of their spandex underwear is even made in Israel. Buying a pair would benefit both the American and Israeli economies.
Outfits for the Guys
Men, you have it easy. No need for examples, you know where to go and what to get. (Or hopefully your wife does.) Banana Republic and Gap offer classic formal wear, as do discount stores such as Marshall’s and TJ Maxx. Pick up something for your son while you’re at it. Does the little guy complain about wearing a kippah? Does the maroon color not properly match your bald spot? Add a little fun to your faith by getting a custom design kippah. The online shop 99Lollipop hand-crotchets many designs. Show your spirit for the Gophers, Twins, Vikings, Wild, or Lynx while davening. Just admit it, you always wanted to have the coolest kippah anyways. (For the married women who practice covering their hair, 99Lollipop also makes hair coverings for women.)
Shopping for the High Holy Days does not have to be difficult or expensive. You can stay true to your faith and even loyal to your Minnesota roots with certain purchases. Head for the stores prepared and ready, with an idea of what you want and how much you want to spend. If you don’t know what is exactly appropriate for services, ask your Rabbi or Rebbetzin, as synagogues vary in their expectations. With the new year approaching, you will be ready to welcome it in with your own personal style.